No. 1 Pepperdine (40-19)
23rd appearance, automatic, tied for West Coast regular season, won tournament
No. 2 UCLA (32-23)
13th appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
No. 3 UC Irvine (36-22)
Second appearance, at-large, Big West
No. 4 Missouri (31-25)
18th appearance, at-large, Big 12
Pepperdine plays host to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, but its reward is the most difficult regional in the nation and a date with the dominant right arm of Missouri’s Max Scherzer in the opener. Gee, thanks. Plus, Pepperdine will play without senior second baseman David Uribes, who was lost for the year two weeks ago after suffering an ankle injury in practice. He led the WCC with 85 hits and 22 steals. It’s not all bad for the Waves. They’ve still got a deep pitching staff that posted a 3.49 ERA thanks to seniors Paul Coleman (7-5, 2.78) and James Johnson (6-1, 3.13) and hard-throwing (mid-90s) closer Brett Hunter (5-3, 2.43 with 10 saves). Junior catcher Chad Tracy anchors the offense with .329-6-43 numbers a year after hitting .367-12-61 to win WCC player of the year honors.
A year after going 15-41 last season, UCLA makes it back to regionals. Second-year coach John Savage mixed a rotation of juniors with a young nucleus of position players that has featured as many as six freshmen in the starting lineup. The kids can catch–just look at the Pac-10 leading .977 fielding mark. They’ve bought into the team concept offensively and have scored some big series wins (Arizona State, Mississippi, at North Carolina State). But it all starts with Hector Ambriz (7-7, 3.97, 92 K’s), Dave Huff (7-3, 2.82, 99 K’s) and Tyson Brummett (6-6, 4.65, 77 K’s), the best starting trio in this regional and one that helped the Bruins ranked second in the Pac-10 with a 3.82 ERA. UCLA goes as far as they carry it.
Savage took UC Irvine to regionals in 2004 before leaving for UCLA and was replaced by Dave Serrano, the pitching coach for national champion Cal State Fullerton that year. The teams will play similar games, with good defense, strong pitching and scrappy offenses. The Anteaters ranked among the top 20 nationally in steals (104) and ERA (3.47), and freshman second baseman Ben Orloff led the nation with 26 sacrifice bunts. The rotation of Justin Cassel, Scott Gorgen and Glenn Swanson combined to go 25-16, 2.95, and closer Blair Erickson won five games and saved 13 more.
Among Big 12 teams, only Texas has matched Missouri‘s four straight NCAA appearances. That run looked in jeopardy when the Tigers lost ace Max Scherzer to injury for five starts. But he returned, Missouri closed the season by sweeping Texas and topping Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the conference tournament to salvage the season. Missouri opens in the nation’s toughest regional for the second straight year. It faced Arizona and Cal State Fullerton a season ago. Scherzer (7-1, 1.89) allowed one earned run in 14 innings over his last two starts and looks like the same pitcher who ranked second nationally in opponents average in 2005 and entered his junior year a favorite to be among the first five players drafted. He and junior lefty Nathan Culp (11-5, 3.24) give the Tigers the arms to become the first No. 4 seed to win a regional since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999.