Fayetteville Regional Capsule
Baum Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
No. 1 Arkansas (41-19)
20th appearance, at-large, Southeastern, No. 7 national seed
No. 2 Creighton (44-14)
Eighth appearance, automatic, won Missouri Valley tournament
No. 3 Oklahoma State (38-19)
35th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 4 Albany (29-27)
First appearance, automatic, won America East
Arkansas cruised through the bulk of its season without much incident before dropping its final three conference series, but the Razorbacks still won the SEC's Western Division title, and they reached the championship game of the SEC tournament behind their dominant starting pitching. Junior lefthander Nick Schmidt has been the Hogs' ace for three years and is a potential first-round pick next week, but righty Jess Todd has been just as dominant or moreso of late; he set an Arkansas and SEC tournament record with 17 strikeouts over eight innings against South Carolina. Big righthander Duke Welker is a very solid third starter with great stuff that he learned to harness as the year progressed. If all three of those arms keep on performing like they have lately, it will be hard for any team to stop Arkansas short of the College World Series. But the Razorbacks are vulnerable beyond their top three and could be in trouble if they get pushed to the fourth game of a regional.
Creighton relies heavily on pitching and defense, just as it usually does under fourth-year coach Ed Servais. Both of those ingredients have been potent this season, as the Bluejays rank 10th in the nation with a 3.38 ERA and sixth with a .976 fielding percentage. Creighton wins most close games because of its lights-out bullpen, which is anchored by hard-throwing closer Andy Masten (1.74 ERA, 16 saves) and ambidextrous marvel Pat Venditte (8-2, 1.83, four saves, 90 strikeouts, 21 walks in 88 innings). Venditte saw his remarkable scoreless streak snapped at 43 2/3 innings in the MVC championship game against Wichita State, but he clinched tournament MVP honors by pitching 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in that decisive contest.
Oklahoma State's style is quite the opposite of Creighton's: quite simply, the Cowboys try to bludgeon teams to death. OSU ranks among the nation's top 10 in batting (.327), scoring (7.9 runs per game) home runs (1.33 per game) and slugging (.526). Third baseman Matt Mangini has had a poor second half but still finished at .341 with nine homers, and Tyler Mach (.410 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs) has done nothing but hit like crazy over the last two years. Outfielder Corey Brown (.345 with 19 homers, 65 RBIs and 21 stolen bases) has tapped into his impressive five-tool potential. The Cowboys have struggled to find any reliable starting pitchers this year, but senior Oliver Odle has pitched well down the stretch. If Oklahoma State wins this regional, though, it will have to do it with the bats.
Albany won nine of its last 11 games, including back-to-back victories over America East regular season champion Binghamton, to earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament. The Great Danes are likely to be overmatched by the three marquee teams in this regional, but power-armed closer Alexander Beaulieu (2.19 ERA, 10 saves) gives them a chance in a close game. Tom Hill (.317, six homers) is a good defensive catcher who can neutralize the running game, and he's got occasional pop at the plate.