Lincoln Regional Preview




Lincoln Regional Capsule
Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Lincoln, Neb.
No. 1 Nebraska (40-14)
12th appearance, at-large, third place in Big 12 Conference
No. 2 UC Irvine (38-16)
Fourth appearance, at-large, tied for third in Big West Conference
No. 3 Oral Roberts (46-12)
20th appearance, automatic, Summit League regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Eastern Illinois (34-19)
Second appearance, automatic, Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion
 
Nebraska coach Mike Anderson is the first to admit his team played above its talent level in 2008 after underachieving with a more talented bunch in 2007. Nebraska's sum is greater than its parts, but the Cornhuskers play better team baseball than anyone in the Big 12. They seldom make mistakes and excel at capitalizing on opponents' missteps. And few teams feed off the energy of their home crowd better than Nebraska, which went 28-3-1 at Haymarket Park. The Huskers' greatest asset is their experience: They lean heavily upon seniors Jake Opitz (.335 with eight homers and 45 RBIs), Mitch Abeita (.333 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs), Bryce Nimmo (.293), Craig Corriston (.283), Johnny Dorn (6-1, 2.38) and Thad Weber (8-4, 5.67). The biggest arm on the staff belongs to junior righty Aaron Pribanic (3-4, 4.42), but do-it-all junior righty Dan Jennings (6-3, 2.95 with four saves and eight starts in 22 appearances) might be Nebraska's most valuable pitcher.
 
UC Irvine is a high-octane version of Nebraska. Instead of waiting for opponents to make mistakes, the Anteaters force opponents to beat themselves by applying constant pressure with their speed and small game. Irvine's clinical execution carried it all the way to the College World Series a year ago, and two of its primary catalysts returned in center fielder Ollie Linton (.323/.419/.400 with 37 stolen bases in 45 attempts) and shortstop Ben Orloff (.356/.457/.431 with 19 steals). The Anteaters lead the nation with 88 sacrifice bunts, and Orloff has turned it into an art form. Linton, Orloff and catcher Aaron Lowenstein also give the Anteaters premium defenders up the middle, and Jeff Cusick is another standout defender at first base. Irvine's 2.87 ERA ranks second in the nation, and there's not a better big-game pitcher in the nation than junior righthander Scott Gorgen (10-3, 1.90). Righty Bryce Stowell (7-2, 3.04) and lefty Daniel Bibona (8-3, 3.10) blossomed into reliable starters behind Gorgen in the rotation. The Anteaters should keep the score low, but the key will be getting timely hits—and they have a knack for it.
 
Oral Roberts cruised to its 11th straight conference regular-season title and 11th straight conference tournament title in the newly renamed Summit League, and along the way the Golden Eagles notched eight quality wins against Arkansas, Dallas Baptist, Wichita State, Baylor and Pepperdine. So ORU is accustomed to playing strong competition and is a serious threat to win this regional. The Golden Eagles are far and away the most offensive team in Lincoln, and their 74 home runs are seven more than the combined totals of Nebraska and UC Irvine. Five ORU players recorded nine or more home runs, led by senior outfielder Brian Van Kirk (.421/.509/.751 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs). Oral Roberts has solid front-line pitching headlined by righthander Jerry Sullivan (9-2, 3.61), though depth is a concern after the top five arms. The key for Oral Roberts against UC Irvine will be how well catcher Ben Petralli can control the running game (he threw out eight of 24 basestealers this spring), and how well third baseman David Genao (who made 14 errors and posted a .956 fielding percentage) adapts to Irvine's aggressive bunting game.
 
Eastern Illinois recovered from an eight-game losing streak in late April and early May to sneak into the OVC tournament by one game. The Panthers caught fire at the right time, making a perfect 4-0 run through the conference tournament to secure their first regional appearance since 1999. Like Nebraska and UC Irvine, the Panthers rely more on execution and speed than power—they hit just 30 home runs as a team, the fewest in this regional. Eastern Illinois' biggest offensive threat is its leadoff man, junior center fielder Brett Nommensen (.397/.518/.588 with four homers and 30 RBIs), who packs gap power into his compact 5-foot-10 frame and is a very difficult out, as illustrated by his 35-13 BB-K ratio. Six-foot-4 freshman righthander Josh Mueller turned in one of his best starts of the season in the conference tournament, limiting Tennessee Tech to one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings, but he issued 41 walks in 68 innings this year and will need to throw strikes against Nebraska's patient hitters.