Davenport Field, Charlottesville, Va. (Host: Virginia)
No. 1 Virginia (47-10, 22-8 in ACC)
13th appearance (10th straight), at-large, second place in ACC Coastal, No. 6 national seed
Top 500 Prospects: LHP Kyle Crockett (No. 103)
No. 2 UNC Wilmington (37-21, 18-8 in CAA)
Sixth appearance (second straight), at-large, Colonial Athletic Association regular-season champion
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Justin Livengood (No. 364)
No. 3 Elon (32-28, 18-11 in SoCon)
Sixth appearance (last in 2010), automatic, Southern Conference tournament champion
No. 4 Army (29-21, 11-9 in Patriot League)
Sixth appearance (second straight), automatic, Patriot League tournament champion
Virginia entered the season outside the Top 25 due to questions about its pitching, but the Cavaliers quickly addressed that concern with a strong group of freshmen and became a fixture in the top 10. Athletic freshman lefthander Brandon Waddell (5-2, 4.02) has been the No. 1 starter since opening day, showing a good feel for a high-80s fastball, a very good breaking ball and solid changeup. Fifth-year senior lefty Scott Silverstein (9-1, 3.07) has shown much better stuff now that he is further removed from the shoulder injuries that derailed him in high school and early in his collegiate career, showing 88-92 mph heat, a solid slider and occasional changeup. Fourth-year junior righty Whit Mayberry (4-0, 2.05) has worked his way back from injury to give the Cavs another savvy veteran starter, allowing power-armed two-way talent Nick Howard (6-4, 3.38) to bolster the already-strong bullpen. Freshmen Josh Sborz (3-0, 1.91), David Rosenberger (2-0, 1.42) and Nathan Kirby (4-1, 6.19) have provided enviable bullpen depth around juniors Austin Young (5-0, 2.25) and Kyle Crockett (4-1, 1.81, 10 SV), a lanky lefty with a 90-92 fastball, good slider and pinpoint command. Howard may be the team’s hardest thrower in a two-way role, regularly hitting 94 mph. So Virginia’s pitching has become an area of strength, but UVa.’s greatest asset is its deep, athletic lineup, which excels at driving the gaps but also has home run power (41 long balls, 31st in the nation). The Cavs rank 11th nationally in batting (.313), third in scoring (8.1 runs per game), 10th in doubles (124) and fourth in triples (30). They work counts relentlessly, drawing 293 walks (sixth in the nation). They have very dangerous hitters from the left side (Mike Papi, Joe McCarthy, Derek Fisher) and the right side (Brandon Downes, Howard, Nate Irving, Jared King). King and switch-hitting senior Reed Gragnani provide loads of experience and are tough outs. The only bad news is that shortstop Branden Cogswell—a catalyst atop the lineup and the glue of the infield defense—will be unable to return to action after missing the last three weeks with a broken finger. That puts the onus on freshman John LaPrise, who lacks Cogswell’s arm strength, to handle the shortstop duties.
