College coaches break down the super regional teams for the series that start on Saturday (the left half of the bracket). Sources were given anonymity in exchange for their candor. All times are Eastern. Rankings indicate national seeds.
North Carolina State (43-18) at No. 1 Florida (45-18)
Saturday: 2 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 1 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 1 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
North Carolina State
Coach: Elliott Avent.
Postseason History: Third super regional appearance (last in 2008). Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 1968).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Raleigh Regional. Won in five games, beating Vanderbilt in the final.
“I think N.C. State is the most talented team we played all year. I think they’re better than Florida State, better than North Carolina, better than Virginia. You get to face Rodon, he’s freakin’ throwing bowling balls at you. And Turner, every time he comes up, you’d better get him out, because if not it’s a triple. Next thing you know he’s on third base. They’ve got two of the most exciting players, not just freshmen, but players in the entire country. They’re fun to watch, man. The talent of the freshmen is really, really good, but they’ve got enough veterans with Diaz and Ciencin and Mathews, that help those young guys know how to play the game, and how to handle situations, things like that.
“Turner is really good. He sets the table for them, but he also affects you in so many different ways, it’s good for the other guys on his team. First of all, you don’t want to walk him, so you don’t nibble. You throw it over the middle of the plate and he hits it into the gap or over the fence. Then when he’s on base, you’ve got to worry about picking over and slide-stepping, and Diaz and the other guys behind him start getting fastballs, and they put balls into the gaps. He’s such a threat on the bases that he affects everything. And the guy is pretty good at third base too—people don’t talk about that. He’ll probably play shortstop for them next year.
“Diaz is one of the best shortstops we played against all year. He has unbelievable defensive instincts. He knows when he’s got to come get a ball, he knows when he has to stay back, he knows the runners. His baseball IQ is very, very high. It’s probably just average tools, but his instincts are way above the norm. And he’s improved tremendously offensively. Two years ago he was hitting nine-hole.
“They’re solid in the middle of the lineup. They have enough in there to scare you. Ciencin’s been around the block, he’s going to get his hits. You can pitch him differently every time, you can get him out twice but he’ll probably barrel two balls up. Canela, I think he can really, really hit. He’s a bad-bodied catcher/DH, but he’s got some loose hands and can really hit. Mathews, sometimes you wonder how he does it because he’s a front-foot hitter, and I think he’s a guess hitter. If you throw a breaking ball in a breaking ball count, he can hit it 450 feet. You’ve got to keep him off balance, but if he guesses right, you’re in trouble.
“Ciencin has played third for them the past couple years, he’s pretty good at first. They rotate Bergquist and Ratledge at second, both of them are serviceable players. Ratledge is a little better offensively, Bergquist a little better defensively. Fincher is really athletic in center field, but up and down at the plate. (Tarran) Senay is a below-average athlete, he can be exposed in the outfield a little bit. But they have enough athleticism in center and up the middle, and with Turner at third, they make some plays that surprise you. Canela’s serviceable, a solid catcher for a college team. Canela might receive better, but Austin throws better, and I’d probably take him back there (behind the plate). Austin started out OK, but I think there’s some holes in the swing from both sides. Scouting reports circulate, people figure out how to pitch them. A lot of times it’s tough for freshmen to make adjustments. He hasn’t been able to make adjustments to those holes in his swing. But I still think he’s going to be a really good player down the road, and going to be a really decent pick after his junior year.
“With Rodon, the stuff is exceptional, but thing that surprised us the most is the amount of maturity and competitive juices he shows as a freshman—it’s unbelievable. It’s like he’s a junior or senior out there on the mound. I think that’s why he’s been so successful in this league, being able to go on the road in tough places to play, and it doesn’t affect him like most freshmen. It’s mostly fastball-slider. The fastball was anywhere from 92-95 against us, and the thing about it, it’s heavy. It’s like a bowling ball. If you make contact, it’s knocking your bat backwards. He’s got enough feel for the slider that you’ve got to respect it. He does a good job at times throwing the slider like a cutter, so it’s two different types of pitches. Against a lefty it will be bigger break, then against a righty it’s shorter cut, 86 mph, you’re geared up for the fastball and then you swing over the top of the cutter. I don’t know if ti’s intentional, but you have to respect it, you can’t just hammer the fastball. He does have some feel for the changeup but doesn’t use it much.
“I think Tzamtzis is their next-best guy, he’s got the next-best stuff. He’s got a three-pitch mix with good stuff. I thought all three pitches were really good. The fastball was up to 93, with a good breaking ball, and a changeup/splitty—I think some of our guys thought it was a splitty. He had good command of it, and it was really tough on lefties. (Freshman Logan) Jernigan’s stuff is really good, but it’s a lot of deep counts and he’s at 110 pitches in the fifth inning, everything’s a three-ball, two-strike count. Especially when they started him on Sundays, they get to the ‘pen so early. Ogburn, I thought his stuff was just OK, but he does have feel for the breaking ball and can throw it a lot.
