For more than a decade, we have enlisted college coaches who have faced the super regional teams to break down the matchups. Sources are given anonymity in exchange for their candor. All times are Eastern. Rankings indicate national seeds.
Rice (44-18) at North Carolina State (47-14)
Friday: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sunday: 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Coach: Wayne Graham.
Postseason History: 10th super regional appearance (last in 2009). Seeking eighth trip to Omaha (last in 2008).
Postseason Route: No. 2 seed in Eugene Regional. Won in four games, beating Oregon in the final.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“I think offensively they’re underrated. People keep talking the last couple years about how Rice is not very offensive, but they led our league in hitting. What turned the corner for them was when Ratterree got going—they kind of muddled before that. I think Aquino’s been a pleasant surprise for them, I don’t think they realized they had something like him. He had a monster summer and carried it over to this year. And Ratterree’s come alive, down the stretch he’s been the man. Hoelscher’s a good college player. Byrd’s a freshman, one day he’s really good, one day you don’t know he’s on the field. Stainback’s a heady player at short, he’ll hurt you. And Stringer’s a good player.
“Their pitching staff, with Kubitza, it’s whatever day you catch him. He’ll go out one day and look like a first-rounder, and another day, he’ll have a little trouble finding the zone. When his stuff is on, he’s lights out—you can’t hit him. When he starts flipping that slider in there, you can know it’s coming and you can’t hit it. He can sink it like crazy. Basically he’s got one pitch that goes right, one pitch that goes left, and nothing goes straight. And it’s pretty firm at times. He’s usually 88-90, 91, but he’s a guy that could run it up there to 93-94 at times. I don’t think he’s had that kind of fastball this year. His thing is that slider has so much depth to it. You can tell your hitters, don’t chase, don’t chase, don’t chase, and they still chase. At Oregon it was the same deal this weekend.
“Simms, to me, he’s not quite as firm or sharp as Kubitza, but still really good. He’s solid as a rock. He hasn’t really pitched to contact a whole lot, you’ve got to make him elevate his pitches. They’re all that way—they don’t elevate the ball. They stay down, down, down in the zone, then if you start taking a little bit, they’ll spit one over the plate, and then they’ll go back down again. And Stephens is as good as those two guys are. It’s fastball-slider, occasional change. But it’s fastball, slider, slider, slider, fastball. Stephens threw awesome the other night, but to me Kubitza’s the best one. When he’s rolling, he’s rolling. If you catch him on the wrong night, you’re just not hitting him.
“The whole deal with Rice is breaking ball, breaking ball, breaking ball. The only way you’ll beat them is to not chase it. If you watch them play, you’ll notice they don’t really pound the strike zone. One thing (Graham)’s always done is had great receivers back there. Perrott, you can throw that thing anything in the dirt, and the pitchers know he’s going to catch it. That could bite them with (freshman catcher Hunter) Kopycinski back there. Kubitza bounced one late in the game against Oregon and it went off his chest protector and bounced 20 feet. With Perrott that doesn’t happen. Perrott’s hard to run on, and Kopycinski’s arm is as good or better. They slide-step well and hold runners. They have a great pitching plan; every guy pitches the same.
“And you’ve got Lemond at the back end, it’s the same thing: hard fastball that is in and out, and a great breaking ball. He comes right at you with it. Lemond hides the ball well, so it’s hard to pick up the ball with him. When he goes in a game, it’s tough to scratch anything across against him. The only lefty they have is Blake Fox. He’s a freshman, throws the changeup in there pretty good, competes well. He’s got more of a breaking ball than a slider. (Kevin) McCanna’s going to be one of their guys down the road who’ll be a dude, he’s pretty good from the right side and knows how to pitch.
“Against their offense, the guys in front of Aquino and Ratterree are who you’ve got to watch for. If you mess around and let those guys get on base, that’s where they’ll hurt you. They’re hitting Ratterree kind of down in the lineup a little bit. Byrd, he can hurt you a little bit with his speed, he likes to run, extend singles into doubles. Stainback is a steady Eddie player. Stringer’s just a great college player. Just a bunch of solid college players, nothing out of any of them will wow you. Any one of those guys can hurt you at any time. Aquino’s a big kid. He’s grown a lot since he was in high school, put on a lot of weight, definitely stronger. He wasn’t a high-profile kid out of high school, but he’s just come into his own.
