Wichita Regional Capsule
Eck Stadium, Wichita
No. 1 Wichita State (49-19)
25th appearance, at-large, won Missouri Valley regular season
No. 2 Arizona (40-15)
33rd appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
No. 3 Oral Roberts (40-15)
19th appearance, automatic, won Mid-Continent regular season and tournament
No. 4 New Orleans (37-24)
13th appearance, automatic, won Sun Belt tournament
Wichita State is one of the most balanced teams in the nation, with power arms, power bats, speed and good defense. The pitching and defense, in particular, carried this club, as the Shockers ranked second in the nation in ERA (2.67) and 19th in fielding percentage (.973). For a while, righthanders Travis Banwart and Aaron Shafer looked like the best one-two pitching punch in the nation, but Shafer went down with arm soreness in May and didn’t make his return until the MVC tournament, throwing five scoreless, two-hit innings in a 2-1 win against Creighton. Banwart stumbled down the stretch, losing three of his last four starts to finish 9-5, 2.66. The Shockers will need Banwart and Shafer to be healthy and effective in order to make a deep postseason run, but their offense is good enough to slug and steal its way through a regional if the arms are not sharp.
Arizona reached the 40-win plateau for the first time since 1989 and earned their fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in Andy Lopez’ six-year tenure as head coach. The Wildcats have gone on the road to win regionals seven times in the past, but this team has struggled away from the friendly confines of Jerry Kindall Field. Arizona has been dominant at home, going 28-4, but mediocre on the road, going 11-11. Ace righthander Preson Guilmet (11-2, 1.79) matches up well with any pitcher in the country, and power arms Jason Stoffel and Daniel Schlereth have been money in the bullpen. The rotation has been more unsettled, as Brad Mills, Mike Colla, Ryan Perry and David Coulon have all auditioned for starting roles, with Mills losing his spot to a lingering back injury late in the year. The offense has some power with the suddenly red-hot Bill Rhinehart (.362 with 11 homers) and C.J. Ziegler (.349 with 13 homers).
Oral Roberts dominated the Mid-Con for the final time this year. That’s only because the conference will cease to be known as the Mid-Con starting today–its new name is the Summit League, but the Golden Eagles should continue to dominate that circuit for years to come. This year marks ORU’s 10th consecutive conference title and regional appearance. Ace righthander Chance Chapman (8-1, 1.23) owns one of the best sliders in college baseball, helping him record a 17-strikeout game against Arkansas and a 19-strikeout effort against Centenary this year. He’ll go toe to toe with Preston Guilmet in ORU’s opener, and Jeremy Hefner (9-1, 2.53) gives the Eagles a good shot in their second game.
It’s odd to see that the only teams from Louisiana in the tournament are Louisiana-Lafayette and New Orleans, not LSU and Tulane. UNO bludgeoned its way through the Sun Belt tournament, averaging nine runs per game in its four wins. But the pitching came through when it mattered, as UNO got five shutout innings from its bullpen against a dangerous Louisiana-Lafayette offense in the championship game. The Privateers will go as far as the long ball can carry them this weekend–they average 1.46 home runs per game, fifth-best in the nation. Johnn Giavotella (.373) and Drew Anderson lead that onslaught with 15 home runs apiece, but three other players have recorded 11 homers each.