“I think the bullpen is an area of concern for them, especially if they use Vance Williams in a starting role again. If they can start Ogburn or Jernigan, then they’ve got somebody who can shut down a rally in Wililams or Tzamtzis in the bullpen. D.J. Thomas is nothing special but has enough of a breaking ball to be tough on lefties. Overman’s been good over the years, but this year kind of an average guy: 88-90 with a good slider, but the book is out on him. If you lay off the slider, he doesn’t have enough fastball to beat you with. If you spit on the slider out of the zone, the fastball is very hittable.
“The only concern is, are they going to have enough pitching? Obviously Rodon can do it, he can match up. I think Tzamtzis can probably match up. What’s going to get them is are they going to be able to hold the lead late against a team as talented as Florida? Will they have that guy that can come in and get Fontana, Tucker, Johnson and Zunino out? I don’t know that they have that guy in the back of the bullpen. They’re so talented offensively, they have some guys that can run the bases and they have some juice, so they could get out to a big lead and that might not be a factor.”
Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan
Postseason History: Sixth super regional appearance (fourth straight). Seeking eighth trip to Omaha (third straight).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Gainesville Regional. Won in three games, beating Georgia Tech in the final.
“How do you beat them? You don’t. You don’t beat Florida; occasionally they beat themselves throughout the year. I was really, really impressed with them; they just don’t have a hole, don’t have a weakness.
“No question, especially with these BBCOR bats, their power is a separator. It’s not a fun inning when Tucker and Zunino are coming up, and it’s not like Fontana and Pigott and those guys are fun to face either. Zunino was in a little bit of a funk for a while, really jumping at the ball, trying to force everything to the right side, but he’s heated up in the last coupe of weeks. He’s a special talent, a pretty rare combination at our level of strength and feel to hit. He can hit the ball out to both sides of the park, recognizes pitches, and he’s got that man strength you don’t see a lot of kids in college have. Same thing with Tucker: He’s always been good against us, sometimes tries to pull the ball too much but he’s just so strong from the elbows to the hands. He’s strong enough to pull a lefthanded breaking ball down and away out of the park to right field; it’s really something.
“They did not swing the bats well as a team there for about three weeks, and they lost more than they should. I don’t know if they had some guys pressing, teams just seem to go through that at some point during the year. Fontana can run a ball out of the yard too. You always talk about Tucker and Zunino, but Pigott and Fontana both have seven or eight or nine homers, which by today’s standards is a power threat. Fontana just seems to be a little more vocal than the other kids. In a tie game, he’s going to talk to the pitcher. He’s very controlled but kind of fiery. He just seems to bring the energy without being loud, but I think he probably is the guy speaking up in the clubhouse that everybody listens to. He just gets on base, and obviously his biggest strength is his fielding percentage throughout his career, which is remarkable. He just makes every play, just an extremely accurate thrower. I would be interested to ask Sully how many times he’s seen Fontana throw a ball off target in practice or a game in three years; I bet he can count it all on one hand. Pigott isn’t a flyer in center field, but he’s a senior, he’s figured out how to play baseball, just a good baseball player. He gets good reads on the ball, does just fine out there. He’s not a 6.5 runner or anything. Shafer’s just kind of another solid guy.
“The supporting guys are pretty talented dudes. Ramjit has progressed nicely as a player—nothing flashy but got some strength, nice-bodied kid, another guy who’s got some power, really good power for a guy hitting in the bottom third of your order. He’s got a couple holes, you feel like you can pitch to him, but over the course of a weekend he’s going to hit some homers, a double or two. Obviously Johnson is a really good college hitter, but you can pound him in and get him out. No question he can hurt you if you make a mistake. It’s different as a pitcher when you’re facing six guys in a row that can hit the ball out of the park if you leave a flat fastball down the middle. When you’re facing a guy without power, if you get behind in the count you just throw a fastball, worst case scenario it’s a single, big deal. You feel like you have to nibble a little more with these guys, so you end up walking more guys and giving them more because of the threat of power. They’ve got Pigott and Zunino from the right side, Fontana and Johnson and Tucker from the left side—they’re balanced.
“Those young guys, Tobias and Turgeon, they’re both really nice looking players. They don’t play like freshmen. Tobias is a physical kid, he hasn’t had a great year offensively but he’s got all the tools, a really good presence and the bat speed’s good. He’s a stocky kid, moves a lot better than you expect looking at the body, looks like a fullback but runs well. Just a good competitor. Turgeon’s like a young Fontana, just a very polished baseball player.
