Carolina Stadium, Columbia, S.C. (Host: South Carolina)
No. 1 South Carolina (42-16, 18-12 in SEC East) Roster | Statistics
30th appearance (15th straight), at-large, second place in SEC East
Top 200 Prospects: C Grayson Greiner (74), LHP Jordan Montgomery (119), 3B/OF Joey Pankake (150)
No. 4 Campbell (40-19, 18-8 in Big South) Roster | Statistics
Second appearance (last in 1990), automatic, second place in Big South North Division, Big South tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None
It’s hardly been a smooth ride for South Carolina, as second-year head coach Chad Holbrook has had to piece together a lineup wracked by injuries, but the Gamecocks are always there at the end. They went 14-4 down the stretch in the regular season before their customary early exit—that’s pretty much what it is at this point—from the SEC tournament, and they’ll host a regional for the fifth straight year, matching Virginia for the longest such streak in the country. Almost half of South Carolina’s lineup has been shelved at one point or another, most notably sophomore second baseman Max Schrock (.270/.344/.450, 5 HR), a freshman All-American in 2013 who missed most of the second half with a stress fracture in his back. Schrock did return to assume some DH duties late in the season and delivered a few very timely hits. Through it all, junior catcher Grayson Greiner (.328/.403/.515, 8 HR) has been a rock behind the plate and has steadily picked up his offense over his career. Greiner and fellow junior Kyle Martin (.329/.383/.434, 5 HR), playing an everyday role at first base after two years mostly as a reserve, have anchored the middle of the order. Martin gives the Gamecocks a valuable power threat from the left side, helping make up for the loss of Schrock, ordinarily their best lefthanded bat. The Gamecocks have been able to weather their myriad injuries because they’re one of the best pitching teams in the country, their 2.37 ERA ranking eighth nationally. Friday night starter Jordan Montgomery (7-5, 3.52) doesn’t have dominant stuff, working at 88-92 mph from the left side with a great changeup, but is a proven SEC performer, as is sophomore Jack Wynkoop (7-5, 2.71), another lefty changeup specialist. Freshman righty Will Crowe (7-3, 3.05) has shown a much louder arsenal with a fastball reaching 94 mph and looks like the next Gamecocks ace, though he’s settled in as the Sunday starter this year. If you’re going to beat South Carolina, you need to get to the starters because its bullpen is nearly untouchable. Star closer Joel Seddon (3-1, 0.85, 14 SV) leads a group that features five pitchers with ERAs under 2.00, and the Gamecocks are 29-1 when leading after six innings.
Maryland is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Nixon Administration, the exclamation point on a landmark final season in the ACC. With second-year head coach John Szefc picking up the momentum started under predecessor Erik Bakich, now at Michigan, the Terrapins set a school record for wins (36) and beat Virginia and Florida State in the ACC tournament on their way to the championship game. Their lineup had a power surge in Greensboro last week—six homers in four games—but don’t be deceived. Maryland is very much a small-ball oriented team, ranking 10th in the country in sacrifice bunts (72) and 30th in steals (84). Freshman second baseman Brandon Lowe (.346/.469/.478, 1 HR) is the centerpiece of the lineup and was hot down the stretch, but he’s one of just two regulars hitting over .280. The Terps have no major home run threats, so they have to find other ways to score by putting pressure on defenses and taking advantage of mistakes. What Maryland does have is probably the best arm in the regional in senior righty Jake Stinnett (7-6, 2.60). A former position player who began his pitching career in the bullpen, Stinnett’s stock has continued to pick up steam in his first full year as a starter. He’s touched as high as 97 mph this spring en route to leading the ACC and ranking fourth in the country in strikeouts (123). A weekend rotation filled out by righty Mike Shawaryn (10-3, 2.70), who led the ACC in wins as a freshman this year, and sophomore lefty Jake Drossner (4-1, 2.45) is the strength of the pitching staff and perhaps the one area the Terps could have an edge on South Carolina. Maryland’s bullpen, though not without quality options like senior lefty Ben Brewster (9 hits allowed in 23 innings) and junior righty Bobby Ruse (7-2, 2.91), isn’t as deep as the Gamecocks’, so Maryland will need its starters to work as deep into games as they can against the grinding Gamecock hitters.
In his first three seasons, Old Dominion coach Chris Finwood has nearly doubled the program’s win total, taking it from a 19-34 record and finishing dead last in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2012 to 36 wins in ODU’s first season in Conference USA. The Monarchs nearly played their way out of the NCAA field with back-to-back series losses to Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic down the stretch, but they were able to get back on course by winning their final two weekends and going 3-2 in the C-USA tournament, including a crucial win against Rice. A bubble team that got into the field, ODU scheduled aggressively enough and had enough top 100 wins (22-19) to build up a No. 36 RPI, offsetting its fourth-place finish in an underwhelming year for C-USA. Of the four teams in Columbia, the Monarchs are the only one to rank higher nationally in scoring (68th at 5.7 runs/game) than they do in ERA (74th at 3.43). The Monarchs are a quality hitting team with five batters at .300 or better, led by freshman Nick Walker (.329/.420/.482, 4 HR), their top-of-the-lineup catalyst. First baseman Josiah Burney (.303/.414/.526, 6 HR) has dangerous raw power from the left side and is one of four seniors that play every day. Likewise, the best asset the Monarchs’ pitching staff might have is its experience level. Neither of ODU’s top two starters, lefthanders Andy Roberts (5-3, 3.09) and Ryan Yarbrough (6-6, 4.37), light up radar guns, but they’re both seniors and tough competitors. Though they’re not especially deep, the Monarchs can give teams some different looks at the back of the bullpen with hard throwing sophomore Conner Overton (2-2, 2.48, 3 SV) and sidearming senior closer Brad Gero (3-3, 2.82, 11 SV).
A year after being the most controversial snub from the tournament, Campbell bounced back with its third straight 40-win season, one of just two 4-seeds in the field to reach the 40-win mark—College of Charleston being the other. The Camels lost their Big South tournament opener before storming through the losers’ bracket, winning five straight to take the title. Rubber armed relief ace Ryan Thompson (6-2, 1.22, 17 SV) led the way. The low-slot senior righthander threw nine scoreless innings in the tournament, pitching in all five of Campbell’s wins, to earn himself the event’s MVP award. The Camels’ bullpen is pretty much a one-man band with Thompson, so they’d be vulnerable if one of their starters falters early, but that hasn’t happened often. All three members of their rotation are seasoned upperclassmen and should be able to keep them competitive. Junior righthander Heath Bowers (10-3, 2.95) is the ace, but seniors Hector Cedano (8-0, 2.40) and Ryan Koopman (8-1, 2.79) have been dependable as well. The Camels lost five seniors off last year’s lineup and understandably haven’t been as dangerous offensively, dropping from 7.1 runs per game in 2013 to 5.4 this year. As a result, they’ve turned to more of a small-ball attack not dissimilar from Maryland’s to try to manufacture runs—right down to the fact that Campbell and Maryland rank 1-2 in the country in getting hit by pitches. Senior center fielder Matt Nadolski was Campbell’s hottest hitter in the Big South tournament, hitting .462 in six games, and stands out as the Camels’ only power threat, accounting for five of their 13 homers as a team. Little used as a freshman last year, DH Matt Parrish (.328/.377/.382) has broken out as a sophomore, forcing his way into the middle of the order. Campbell does have five hitters with averages of .290 or better, but the bottom half of the lineup is unimposing.