Goss Stadium, Corvallis, Oregon (Host: Oregon State)
No. 1 Oregon State (45-10, 24-6 in Pac-12)
14th appearance (fifth straight), automatic, Pacific-12 Conference champion, No. 3 national seed
Top 500 Prospects: LHP Matt Boyd (No. 178), LHP Ben Wetzler (No. 243), RHP Dan Child (No. 275), C Jake Rodriguez (No. 394), SS Tyler Smith (No. 460)
No. 2 Texas A&M (32-27, 13-16 in SEC)
29th appearance (seventh straight), at-large, tied for sixth place in SEC West
Top 500 Prospects: SS Mikey Reynolds (No. 325), RHP Jason Jester (No. 370)
No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (34-23, 17-10 in Big West)
Eighth appearance (last in 2001), at-large, tied for second place in Big West
Top 500 Prospects: SS Brandon Trinkwon (No. 307), 1B Tyler Kuresa (No. 311), RHP Jared Wilson (No. 455)
No. 4 Texas-San Antonio (35-23, 15-11 in WAC)
Third appearance (last in 2005), automatic, WAC tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: OF Daniel Rockett (No. 447)
Oregon State entered the season as our pick to win the Pac-12, and the Beavers raced out to a 15-0 start en route to a 45-win regular season and the league championship. The Beavers are a well-rounded club, but they stand out most for their pitching, ranking second nationally with a 2.15 ERA. Oregon State owns the nation’s most reliable weekend rotation, turning in 25 quality starts in 30 outings during Pac-12 play. Matt Boyd (10-3, 2.09) and Ben Wetzler (7-1, 2.10) give OSU a pair of seasoned lefthanders with good stuff and plenty of big-game experience, and righty Andrew Moore (12-1, 1.22) has a strong case for national freshman of the year. He pitches well above his experience level, with a quality four-pitch mix that includes an 88-92 fastball, a swing-and-miss slider, a solid downer curve and changeup. The deep bullpen has proven options from the right side (power sinkerballer Scott Schultz, changeup specialist Tony Bryant, strike-thrower Brandon Jackson) and the left (sidewinder Max Engelbrekt, flame-thrower Jace Fry, lanky Tyler Painton). Pat Casey’s teams are renowned on the West Coast for the way they fight for every at-bat, keeping constant pressure on opposing defenses. They execute small ball, but they also have some physicality thanks to slugging sophomores Michael Conforto and Dylan Davis, plus veteran Danny Hayes. OSU’s best all-around player is senior shortstop Tyler Smith (.306/.390/.400), who is a catalyst for the offense as well as the defensive glue. The Beavers defend very well up the middle and are just adequate on the corners.
After falling to 22-22 overall, 7-13 in the SEC on April 27, Texas A&M was on track to miss a regional heading into the home stretch, but the Aggies won two of their last three series (against Missouri and Tennessee) to get to 13 conference wins, then beat Florida and Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament to solidify their at-large credentials in the eyes of the committee. A&M has a nice collection of quality arms, bookended by a pair of power arms in ace Daniel Mengden (8-3, 1.84) and closer Jason Jester (3-3, 2.32, 13 SV). Mengden, a physical two-way talent, has good feel for four pitches and can run his fastball up to 93 mph. Jester has a 90-94 fastball and a tight 78-82 curve, and he also has some feel for a changeup against lefties. The rest of the staff has been less consistent, but Parker Ray (1-1, 1.83) has provided a boost down the stretch, most recently throwing eight innings of three-hit shutout ball in the SEC tournament win against Vandy. The Aggies lack offensive firepower, ranking 234th in the nation in scoring (4.4 runs per game). Switch-hitting shortstop Mikey Reynolds (.343/.408/.424, 18 SB) is a dynamic table-setter who makes the Aggies go, while also anchoring the infield defense. Physical freshman Hunter Melton has given the lineup more punch in the second half, leading the team with six homers despite starting just 27 games. The Aggies have good team speed and are aggressive on the basepaths, but they’ll need more timely hitting than they’ve gotten in the regular season in order to make a postseason run.
UC Santa Barbara won seven of its final eight series to finish tied for second in the Big West and snap a 12-year NCAA tournament drought in just coach Andrew Checketts’ second year at the helm. A former Oregon State player and Oregon assistant coach, Checketts now returns to his old stomping grounds as a head coach. The Gauchos don’t stand out in any area statistically; they’re just a well-coached team that finds different ways to win. Their best asset is their defense, anchored by one of college baseball’s smoothest shortstops in Brandon Trinkwon, and a catcher (Jackson Morrow) who has thrown out 43 percent of basestealers this year, giving UCSB a chance to contain Texas A&M’s running game. The Gauchos also have a plus defender at first base in Tyler Kuresa (.304/.360/.469, 5 HR, 45 RBI), who teams with freshman Robby Nesovic (.343/.414/.461, 4 HR, 33 RBI) to give the Gauchos some physicality in the middle of the order. A key piece of UCSB’s No. 12-ranked recruiting class last fall, Nesovic came to Santa Barbara primarily as a pitcher, but his knack for putting the barrel on the ball even when it is well out of the zone has made him an offensive force. Another freshman, righthander Dylan Hecht (1.93 ERA, 8 SV), has emerged as the bullpen anchor thanks to a 91-94 mph fastball that can touch 97 at times and an inconsistent slider that can be a low-80s weapon when it’s on. Stocky bulldog lefty Greg Mahle (7-4, 4.03) helps the Gauchos get to Hecht, giving the ‘pen a nice one-two punch. Ace Austin Pettibone (9-3, 3.11) has fringy stuff but competes with an 87-89 fasball, a decent changeup and a big slow curve. Nesovic pitched well down the stretch in the rotation, and his funkiness, angle and fastball life can give hitters trouble.
Texas-San Antonio broke an eight-year regional drought in Jason Marshall’s first year as head coach, and now Marshall (a former Aggie) has a chance to face his alma mater in the NCAA tournament. But first the Roadrunners must face Oregon State, and freshman ace Brock Hartson (9-4, 3.10) was taxed in the WAC tournament, throwing 100 pitches over 7 1/3 innings in Wednesday’s opener, then throwing another 110 pitches over 7 1/3 innings on three days’ rest in Sunday’s championship game. Lean, power-armed closer Matt Sims (6-2, 2.13, 8 SV) also came up big in the conference tourney, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings Wednesday and five more shutout innings Saturday. How well that duo can bounce back will be critical to UTSA’s chances this week. UTSA also needs a better start out of junior lefty Michael Kraft (5-5, 4.10), who can keep hitters off balance with his quality changeup, but who struggled in the WAC tournament. Of course, this is an offensive team anyhow, ranking 25th in the nation in batting (.304) and 35th in slugging (.425). The lineup is led by a pair of dangerous power hitters in R.J. Perucki (.349/.411/.556, 12 HR, 46 RBI) and Daniel Rockett (.338/.408/.579, 10 HR, 48 RBI). The catalyst is speedy, athletic leadoff man Riley Good (.336/.377/.455, 11 SB), who has a nice line-drive stroke from the left side and plays with plenty of energy. Defensively, UTSA is led by catcher John Bormann, who threw out 61 percent of basestealers this year (31 of 51). He’ll be an asset against three teams that have good team speed.