“Randall has ridiculous command. I think the umpire has a big impact on him, because if the umpire is giving him the ball just off the plate, he’ll go there all night long. His pitches don’t dazzle you, he doesn’t walk anybody, he’s a very good competitor. It’s fastball-slider-curveball-changeup, they’re all solid pitches but none of them are nasty. His separator, his best attribute is his command, his feel. Johnson is really impressive—I think he’s a big leaguer. It’s three above-average college pitches. He has always shown a really good changeup against us and the breaking ball is good. Both of them are above-average SEC pitches, so he’s equally as good against lefthanded as righthanded hitters. I’ve always thought he was the most impressive pitcher of the group. If i’m Sully and I have to win a game tomorrow, I’m pitching him.
“(Karsten) Whitson wasn’t sharp against us—his command was a little off, he gave us some baserunners. But he didn’t look like he did last year against us. Crawford’s got a bazooka, he can throw 95 and the slider was very good against us. I think we actually squared up a couple of fastballs—he missed up a couple times. But it’s an electric arm, power stuff, big-time fastball-slider.
“I hate speaking in superlatives, but I think (Paco) Rodriguez could pitch the seventh inning in a big league game right now. He’s been my favorite pitcher all season. If I had to put up a zero in one inning, it would be Rodriguez. He’s just the total package: deception, fastball movement, command. You can tell a lefthanded hitter that his slider’s coming three times in a row, and they’re not going to hit it—might foul it off the third time. He gets really bad swings from righthanded hitters against the slider too. He’s got huge (guts), big-time competitor. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that kid.
“Maddox is 90-94, a good slider, good changeup, lot of strikes. Their team just plays with so much confidence because they have a good bullpen. When you’re not confident from the seventh inning on, your hitters press at the plate. It’s really an interesting dynamic. (Greg) Larson is a big tall kid, his fastball’s really downhill. In addition to having a nice downward plane, it’s still got some sinking action. He’s a fastball-slider guy; I’ve always really liked him. Or I should say didn’t like him when we were facing him, he’s been effective against us. It seems like he never throws a ball thigh-high either. Really good job pounding the bottom. It’s like Randall and Johnson have been great, every time they pitch they’re going into the seventh, then they just go to Rodriguez and Maddox. And if they need to bridge a gap, they can go to Larson.
“No question, my money is on the Gators to win it all this year.”
Oklahoma (42-23) at No. 8 South Carolina (43-17)
Saturday: 8 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 7 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Coach: Sunny Golloway.
Postseason History: Third super regional appearance (last in 2010). Seeking 20th trip to Omaha (last in 2010).
Postseason Route: No. 2 seed in Charlottesvile Regional. Won in five games, beating Appalachian State in the final.
“The strength is the pitching staff. They have a pitching staff that can beat anybody, and they’ve got depth, it’s not just a couple of guys. Starting, bullpen, the whole works. They showed that losing the first game in the regional and coming back and winning it. They’ve got a pitching staff that can take over a game. Offensively they’re not as good as they’ve been, but Oklahoma always finds a way to get the big two-out hit to score enough runs. They’ve got some older guys like Reine, White, Bushyhead, guys that know how to win. Combine that with their pitching staff and I think they have a great chance to win.
“Jordan John is the pitcher of the group. He doesn’t have as much stuff but can pitch, can pitch backwards when he needs to. John is more of an upper-80s guy, he’ll have to pitch backwards a little bit and rely more on command. He’s a bulldog, has pitched in a lot of big games for them, and he pitches that way. Dillon Overton, in our mind, was not too much different than (Oklahoma State ace Andrew) Heaney. He’s a lot better than he used to be; he was good, but now he’s great. I think he pitches low 90s, but you’ll see 94-95 from him too. Gray is a mid-90s guy. I think his feel for pitching has come along nicely. I thought all their guys got better over the season, more pitchabilty, strikes, better presence on the mound. He has more of a curve, not necessarily a swing-and-miss pitch but it’s a strike pitch for him, and he will firm it up a little bit with two strikes. But a lot of their guys are predominantly fastballs. They have breaking balls to go with it, but you don’t see it as much because they don’t need to. They can all pitch up at the top of the zone, and not many hitters will catch up with it.
“Okert out of the pen, you don’t see guys like that out of the pen in college, a lefthanded guy throwing 95-96 with command. No one talks about (Damien) Magnifico, but you’ll see four guys throwing mid-90s, and Magnifico is even above that. But it is straight, and throwing strikes can be an issue for him.
“Ross out of the leadoff spot really makes them go. He uses the whole field, and when he gets on base he makes things happen. Reine’s not had a great year, but he’s dangerous. He’s very capable of turning a game around with one swing. The numbers aren’t impressive, but he’s not a guy you want to face with a game on the line. Max White hitting third for them has had a really good year. He has done a good job in center fielder. He struggled at the plate for a bit early, but he was much more confident later. He’s more a doubles, gap-type hitter. I don’t know if he’ll hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he can score a runner from first. But after that, the other guys don’t have great numbers. They’ve got a guy Oberste who nobody could get out in the Big 12 tournament. The power’s pretty easy with him, the swing is easy. Then you look at Bushyhead’s numbers, they’re not great, but you don’t want him up there with a guy in scoring position with two outs.
