Conway Regional Preview




Conway Regional Capsule
Charles Watson Stadium/Vrooman Field, Conway, S.C.
No. 1 Coastal Carolina (47-12)
Eighth appearance, automatic, Big South regular-season and tournament champion
No. 2 East Carolina (40-19)
23rd appearance, at-large, fifth place in Conference USA
No. 3 Alabama (34-26)
16th appearance, at-large, fifth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 Columbia (22-28)
Second appearance, automatic, Ivy League tournament champion
 
Coastal Carolina has emerged as a mid-major superpower in recent years and dominated the Big South to host a regional for the second straight year. In 2007, the Chanticleers lost the Myrtle Beach regional to Clemson, but they returned the nucleus of that team in outfielders David Sappelt (.344/.410/.632 with 16 homers, 61 RBIs) and Tommy Baldridge (.347/.430/.540), first baseman/righthander David Anderson (.342 with 17 homers; 5-2, 3.91) and righty Bobby Gagg (6-2, 2.92), who missed time down the stretch with a strained oblique muscle but returned with a strong start in the Big South tourney. Dynamic newcomers Scott Woodward (.357 with seven homers and 40 stolen bases) and Adam Rice (.351 with eight homers and 12 steals) bring speed to the mix and make the Chanticleers even more dangerous than they were a year ago. Power-armed closer Pete Andrelczyk (5-1, 3.38 with nine saves) anchored a bullpen that is much-improved from 2007.
 
East Carolina was swept twice down the stretch in conference play and went just 1-2 in the conference tournament, foiling its hopes to host a regional. But like Coastal, the Pirates have a deep, versatile offense that can beat opponents a number of ways. Senior catcher Corey Kemp (.349/.446/.627 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs) had a breakout year that propelled him to CUSA player of the year honors. Veterans Ryan Wood, Kyle Roller and Stephen Batts joined Kemp with double-digit home runs, while gritty center fielder Harrison Eldridge (.355 with 32 steals in 37 attempts) leads a group of four Pirates with double-digit steals, including Wood and Batts. CUSA freshman of the year Seth Maness (9-1, 2.87) and newcomer of the year Justin Bristow (8-2, 3.22) emerged as ECU's best pitchers while senior righty T.J. Hose (6-4, 5.02) struggled to match last year's consistency, but the Pirates will need Hose to be at his best to go far in the postseason.
 
Alabama doesn't do anything flashy, but the Crimson Tide just finds ways to win. 'Bama won five series this year against regional teams (Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia); the rest of the teams in this regional combined to win one series against regional teams. Four Alabama players recorded double-digit home runs this year, while shortstop Josh Rutledge (.375/.432/.426 with 14 steals) emerged as a quality table-setter, and outfielder Brandon May (.377/.463/.561 with nine homers and 49 RBIs) blossomed into one of the SEC's best all-around hitters. Lefthander Miers Quigley (5-4, 5.35) has the best arm on the staff, but righty Austin Hyatt (4-4, 4.64) was Alabama's most reliable starter down the stretch. Alabama's Achilles' heel might be its defense—the Tide ranked last in the SEC in fielding percentage (.959). Of course, ECU wasn't much better (.962), but Coastal led the Big South and ranked 25th in the nation (.971).
 
Columbia got off to an 0-8 start with road trips to Duke and Pepperdine in early March, but the Lions recovered to go 15-5 in the Ivy League and took two out of three in a high-scoring championship series against Dartmouth, punching their ticket to regionals for the first time since 1976. The Lions don't have any power arms on the mound, and their 6.26 ERA ranked seventh in the eight-team Ivy and 210th in the nation. But they have good senior leadership in second baseman Henry Perkins (.371/.437/.570) and outfielder Noah Cooper (.310/.397/.405), as well as a quality catalyst in dynamic freshman Nick Cox (.359/.405/.495 with 27 steals in 31 attempts). Columbia's speed is its best asset: the Lions led the Ivy and ranked 17th in the nation with 1.88 steals per game.