“Keenan Cook, he’s pretty good. You’d think they would bump up those other guys, maybe hit Ratterree third. But you look up and he’s in the middle of the order having a good year. No plus tools, nothing that jumps off the page at you—a product of coach Graham’s magic. (Graham)’s got the mojo, I’m telling you. They’re just solid. In the past they’ve had those guys in the lineup where it was like, ‘Oh gosh, this guy’s up, that guy’s up.’ Ratterree and Aquino can be that way a little bit, but they’re just steady. And then—boom, boom, boom, they’ve got a couple runs on the board.
“Defensively, they’re solid. Hoelscher plays a great third base, Stainback and Stringer are great infielders. It’s a typical Rice team in that they play a clean game. There’s not a lot of balls put in play hard against them because their sliders are so good, but they’re solid behind them. Byrd plays a pretty good center fielder, he’s a converted infielder, a shortstop they moved to the outfield. (Connor) Teykl was a relatively high-profile kid out of Texas, that lean, athletic guy—he’ll be a good player for them down the road. He can pick it, play infield, a little bat speed, not real physical right now.
“There are some teams where the name on the front of the uniform makes you play better, teams that have been there every year. I really think Graham is the best that’s ever been in our business. What has he won, 19 championships in a row? And hasn’t played in bad leagues all the time. Super regionals 10 times? He’s something else, man. He’s got it figured out.”
North Carolina State
Coach: Elliott Avent.
Postseason History: Fourth super regional appearance (second straight). Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 1968).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Raleigh Regional. Won regional in three games, beating William & Mary in the final game.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“Obviously Carlos Rodon’s really special. And he didn’t have a great night against us, but even when he gives up runs, he strikes out tons of guys. That breaking ball is as good as I’ve seen in Division I baseball. So good that at times Brett Austin has a hard time catching it, just because it’s so electric, it’s hard to catch. He’s so good that he almost loses focus at times during a game. His stuff is so dominant, it comes so easy to him—he was better in the late innings than he was in the first, second and third innings. For me it was a process of, ‘The game’s tighter, I’m going to bear down now.’ Almost like he was going through the motions early mentally because his stuff’s so good, he doesn’t have to be that fine. He pitched against Carolina in the ACC tourney and was lights-out from pitch one, I think because it was a big stage, he was amped up and in the moment, and I think he will be in a super regional setting. He was obviously very, very good against William & Mary this past weekend. I think in a super regional setting, with everything that’ll be on the line, I think that young man will be dialed in from pitch No. 1.
“Their bullpen is really, really good, and in my opinion, that’s the glue for them to have the year they’ve had. Offensively, the right team can match them up a little bit, they’re a righthanded-dominant lineup. If you get a very good righthanded pitcher that’s a sinker/slider kind of guy, he can make it hard on their lineup, because they don’t have a lot of left- and righthanded balance throughout. So I think you can pitch multiple guys in that lineup the same way and have success with the slider. They compete, and they have good team speed; obviously Turner at the top of the lineup, every time he puts the ball on the ground he puts pressure on you.
“But the thing that makes them tough is they can match you up time after time in the bullpen. You get their starters out early, you’re feeling good about it, but in a lot of ways their bullpen guys are better than their starters, except for Rodon. They’re willing to go to those guys quickly, and they can match you up. Sasser matches up lefthanded, and multiple guys can match up righthanded. Sasser seemed like he was really going to give our lefthanders fits. It’s nothing special, a low-80s fastball and a big sweeping slider, but it’s hard for lefties. He’s a big, long-armed guy, so when he gets that arm angle right, it looks like that thing is being released behind lefties’ bodies.
“I thought there were a lot of similarities between (righties Josh) Easley and (Chris) Overman, similar type of guy in terms of their stuff and how they went at hitters. The one thing their righthanders do out of the bullpen is they hammer you with sliders, they really pitch you backwards. So I would say those guys were probably 75 percent breaking ball, their righthanders out of the pen. They just stayed down and away, tried to get you to expand your zone. They’re 89-91, not the 92-95 kind of overpowering fastball, but they’ve all got good sliders, and they really pitch off that slider. (Ryan) Wilkins I’d put in that same category with Easley and Overman. My sense is they don’t have a lot of confidence in (Anthony) Tzamtzis to pitch in a tight ballgame—there’s nothing wrong with the guy’s stuff, it’s 90-92 with a good breaking ball—but I think they have a ton of confidence in Wilkins, Easley, Overman and Sasser to go in and pitch in a close ballgame. I think they feel like those are their go-to guys in a crunch-time scenario.