“Mayfield is definitely more of a defensive-oriented player, but he can work counts, get on base, and if he gets on he’ll steal a base. He’s another gamer-type player. He and Bushyhead up the middle are pretty darn good defensively. Carey the third baseman, he got hot in the (Big 12) tournament. He had the walk-off home run against Heaney in the first game, hit everything hard. I think he’s in the lineup for his defense though, he’s good defensively, but won’t blow you away defensively. Mistich was hitting fourth in the tournament, but he’s nothing special.
“I don’t think they’re quite as good defensively as they’ve been in the past, but they’re still good. In the past they never made mistakes. They’ve made some errors that have hurt them, but they’re solid. Catching they’re pretty average, not great behind the plate.
“They’ll find a way to score some runs, and they’re going to be hard to score against. And they play with a lot of confidence.”
Coach: Ray Tanner.
Postseason History: 10th super regional appearance (third straight). Seeking 11th trip to Omaha (third straight).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Columbia Regional. Won in three games, beating Clemson in the final.
“The one thing they have is Walker and Marzilli have been around and are really good players. They’ve got good enough starting pitching to make the game short on the back of their bullpen, they’ve got a great closer in Matt Price and great matchup guys with Evan Beal and Tyler Webb. That’s what they’ve had the last couple years, that’s why they’ve made this run.
“The guys who scare you the most are Marzilli, Walker and Dantzler. But their role players do such a great job. Matthews is hit or miss. He’ll go 0-for-4 one day and then hit a big home run the next. They’ve got some guys who can hurt you or be pitched to. English is a threat every time he comes to the plate because he can absolutely fly, and if he gets on it can be a triple because he can steal second and third. Their numbers don’t scare you, but there’s always somebody who can beat you. If Greiner’s out, that will hurt the bottom of the order, because Rosenberg is really below-average offensively. Rosenberg can really defend, he blocks like a big leaguer, but it’s such a drop-off offensively. Greiner’s average isn’t super, but he does have that threat of hitting the ball in the gap or out of the park.
“It’s tough to get through the three guys at the top in a row. Walker is really, really good, but I’ll tell you, the thing is, he’s at his best in clutch situations. That’s why he’s been such a good player, and kind of a legend at South Carolina. Nobody on, first inning or third inning, he doesn’t scare you as much. But two outs with somebody on in the eighth inning, that’s when he comes through. He’s one of the most clutch players I’ve ever coached against.
“They don’t have (Peter) Mooney and (Scott) Wingo up the middle, but what Vergason and Pankake have been able to do on a consistent basis is what’s surprised me. I didn’t think there was a good shot Joey Pankake would be able to stay at shortstop all year, but give the kid a lot of credit. He’s made a lot of improvements. And Vergason, they get those junior college guys who are probably just average players, but they plug them in around those guys and they thrive in that environment. Put him in that program, surround him with Marzilli, Walker, Matthews behind him, and he turns out to be a very productive player for them. Adrian Morales, an average player in juco, goes to that program and he’s a really, really good college player. Dantzler’s the same thing. But if you make a mistake to Dantzler he’s going to hit it out of the ballpark. Dantzler doesn’t do anything pretty over at third, but he’s made like five errors all year (actually four). Maybe that’s because he doesn’t get to a ton of balls, but he’s pretty solid. Pankake’s improved tremendously. Vergason’s stable there, he’s very solid defensively, and Walker’s plenty good enough at first. If there is a weakness, it might be Pankake’s experience at shortstop and Dantzler’s range at third.
“Marzilli is a plus defender in the outfield, and that’s the one thing people don’t realize: You cannot hit the ball up in the air against them, because those three outfielders can go get it as well as anybody. English and Matthews are plus runners, and Marzilli is a plus defender. All three can throw too, which is rare for a college outfield. Marzilli is a game changer with his defense. All three of those guys are really, really good out there.
“We call Roth a magician, with his stuff what he does. He’s an ultra-competitor, knows how to pitch, throws any pitch in any count. The way to beat him is you’ve got to be very, very patient. He gets people out by getting guys swinging at the ball that is four to five inches off the plate. If you take until you get a strike, you can get a lot of 2-0, 3-1 counts, so you get better pitches to hit. So you let your certain guys hack, but your top of the order and 6-7-8-9 have to be very very patient. If he throws a strike first pitch, so what? Just go to work. He’s a magician with what he can do with that ball.
