Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh, N.C. (Host: North Carolina State)
No. 1 North Carolina State (44-14, 19-10 in ACC)
26th appearance (fourth straight), at-large, second place in ACC Atlantic
No. 2 Mississippi (37-22, 15-15 in SEC)
18th appearance (second straight), at-large, fourth place in SEC West
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Bobby Wahl (No. 36), C Stuart Turner (No. 110), RHP Mike Mayers (No. 188)
No. 3 William & Mary (37-22, 17-10 in CAA)
Third appearance (last in 2001), at-large, second place in Colonial Athletic Association
No. 4 Binghamton (30-23, 16-13 in America East)
Second appearance (last in 2009), automatic, America East Conference tournament champion
North Carolina State hosted and won a regional a year ago with a nice blend of quality veterans and precocious freshmen. The Wolfpack lost four key regulars from that team, including its top two hitters and its leading home run hitter, making this team less offensive. But the ‘Pack still has two of the nation’s most electric players in sophomore shortstop Trea Turner (.376/.460/.567, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 24 SB) and sophomore lefthander Carlos Rodon (8-2, 3.48 with a nation-leading 151 strikeouts in 101 innings), and the complementary pieces are solid. A broken ankle cost Turner 10 games and slowed him down a bit on the basepaths, but he remains a disruptive force on the basepaths and a gifted hitter with good bat speed. Fellow sophomore Jake Fincher (.317/.409/.361, 14 SB) brings more speed to the basepaths and to the outfield. Speed is N.C. State’s greatest offensive weapon, as five Wolfpack players stole double-digit bases. First baseman Tarran Senay (.284/.364/.446, 6 HR, 49 RBI) has emerged as the team’s primary RBI man and power threat as a senior, and fellow senior Bryan Adametz (.320/.369/.396) has morphed from solid bench player a year ago to a key part of the offensive attack this year. The Wolfpack is an average defensive infield with a strong-armed, swift outfield. Catcher Brett Austin has made a leap forward as a sophomore, and second baseman Logan Ratledge, center fielder Brett Williams and shortstop Turner make the Pack solid up the middle. Rodon had an up-and-down sophomore season, but when he is utterly overpowering when he’s on, as he was in a 10-inning, one-hit performance against North Carolina in the ACC tournament. His low-to-mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider are devastating. The Wolfpack has struggled all season to get consistent outings from its other starters, but freshman lefty Brad Stone (2-2, 5.81) has good stuff and pitched well last week. Veteran righty Ethan Ogburn (4-3, 2.98) will get the nod in the regional opener against Binghamton, and the Wolfpack needs him to keep the game close for four or five innings. The deep bullpen can take it from there. Between slop-tossing lefty Grant Sasser (3-0, 1.18), aggressive righties Ryan Wilkins (6-2, 4.00) and Chris Overman (1-1, 0.39) and a host of complementary pieces, N.C. State’s bullpen is a real asset.
Mississippi broke into the top 10 in the rankings early in the season and got off to a 19-1 start before playing .500 ball in conference play. The Rebels stand out for their pitching, which ranks 27th in the nation with a 3.11 ERA. In the opener against William & Mary, Ole Miss will start Jr. RHP Mike Mayers (5-5, 2.98), who owns an 89-93 fastball, a solid-average slider and an inconsistent changeup. That sets up a tantalizing potential matchup Saturday between Rodon and Bobby Wahl (9-0, 1.99), a dogged competitor who pitched through a nasty blister issue this year, affecting the quality of his stuff. Even so, he pitches at 89-92 and occasionally touches 94, and he flashes a plus slider and good changeup. Sam Smith (3-0, 3.11) gives the rotation a third power righty with a fastball that can touch 92 and three solid offspeed pitches. The quality bullpen is built around veteran righties Brett Huber (3-2, 1.54, 12 SV), Tanner Bailey (4-2, 2.88) and Aaron Greenwood (3-5, 2.96), all of whom aggressively attack the strike zone with solid but not spectacular stuff. The Ole Miss defense has standouts in center field (Auston Bousfield), left (Tanner Mathis), right (Will Jamison), third base (Andrew Mistone) and catcher (Stuart Turner). Turner, one of the best defensive catchers in college baseball, has thrown out 51 percent of basestealers, and his ability to control the running game will be a huge asset in a potential matchup with speedy N.C. State. Turner (.381/.452/.533, 5 HR, 50 RBI) is also the primary run producer in the middle of a lineup that otherwise lacks punch. The hard-nosed Mathis (.268/.401/.296) sets the tone out of the leadoff spot but has had a down season. Overall, Ole Miss is a below-average offensive club that needs to get timely hits and hope its pitching can keep opposing offenses in check.
William & Mary came out of nowhere to break a 12-year regionals drought in coach Jamie Pinzino’s first year at the helm. Pinzino, who successfully shepherded Bryant through its transition to Division I in his previous head coaching gig, is a sharp pitching mind who has gotten a lot out of the Tribe on the mound. In senior righties John Farrell (11-2, 2.80) and Brett Koehler (6-5, 4.44) plus sophomore lefty Jason Inghram (8-6, 3.46), the Tribe has a reliable rotation that usually keeps games close. Farrell was a Cape Cod League all-star in 2011, and he handled a starting role for the first time in his career this spring thanks to a solid fastball and good low-80s slider. Senior lefthander Matt Wainman (4-3, 3.90, 8 SV) is a strike-thrower who can bump 90 at the back of the bullpen. The middle of the lineup has a trio of physical run producers in Michael Katz (.365/.453/.563, 5 HR, 22 2B, 47 RBI), Ryan Lindemuth (.363/.442/.481, 4 HR, 47 RBI) and William Shaw (.305/.422/.399, 4 HR, 37 RBI). Speedy center fielder Ryan Brown (.329/.458/.419, 21 SB) makes the Tribe go out of the leadoff spot.
Binghamton played most of its games on the road in 2012 while its stadium was renovated, using the Binghamton Mets ballpark and Cornell’s facility for its seven home games. The renovated facility opened this year, and the Bearcats played 21 home games, but their road warrior mentality remained, as they went 17-13 in road games and 11-10 at home. Binghamton knocked off top-seeded Maine twice in the America East Conference tournament to return to regionals for the first time since 2009. The Bearcats are loaded with upperclassmen in the lineup and on the mound. Six-foot-9 senior righty Jake Lambert (7-2, 2.95), senior righty Jay Lynch (6-5, 2.98) and junior righty Jack Rogalla (5-4, 2.82) form an experienced, savvy rotation. All three work in the mid-to-upper 80s and can throw three pitches for strikes. Led by the steady middle infield duo of John Howell and Daniel Nevares, Binghamton is an excellent defensive team, ranking 28th in the nation with a .975 fielding percentage. Nevares (.314/.347/.447, 34 RBI) is a doubles machine who hits in the cleanup spot. The team’s best pure hitter is sophomore outfielder Jake Thomas (.382/.528/.541, 5 HR, 36 RBI), whose superb plate discipline helped him post a 44-20 walk-strikeout mark. Shaun McGraw (.295/.384/.447, 4 HR) provides a bit more power. The veteran Bearcats command the strike zone well and typically don’t beat themselves, giving them a chance to pull off an upset in this regional.