Davenport Field, Charlottesville, Va. (Host: Virginia)
No. 1 Virginia (44-13, 22-8 in ACC Coastal) Roster | Statistics
14th appearance (11th straight), at-large, second place in ACC Coastal regular season
Top 200 Prospects: 3B/RHP Nick Howard (25), OF Derek Fisher (30), OF Mike Papi (45), OF Brandon Downes (171)
No. 2 Arkansas (38-23, 16-14 in SEC West) Roster | Statistics
27th appearance (13 straight), at-large, fourth place in SEC West regular season
Top 200 Prospects: 2B/OF Brian Anderson (62), RHP Chris Oliver (65), LHP Jalen Beeks (124)
No. 4 Bucknell (30-19, 15-5 in Patriot League) Roster | Statistics
Sixth appearance (last in 2010), automatic, tied for first in Patriot League regular season and Patriot League championship
Top 200 Prospects: None
Virginia was tagged the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason and didn’t disappoint, earning a national seed for the fourth time in the last five years. Pitching and defense have been the pillars of the UVa. program under coach Brian O’Connor and this year’s team is no different, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both ERA (2.36) and fielding percentage (.982). Sophomore lefty Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.48) blossomed into a true ace, getting in the national spotlight when he threw a no-hitter April 4 at Pittsburgh and going on to win ACC co-pitcher of the year honors. Kirby has the best stuff among Virginia’s starters but all can be counted on to give solid innings. UVa.’s rotation is backed by an even deeper bullpen, anchored by electrifying closer Nick Howard (2-1, 2.22, 18 SV), so the Cavs are well equipped for what figures to be a low scoring regional—Arkansas and Liberty are also in the top 15 ERAs in the country. Offensively, the Cavs haven’t been as explosive as expected but they do boast ACC home run leader Mike Papi (.289/.442/.487, 10 HR), while the outfield trio of Brandon Downes, Derek Fisher and Joe McCarthy all have the power potential to change a game with one swing. With a roster steeped in athleticism, the Cavs are built to win in the spacious environs of Davenport Field and have done plenty of it, going 29-3 at home in the regular season. However, they go into regionals on a bit of a down note after losing their final regular season series at Wake Forest—their first series loss of the year—followed by a 1-2 showing at the ACC tournament.
Arkansas opens its regional as a No. 2 seed for the fourth consecutive season, though the Razorbacks did make it all the way to Omaha as a 2-seed in 2012. The lineup still has some key holdovers from that team, highlighted by leading hitter Brian Anderson (.311/.384/.469, 6 HR). Anderson, a superb athlete who’s settled in at second base as a junior, and senior first baseman Eric Fisher (.265/.316/.452, 9 HR) give the Razorbacks most of their offensive punch—they’re the only players on the team with more than three homers. But Arkansas hasn’t gotten this far because of its offense. Even after having to replace last year’s entire weekend rotation, the Hogs are all still about what they can do on the mound, giving hope they can mesh well with pitcher-friendly Davenport Field. Sophomore righty Trey Killian (4-8, 2.18) has been snake bitten by poor run support but has continued to get the most out of his solid stuff on Friday nights. The bigger arm belongs to junior righty Chris Oliver (8-4, 2.45), who’s served as the Sunday starter most of the year, though the Hogs may have to go without regular No. 2 starter Jalen Beeks (5-4, 2.11), who hasn’t pitched since May 3 due to a sore elbow. Arkansas also has its own trio of lights-out bullpen options in righties Jacob Stone and Zach Jackson and lefty Michael Gunn. The Razorbacks won only one road series all season—against SEC cellar-dweller Missouri—and went just 8-10 in true road games, which would appear to put them at odds with Virginia’s home dominance. The good news is the Hogs are coming off their best week away from Baum Stadium all season as they went 3-2 in the SEC tournament, including a pair of wins against SEC West champ Mississippi.
After years of chasing Coastal Carolina, Liberty has taken its place as the Big South Conference’s top dog. The Flames completely dominated the league this season, going 23-3 to win the regular-season title by five games, and spent most of the campaign in the regional hosting race before a late-season slide—they’re just 5-5 in their last 10 games—dropped them to a No. 3 seed. So while they won’t be at home, they’ll still be in a familiar setting, taking the 70-mile trip to Charlottesville to play in a ballpark they already visit annually for midweek games. Steady senior righty Trey Lambert (11-2, 2.10) leads a pitching staff that fills the zone, while breakout freshman Parker Bean (7-2, 2.71) has shown strikeout stuff. Two-way threat Ashton Perritt (1-2, 1.52, 12 SV, .273/.362/.387) hasn’t been as overpowering as a year ago but has remained effective at the back of the bullpen while continuing to serve as the regular center fielder. The Flames are arguably the most balanced team of the four in Charlottesville. They’re the only one of the group to crack the top 100 nationally in scoring (81st at 5.6 runs/game). Slugging second baseman Ryan Seiz (.362/.440/.612, 12 HR), the Big South player of the year, has the biggest bat in the lineup, but the Flames have other guys that can punish balls too, like fellow all-conference picks Alex Close (.324/.368/.505, 8 HR) and Danny Grauer (.262/.323/.450, 7 HR). Liberty acquitted itself well in its first regional under coach Jim Toman last year, winning two games against Clemson at the Columbia Regional, and the Flames certainly have to be taken seriously as a dangerous 3-seed this time around as well.
Bucknell split the Patriot League regular-season title with Army before sweeping through the conference tournament, doing it without injured top hitter Corey Furman. Considering the quality of the pitching staffs they’re pitted against, runs will be tough to come by for the Bison. Their .249 team average ranked 253rd in the country while they combined for just 10 home runs. Patriot League rookie of the year Brett Smith (.303/.406/.331), junior outfielder Anthony Gingerelli (.312/.432/.525, 5 HR) and sophomore second baseman Joe Ogren (.324/.415/.406) can make things happen at the top of the order, but there’s little depth after that. If the Bison are going to pull off any upsets in Charlottesville, it’ll come down to their pitching staff. Junior righty Bryson Hough (8-3, 4.37) and senior lefty Dan Weigel (7-5, 2.94) front a group that doesn’t miss many bats but does pound the strike zone and force opponents to put balls in play. The Bison rank 17th in the country in walks per nine (2.66), giving them one of their few signs of encouragement for the weekend, particularly against a Virginia lineup that thrives on patience. That being said, the Bison opened the season with a three-game series at South Carolina—the only games they played against a power conference team this year—and were outscored 41-6.