“Holmes is a very competitive righthander, kind of your stock righthander, 88-91, maybe touch a 92 here and there. He throws a hit-me breaking ball 73-75, but he’s got a really good slider, 80-82, and he has great command of it. The one thing he can do is throw all his offspeed pitches anytime he wants for a strike. It makes the hitter uncomfortable. He’s kind of a strike-thrower/competitor, lets his defense work. When he’s on, he can go deep into the game. When his offspeed lacks command and he has to rely on his fastball, he can be hit a little bit. Jordan Montgomery is going to be really good for them. It’s an 87-88 lefty, but kind of a deceptive sneaky fastball, kind of hides the ball a little bit, our guys come back to dugout saying it’s getting on me a little more. Great feel for a changeup and enough breaking ball to be effective against lefties. But I think lefties have a better chance against him than righties because the breaking ball is not as good as the changeup and the lefties kind of take the change away from him. He’s got enough confidence and feel for the change, he can throw it any time to keep you off balance.
“Webb has come a long way. His fastball’s gotten better. He goes from 88-92, decent changeup, pretty good slider against lefties, but he’s gonna attack you with his fastball. It’s firm and he’s got good command of it to both sides of the plate. He’s not just a lefthanded breaking ball guy, he’s got enough fastball to get it by you. Beal, when the breaking ball is on, it’s as good of a breaking ball as there is out there—a swing-and-miss, big-time breaking ball. The fastball is 87-88, and he doesn’t throw it a lot; it’s going to be 85 percent breaking balls. Sometimes he has some bad outings because he’s a freshman, they’ve used him a lot, sometimes just tired, and the breaking ball was up in the zone and flat. But in short stints, the breaking ball is really tough. Price, he’s good. I think his stuff is average, his fastball and breaking ball. But it’s his demeanor, his competitive juices, it’s that kind of stuff—he thinks he’s Nolan Ryan out there. It’s an intimidation factor. Their whole pitching staff is kind of that way, but especially Price. It’s not like he’s throwing 96-97. He might touch 93 with a pretty good feel for a slider, not electric stuff, but got a demeanor, a moxie: ‘I’m the man, I’m the closer, and I’m going to close this thing out.’
“My take is talent-wise, other teams we’ve seen, I would say are better. But when you’ve got Walker, Roth, Price and Marzilli on that team, who’ve done it two years in a row and the mojo that they have going, I wouldn’t ever doubt (a three-peat). Never doubt it. They’ve just got it, man, they’ve got it going on. They’ve got some serious mojo going on right now.”
Kent State (44-17) at No. 5 Oregon (45-17)
Saturday: 11 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 10 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 7 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Coach: Scott Stricklin.
Postseason History: First super regional appearance. Seeking first trip to Omaha.
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Gary Regional. Won in three games, beating Kentucky in the final.
“They just play really clean baseball. If you go player by player there’s nobody that really excites you, but they don’t walk you, they don’t hit you, and they make all the routine plays. With these BBCOR bats, if you don’t walk the other team and you don’t hit them, you need to get five hits to put up a crooked number. They go seven or eight deep of guys who keep the ball down, throw breaking balls for strikes, they can mix and match in the bullpen a little bit. They’re just steady across the board.
“For their strength, you’d have to say pitching. They’re certainly not a dynamic offense, they’re trying to beat you 3-2, 4-3. They just have a lot of older kids who know how to play baseball: Lyon the catcher, the shortstop Rider, the Hamilton kid. they’re not super toolsy, but they have enough ability and really know how to play. Like Starn will top out at 85, sit 82-85, but has some deception and fastball movement, three pitches for strikes and really competitive. That’s kind of their team. I don’t care who you’re pitching against, if you’ve pitched over 100 innings and you have a 2.00 ERA, that’s really darn impressive.
“Bores is solid, 90-91, might have bumped 92 or 93, with some life on the fastball. He’s got a solid slurvy breaking ball he threw for a strike at will, a solid changeup. He just really pitched and mixed well, he was good—just a good college pitcher with three good pitches he threw for strikes. Skulina’s a really good looking kid, nice body. He was 89-91, but his ball was really flat. It’s solid-average command for this level, and the fastball’s kind of flat. Against us he did not throw his changeup for a strike very well, and had a big slow curveball he’d throw for a strike early in the count, and had a solid slider. He’ll get it to the middle of the game and give them a chance to win, but a couple other kids were more effective.
“In the bullpen, Wilson is fine. It looked upper 80s, and he’s got a nice 12-6 curveball he throws for strikes, solid feel for a change. He doesn’t dazzle with stuff. But all the kids out of the bullpen, they all did a good job of throwing their breaking ball for a strike. Brian Clark the freshman lefthander doesn’t have power stuff now, but he’s got a chance to. He’s got a good body, and his arm works. I’m guessing it’s 87-89 with a solid-average curveball, but he’s going to get better. Their other guys are some version of 87-89 with solid breaking balls they throw for strikes, have some feel, compete well.
