No. 1 Georgia Tech (45-16)
23rd appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast, No. 8 national seed
No. 2 Vanderbilt (36-25)
Fifth appearance, at-large, Southeastern
No. 3 Michigan (42-19)
19th appearance, automatic, won Big 10 regular season and tournament
No. 4 Stetson (38-22)
14th appearance, automatic, won Atlantic Sun tournament
The bats still work in Atlanta, as Georgia Tech again ranked among the nation’s most explosive offenses with only Troy scoring more than its 546 runs (nine per game). It did so despite injuries to Danny Payne, the team’s offensive sparkplug until suffering a dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs and concussion in an outfield collision at the end of April, and third baseman Wes Hodges, the team’s RBI leader despite being limited to DH late in the year with an early stress fracture in his left leg. Hodges will play when healthy, while Payne and closer Tim Gustafson (arm troubles) are doubtful for regionals. Junior Whit Robbins has moved to third base and leads the team with a .362 average and 12 homers. But, as always, Tech will travel as far as a pitching staff with a 4.49 ERA can carry it. Starters Blake Wood and Lee Hyde turned in strong performances in the ACC tournament, and Brad Rulon and John Goodman have thrown well in relief.
Vanderbilt shows up as the exact opposite of Georgia Tech. It features all kinds of pitching, ranking fifth nationally with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, but offers little power past freshman third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez cranked 19 home runs, while the rest of the team combined for 30. Vandy’s .311 average still ranked second in the SEC, but it can struggle to put up runs if teams pitch around Alvarez. If senior Matt Buschmann (5-4, 4.15) continues starting the first game of the Commodores’ series, it puts sophomore lefty David Price in line to face Tech’s offense. Price, a top candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, would prove a great test with his 9-4, 3.81 record and 147 strikeouts in 104 innings. Vandy won a regional at Virginia in 2004, though this freshman-and-sophomore dependent club doesn’t feature too many holdovers from that bunch.
A veteran pitching staff led Michigan to the Atlanta regional a year ago, and it’s back again in something of a surprise with a much more callow club that was expected to be a year away from postseason contention. But these kids were too young to realize they weren’t supposed to win the school’s first Big 10 regular season title since 1999 and become the first Michigan team ever to win both the regular season and tournament titles. But freshmen Chris Fetter (5-1, 1.89), Zach Putnam (6-1, 2.10), Ben Jenzen (2-0, 3.00 with six saves), Michael Powers (4-0, 3.05) and Adam Abraham (5-3, 3.86 with three saves) helped turn the pitching staff from a preseason question mark to an exclamation point. Fetter ranked 15th in the country in ERA.
Stetson finished the year on a 26-8 run, with ace Chris Ingoglia going 4-0, 3.76 in Atlantic Sun games to help the Hatters make regionals for the sixth time in seven years. Ingoglia and closer Robbie Elsemiller (7-3, 2.57 with 14 saves) could team up to put a scare in Georgia Tech. But Stetson probably doesn’t have the offense to out-slug the Yellow Jackets on the road. Junior first baseman Chris Johnson led the conference with 64 RBIs and added a .371 average and 11 homers, but the rest of the team hit just 20 longballs.