Palo Alto Regional




Palo Alto Regional Capsule
Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto, Calif.
No. 1 Stanford (33-21-2)
28th appearance, at-large, second place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 2 Pepperdine (36-18)
25th appearance, at-large, second place in West Coast Conference
No. 3 Arkansas (34-22)
21st appearance, at-large, ninth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 UC Davis (34-22)
First appearance, at-large, sixth place in Big West
 
After missing regionals last year for the first time since 1993, Stanford bounced back and became one of 2008's most pleasant surprises. The Cardinal climbed as high as No. 3 in the rankings and won 10 straight weekend series, including sets against Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Texas, Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA. But the Cardinal's lack of pitching depth sabotaged it in midweek action, helping explain its modest overall record. Ace lefthander Jeremy Bleich (2-2, 1.24) was limited to six starts by injuries, though he returned to throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the final game of the regular season, which could be a major development for the Cardinal. In Bleich's absence, junior righthander/third baseman Austin Yount (4-3, 3.88) moved into the Friday starter spot, giving Stanford a second quality starter alongside senior righty Erik Davis (7-2, 4.22). The best arm on the staff among pitchers who work regularly belongs to freshman closer Drew Storen (2-3, 2.89 with six saves). Stanford's lineup is deep and athletic, and it has good power sources in junior catcher Jason Castro (.369/.418/.592 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs) and junior outfielder Sean Ratliff (.286 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs). Perhaps Stanford's most important bat is hulking first baseman Brent Milleville (.324 with nine homers and 47 RBIs), a righthanded power threat in the middle of a very lefthanded-leaning lineup.
 
Pepperdine finished second in a deep West Coast Conference despite losing seven players to the draft and getting just 15 innings out of ace righthander Brett Hunter because of arm injuries. Hunter slowly started working his way back over the last few weeks, but he did not pitch in the WCC championship series and remains a question mark heading into this weekend. The Waves have gotten used to being without him, though, and newcomers Nathan Newman (7-4, 3.52), Scott Alexander (7-4, 4.44) and Matt Bywater (7-2, 4.97) have held down the rotation. But losing junior outfielder Eric Thames (.407/.513/.769 with 13 homers, 59 RBIs and 11 steals)—the WCC player of the year—is another story. Thames injured his upper leg while running out a ground ball May 16 against Santa Clara, and Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez has confirmed a report that Thames sustained a slight tear in his quadriceps muscle that required season-ending surgery. Thames' absence leaves junior shortstop Chase d'Arnaud (.306/.407/.507 with eight homers and 45 RBIs) as the lone major power threat in the lineup. Hunter is the big X-factor for the Waves, and Rodriguez said he could start Game Two depending on how the opener goes for Pepperdine. Stay tuned.
 
Arkansas failed to qualify for the eight-team SEC tournament by a half-game but still earned a No. 3 seed in a regional thanks largely to quality series wins against South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida. The Razorbacks stand out most for a lineup that contains few easy outs. Junior third baseman Logan Forsythe (.352/.473/.536 with seven homers and 11 stolen bases) is one of the grittiest, savviest players in the nation, and he sets the tone for the team. Transfer Chase Leavitt (.360/.514/.488), an older player whose baseball career was on hold for two years while he went on a Mormon mission, is a sparkplug atop the lineup. The Hogs lost their entire weekend rotation from last year's regional-hosting team, but righthander Cliff Springston (5-2, 3.83) transferred in from Baylor to stabilize a staff that contains a number of outstanding but inconsistent arms.
 
Perhaps the most dangerous No. 4 seed in the tournament, UC Davis qualified for a regional in its first year of eligibility after completing the transition from Division II. The Aggies finished 13-11 in the Big West, a game out of the three-way tie for third place, but their at-large resume was bolstered by series wins against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara as well as a 3-1 record in midweek action against Bay Area powers Stanford and California. Davis is a veteran team built to contend this year, with four pitchers who could go in the top 10 rounds of the draft in starters Eddie Gamboa (6-3, 2.67), Brad McAtee (8-4, 3.03) and Bryan Evans (3-3, 4.90) and closer Justin Fitzgerald (3-1, 2.76 with 15 saves). Catcher Jake Jefferies (.396/.453/.540 with 54 RBIs) could trump them all and go in the top two or three rounds thanks to his fine catch-and-throw skills and contact bat: he has 20 walks and just nine strikeouts in 235 at-bats, making him the nation's fifth-toughest player to whiff. The lineup's only true power threat is versatile senior center fielder Ryan Royster (.341/.417/.535 with 10 homers, 36 RBIs and 13 steals), who bats leadoff. But the Aggies have a lineup full of players who battle, and they are a legitimate threat to win this regional as a No. 4 seed.