“I think Lyon is the heart and soul of their team; he’s a very nice player. He just seems to be the leader, seems to run it. Rider hits in the 2-hole, it’s not pretty, but he’s hitting over .300 and gets some big hits, an average runner. It isn’t pretty, but the guy’s always on base. The first baseman, Roberts, is the best guy—that guy’s a good player. That guy’s got a real feel to hit. He’s not 6-3, 220, but he had some gap power to both sides of the field, hits fastballs and breaking balls. He’s a nice player. Evan Campbell is fine, he’s got a little bit of strength, a little bit of bat speed, but you feel like he’s got some holes. He can hit the ball hard. they’re very solid baseball players, they just aren’t very toolsy. They’ve got a couple holes in the bottom, Toadvine, Miklos. They need Roberts and Lyon to get up to bat with guys on base, or they’ll have a real hard time scoring. They’re really good at having two guys on base when those guys come up.
“Defensively, Lyon and Rider are the glue, they’re just really good college players. They’ll play pro ball for five or six years instead of two. They’re good makeup guys who make all the plays. Lyon has a solid-average arm, does a real good job blocking. Rider makes every play. The three outfielders cover a lot of ground; none of them are 6.5 runners, but they’re fairly athletic and run everything down. They do a good job making the routine play very consistently.
“Kent State will not beat themselves. They’re going to Eugene and playing in front of 3,000 or 4000, they’ve got an older team that has been to regionals before, so maybe they’ll be able to handle it.”
Coach: George Horton.
Postseason History: First super regional appearance. Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 1954).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Eugene Regional. Won in three games, beating Austin Peay State in the final.
“The thing they know how to do better than anybody else is win the game. You look at their team, they play really hard, it looks like they’ve got good chemistry. They play very good defense, granted they play on turf. But they execute, they’re physical enough, they pitch really well. They’re all similar type guys on the mound, sinker/slider guys. They’ve got an excellent, excellent end of the game stopper. You’ve got to be able to hit a breaking ball when you’re facing them, you’ve got to be able to see the ball above the knees, because they can get you to pound the ball into the ground.
“Keudell is probably in that 84-87 range. He’s just below the knees with everything. It’s any pitch, any count, he attacks the strike zone. You’ve really got to see the ball above the knees. If you don’t see the ball at least mid-thigh when it comes out of his hand, it’s a ball. And it’s tough to lay off of. It’s easier said than done—look at his numbers. He’s got a good pickoff move, fields his position, and he’s quick to the plate. You’ve got to be very patient and wait for a pitch to hit. The secondary stuff is average, but there’s some funk to his delivery, he kind of jumps at you, arms and legs, and I think he’s deceptive, I don’t think you see the ball real well. I just think he does a good job of using his defense.
“It’s more velocity with Reed, probably 87-92, with a breaking ball and change. It’s probably more fastball, but he will pitch a lot with the breaking ball. He’ll run that ball into righthanders, pitch away, throw the back-door breaking ball. His stuff is better, but you’ll get more pitches to hit off Reed than off Keudell. He’s done a real nice job for them. When he’s on, he’s really good, but when he’s off you’ll get pitches out over the plate you’ll be able to hit. With Gold, it’s going to be a ton of breaking balls and changeups; it’ll be 84-86, touch 87, maybe 88. You’ll get your pitches to hit, but you’ve got to hit them. They won’t back down, it’ll be 3-2 breaking balls, 3-2 changeups. They pitch backwards with him. He’s not going to give in, and if he walks a guy, he’s not going to give in with the next guy. With all those guys, you go up there with a plan of how you’re going to attack them. Be ready to hit up in the zone.
“In the pen is where they separate themselves a little bit. The (Tommy) Thorpe kid with the lefthanded breaking ball, he’s really good against lefties with that breaking ball, and he holds runners very well, has a good move. He’ll be 86-88 too. Sherfy has a rubber arm, really good arm, and a really good slider, against both righties and lefties. That’s probably his best pitch and best command pitch, and yet it might be 91-92 with the fastball. He’s a strikeout machine—he strikes out almost two guys an inning. And it’s because his fastball’s firm enough, and his slider he can throw for strikes and then wipe you out with it. (Righty Joey) Housey gets mixed in there every now and then, he’s straight over the top, 86-88 with a breaking ball, just kind of competes down in the zone.
“They’re real athletic in the middle of the diamond, with Payne, Altobelli, and Hofmann in center field. I think those guys all do a good job at their positions, they just play real solid, good defense. Altobelli’s a great shortstop. Payne’s a good second baseman, Healy does a nice job. Hambright is solid-good back there; I don’t think it’s plus-plus or anything, but he’s a real solid college catcher.