UNC Wilmington is loaded with veterans from last year’s NCAA tournament team, and the Seahawks repeated as CAA regular-season champions before going 0-2 in the conference tournament. UNCW still earned an at-large bid thanks to its strong regular-season resume, which includes a pair of midweek wins against its first regional opponent, Elon. Though the Seahawks rank 24th in the nation with 45 home runs, they pride themselves on driving balls into the alleys and executing small ball (ranking 30th in the nation in sacrifice bunts, and 20th in walks). UNCW’s two biggest power threats, Corey Dick (.277, 8 HR) and Tyler Molinaro (.249, 11 HR), have struggled to duplicate last year’s success, but other players have stepped forward to shoulder more of the offensive load. Sophomore outfielder Luke Dunlap (..338/.426/.505, 6 HR, 44 RBI) has emerged as a viable No. 3 hole hitter, and junior third baseman Ryan LaGrange (.372/.444/.526, 5 HR, 37 RBI) has taken advantage of his first opportunity to be an everyday player, providing good production in the middle of the lineup. Wilmington’s best overall player is senior second baseman Michael Bass (.387/.484/.574, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 24 SB), who leads the team in the three slash categories and has accounted for more than half of its 49 stolen bases, making him a disruptive force atop the lineup. He also anchors the infield defense, while Drew Farber does a good job behind the plate. The Seahawks have a deep pitching staff led by savvy, competitive senior lefty Mat Batts (9-3, 3.07, 110-26 K-BB in 106 IP) and power-armed sophomore righty Jordan Ramsey (6-6, 2.36), who owns a 90-94 fastball and improved secondary stuff. The Seahawks offer hitters a variety of different looks in the bullpen. Kelly Secrest (3.71 ERA, seven saves) is a quality three-pitch lefty at the back. Righty Justin Livengood (1.93) has a 92-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball from a high three-quarters slot, while Ricky Holden (5-1, 4.62) has a deceptive low three-quarters slot and 6-foot-10 righty Jack Lane (5.91) is a submariner.
Elon overcame a number of significant injuries—most notably to hard-throwing righty David Whitehead and center fielder Niko Fraser—but still managed to tie for second in the SoCon. The Phoenix were pounded 10-1 by Furman in their SoCon tourney opener, then rallied for five straight wins to earn its first trip to regionals since 2010. Elon lacks power arms on the mound, but it is well stocked with wily seniors who compete, like Dylan Clark (6-4, 3.86), Spencer Medick (7-6, 5.09), Kyle Webb (7-3, 3.66) and closer Nate Young (2-1, 5.03). Clark, a 6-foot-5 lefthander, can be tough when he spots his mid-80s fastball, excellent changeup and solid curveball. Young works at 89-91 and mixes in a solid breaking ball. The centerpiece of the offense is junior first baseman Ryan Kinsella (.329/.425/.683, 20 HR, 75 RBI), a lefthanded masher who ranks second in the nation in home runs and RBIs. No other Elon player has more than four home runs, making this a scrappy lineup that draws a lot of walks and hits a lot of doubles (117, 22nd in the nation). The offensive sparkplugs are athletic center fielder Sebastian Gomez (.332/.393/.452, 11 SB) and shortstop Antonio Alvarez (.296/.430/.432, 10 SB). Senior catcher Alex Swim (.267/.319/.361, 44 RBI) has had a quiet year with the bat but has a good line-drive stroke and a disciplined approach, to go along with solid receiving skills behind the plate. But this is not a good defensive team overall, fielding just .956. On paper, Elon is one of the weakest No. 3 seeds in the tournament, but they are well coached by Mike Kennedy and his staff, and they don’t quit.
Army won the Patriot League championship for the third time in the past five years by beating Holy Cross in the best-of-three championship series for the second year in a row. Army ace Chris Rowley, who is 21-4 over the last two years, threw a complete game in the opener against Holy Cross, his sixth of the year. A senior righthander, Rowley (9-3, 2.68) gets ground ball after ground ball with his lively 87-89 sinker, solid slider and excellent changeup. The Black Knights have a quality No. 2 starter in sophomore righty Alex Robinett (7-3, 2.96), who can run his fastball into the low 90s and has sharp curveball and improving changeup. The Black Knights ride the hot hand in the bullpen, with junior Gunnar Carroll (3-4, 5.66, 4 SV) leading the team in saves; he has an 87-92 fastball and a solid slider. Army has an athletic lineup and is aggressive and intelligent on the basepaths, stealing 90 bases in 108 tries (83 percent success rate). Six different Black Knights have recorded double-digit steals, led by Jon Crucitti’s 16. A year ago, Army asked a lot from a nice group of freshmen: shortstop Alex Jensen, third baseman Harold Earls and outfielder Mark McCants. That trio benefited from the experience of playing every day last year, and now they are seasoned sophomores who help lead the offense, which has a good junior run producer in Patrick Mescher (.345/.429/.406, 2 HR, 40 RBI).