“Ogburn doesn’t have electric stuff. It’s weird because you look at his ERA, his opponents’ batting average, and you say, he’s tough. He comes out, his stuff is solid, but it’s not electric. Ogburn’s got some sink, he’ll move the fastball to both sides of the plate, he’ll be 89-90, and he’ll get some groundball contact because of the sink. The offspeed stuff’s pretty average. It’s clear that they’ve got a much quicker hook with him. First sign of trouble, guys are scurrying around in the bullpen. They don’t have a long leash with him at all. They have (righty) Logan Jernigan and Stone, and it looked like Jernigan threw the ball pretty well for them in the ACC tournament, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they went back to Jernigan in a starter’s role. Stone has obviously gotten better, I thought his stuff was good. The one thing I’ll say is when we got a couple guys on base, it was like he pressed. He may not be pitching with a ton of confidence, because you could tell he was a different guy with runners on than with nobody on base. His stuff was pretty darn good—upper 80s fastball, good slider, his delivery was aggressive. He’s a nice looking arm.
“If they’ve got an Achilles’ heel, the right type of guy can really match up with their lineup, and you can run on them a little bit, you can run on Austin. If they were to run into a team like Louisville or Vanderbilt down the road who’s going to be really aggressive on the bases, their straight steal guys could exploit it a little bit. But they’re very good. I felt like their body of work was really deserving of a national seed. Their record against the top 50 is 19-7 or something (actually 20-10), so one thing you can say about them is that they’ve been good against good teams. They play loose, they don’t beat themselves.
“They’re not as offensive as they were last year, but they’ve got some scrappy guys. Adametz will wear you out; he’s a guy who doesn’t have great numbers, doesn’t scare you when he gets in the box, but he just gets hits. They’ve got some competitive guys that will get in there and kind of battle. They don’t have a lot of power. They do put some pressure on you with the straight steal. One thing they do really well is they use the bunt very effectively. They’ll safety squeeze, they’ll bunt for a hit, they like to bunt for a hit in sac situations. And if you don’t field it cleanly, you’re looking at a big inning. Clyde and (Jake) Morgan and Armstrong, those guys don’t run like an Adametz or a Fincher, but Clyde is another guy that just gets in there and competes in the box. He played solid defensively for them at third base. Most of the bottom part of their lineup, they’re just kind of steady guys. They don’t really scare you, but they put the ball in play and compete.
“Turner and Fincher can put a ton of pressure on you with their speed. Then they’ve got a true gap-to-gap, doubles-type hitter with Austin. The thing that really makes their lineup tick, you get a guy like Turner or Fincher on the bases, the straight steal becomes a factor you’ve got to deal with, suddenly you’re throwing a fastball or two more than you’d like to. And Austin runs well for a catcher, he can do some things on the bases as well. For them to tick, the formula is Turner or Fincher getting on. I think Senay provides Austin some protection; he’s probably got the most power in their lineup. He’s a guy that has come into his own as a senior. He’s a pull guy, he gets out and around it. If you’ve got a club that can match people up out of the bullpen, he’s a guy you’d like to match up with a lefthander. Teams that have the depth to match him up will try to get a lefthander in there.
“They’re very athletic. I think the most athletic guy defensively on their team is Brett Williams—he’s as good as anybody in college baseball at going gap-to-gap to get the baseball. I’d put him up against anybody we’ve played all year or anybody in my memory at going gap-to-gap to get balls. I can vividly remember two balls in the gap that I didn’t think anybody would get close to, and he ran down both of them. They’re good defensively, but he’s the one part of their defense that’s great. Fincher is like having another center fielder out there—two super-athletic guys. Turner and Ratledge are good in the middle, Ratlege is a good little player too. Turner is a better offensive player than defensive player, but you look at both those guys, they’ve got very good range, very athletic, get to some balls others won’t get to. N.C. State definitely is an athletic team.”