“Offensively, I think Jones is dangerous, and I think he will take just the hits—he doesn’t have to try and go deep. Garlick has a bunch of RBIs for them, but I think he’s probably more pitchable if you can keep the ball down—he really likes the ball up. If you can, be away, down, breaking ball, pick your spots to elevate late. Jones, you want to try and stay away from him, change how you pitch him every at-bat. Healy I think you can get in on, he has those long levers, those long arms that he likes to get extended, especially on fastballs early in counts. One of the guys I’d not like to face with runners in scoring position is Altobelli, because I think he has a sense for what’s coming and he’s ready to hit. He’ll look to go to right-center, but he can turn on a fastball. A lot of times I think he makes hard outs. But I think they feel comfortable with him up with men in scoring position.
“What makes them tough is there are a lot of guys you want to try and jam, but they will ‘Dos,’ (take an HBP)—they don’t give ground in the box. Whether it’s Payne or Jones, Thomas or Altobelli, they all look to do it, like to do it. (Assistant coach Mark Wasikowski) has done a great job getting them to buy into that tough mentality of hitting. They’re not going to back down, they’re on the plate. Thomas has done a nice job of that. They embrace who they are. They play hard, play aggressive, love to drag, love to take the extra base, love to read balls in the dirt. Payne can run, so you want to try and keep him off the bases.
“But it’s not like you’re seeing a lot of .350, 10-jack guys on their team. It’s like .300 and three, .280 and five. The score’s going to be close, and they play really, really well in that close game. They don’t panic, they make the plays, they execute. Coach Horton does an unbelievable job at pulling the right strings. I think this is one of the best jobs he’s done, and I think he would probably agree, with the team they put out there. When you finish playing them, you’re like, ‘Man, the only thing they’re better at overall is they win the game every time.’ “
Arkansas (42-19) at No. 4 Baylor (48-15)
Saturday: 5 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 4 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 4 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Coach: Dave Van Horn.
Postseason History: Fifth appearance (last in 2010). Seeking seventh trip to Omaha (last in 2009).
Postseason Route: No. 2 seed in Houston Regional. Won in three games, beating Rice in the final.
“I think they’re a very good team. It all starts on the mound with them. Man, they can really pitch, and they are really deep. Their pitching staff is right up with the best in the country.
“Baxendale, you won’t find more of a competitor, a guy with a lot of pitchability who can take the ball and go out in any environment against any team and beat them. A guy who is a veteran of the SEC, just a terrific, terrific pitcher. There’s been scouts saying that his stuff may have been a little bit down this year, but the thing is, he’s good. He’s got a good fastball that he commands down in the zone very well. He throws a hard slider, a big 12-6 breaking ball and a changeup as well. He’s a four-pitch guy that really mixes his pitches well. At the end of the day he is an absolute competitor, he wants the ball and wants to win. When you have a guy with that combination, that’s a proven winner.
“And Ryne Stanek, I think people will be talking about him next year the way they’re talking about (LSU’s Kevin) Gausman now. He’s just a special, special arm. I heard his last outing he was 94-98 with the fastball and commanding everything for a strike. The thing he does is it’s not just the fastball, the slider is very good and he can command it very well. It’s just a tremendous talent, and a guy that will be talked about in the top half of the first round next year. If he’s on, and it seems he’s pitching better of late, he’ll be very, very tough to handle. He’s a sophomore, he’s gained a lot of experience. He’s spent two years in the SEC, he pitched for Team USA last year. So it’s the natural maturation. Fant is very solid as well, a lefty that’s 88-91, commands a decent breaking ball, has done a good job for them. If he gives them a quality outing, they can hand the ball off to the bullpen and feel very comfortable.
“I think one of the strengths of their team is the bullpen. They have two power arms in (Colby) Suggs and (Nolan) Sanburn who can run it up to 94-95. They seem like the same guy: the 6-foot tall righty that’s 93-96 with a power breaking ball. It’s like you just blink and it’s the same guy, very similar. They have two good lefties with Fant and (Cade) Lynch, and at the back end, Barrett Astin has a wicked, wicked breaking ball, a swing-and-miss out pitch. He’s tough at the back of the game. He is a bulldog, and he’s tough on righthanded and lefthanded hitters. Lynch is a big 6-5 or 6-6 lefty that’s not overpowering, but it’s a three-quarters slot, and he’s tough. He can be very deceptive, his fastball’s in the mid-80s, and he does a good job of just pitching. And Brandon Moore is a sinkerball guy that can come in and does a great job as well.
“You talk about their defense with Reynolds, Carver, Bigham and Ficociello—all guys that can pick it up, guys that are very sound. They have guys in the outfield that are athletic and can run and have good arms. They beat Rice 1-0, and I think that’s indicative of their team. You know you’ll have your work cut out offensively because of the arms and the depth in their bullpen. A big key for them is how their offense will perform. They have some very talented offensive players, but sometimes runs have been hard to come by. You see them lose some close games, but when they click offensively, they can play with anybody.
“Ficociello is just a pure hitter, a guy that can really hit. Of course the big key is not letting him come up with guys in scoring position. The same with Reynolds, he can drive the ball out of the yard. Carver’s kind of a table setter, an athletic guy. Van Horn’s been known for opening up the offense, stealing bases, putting runners in motion. Carver does a great job for them in the leadoff position. At the bottom, there have been different guys floating around, they’ve just been trying to find consistency. But the top of their lineup with Carver, then Reynolds and Ficociello in the middle, it’s tough. Those guys can really swing the bat. The key is the rest of them, the Bighams, the Bosco kid, the other guys they have playing—what will they bring to the table offensively to turn the lineup over or try to manufacture runs themselves? That’s the key for Arkansas.
“If you look at (Sam) Bates and Bleeker, they’re both big, physical guys who are strong and can hit the ball over the fence. They provide a bit of a power threat. Bosco has had times during the year he’s gotten hot and moved up in the lineup. I think it’s just finding the guys that are swinging well. They’ve played a lot of players, they’ve just tried to figure it out from week to week. Overall, I think it’s a very confident Arkansas team heading into that Waco Super Regional.”
Coach: Steve Smith.
Postseason History: Fourth super regional appearance (last in 2005). Seeking fourth trip to Omaha (last in 2005).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Waco Regional. Won in five games, beating Dallas Baptist in the final.
“I think they play well together. I think their pitching is solid-average, their defense is solid-average and their hitting is solid-average. There’s no one phase that they’re really good at. They play well together, there’s no mental mistakes. I like Muncy and Ludy, those kids can really hit. You can control the rest of their lineup. Evatt’s a nice big mistake-type hitter too. The rest of the guys really compete well, but they’re very, very pitchable.
“Ludy’s always been a tough kid, but I think his baseball IQ has really gone off the charts. You used to be able to beat him in at will, now he can adjust to that pitch. He’s just become a more polished player. He’s just better, period. He’s got better presence at the plate and defensively. He’s a professional player, goes about his business as professional as they come. I thought he was one of the best players we faced all year. The power’s legit, and he can drive the ball the other way. He’s been able to adjust so he doesn’t get fooled on the breaking ball as often. He’s just a good player.
“I like Muncy a lot too. He just gets too pull-oriented, so we just pitched him away the majority of the time, and it’s ground ball to short, ground ball to third, pop-up to third. Until he gets away from that and starts taking those pitches the other way, it’ll hurt him, but if you make a mistake over the middle he’ll punish you. I don’t tink he uses the opposite-field gap the way Ludy’s done. But don’t leave one middle in, because he’s gonna hurt you. Evatt will go to both gaps, but he gets a little long. He’ll chase some balls down and chase some balls up. If he can get in hitters’ counts, he can do some damage. If he gets in negative counts, you can handle him. He’s big and strong, he can drive balls out in both directions.
“Vick has got some intangibles that are pretty good and he can run a little bit. He’s very susceptible to the changeup, but he handled the ball away better than I expected him to. I think you can beat him in. I think he’s done a good job making better passes at the plate. Towey and Langford are extremely pitchable, they don’t handle righthanded breaking balls or changeups. Vick can handle them, at least foul them off and work the count. With Miller, you can walk two guys in a row, he’ll go swing at the first pitch.
“On defense, they can make some plays. Ludy’s solid behind the plate, and so is Muncy at first. Miller can make some errors, he can kick some balls. He can make the good play, but I think his focus and concentration is not where it needs to be. They’re average at third and second, their outfield play is solid-average. If they’ve got a weakness, it’s probably at short.
“Their starting pitching’s just average. I think Turley’s an offspeed specialist that’s kind of a John Tudor-looking guy, funky, throws four breaking balls for every fastball. It’s a constant mix of offspeed. He’s got some mound presence and competes. Blank is a low-slot guy, really a one-pitch guy, the sinker. And it’s a good sinker. But the slider’s below-average, the changeup is OK. It’s more fastball-change. But it’s heavy, heavy sink, a legit sinker. If you don’t see this guy up, it’s groundball city.
“They’ve kind of mixed and matched behind those two, but Bremer’s the guy—I thought he might be best guy they’ve got. He’s upper 80s with a plus curveball, plus split, got a good enough fastball. If he can get you in a two-strike count, he can finish you. Getting ahead in the count is the key for him. He could be their best guy on the right day. I liked him as much as anybody they’ve got. (Dillon) Newman and Garner are just average. (Crayton) Bare, just average college guys. Bremer’s the one guy that’s got a chance to shut you down. Garner has very ordinary stuff, he’s high three-quarters, traditional, 88, breaking ball and change, average command. Nothing special. They don’t have any power arms, they’re just kind of offspeed specialists. Arkansas is going to have power arms.
“They’re a good college team; there’s nothing special except Ludy’s become a special player. Their chemistry’s probably their best asset. It’s the opposite of how it has been.”