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Super-Regional Preview

 

#11 Baylor (44-21) at #8 Louisiana State (43-19) 7:05 Fri.; 12:35 Sat.; 2:35 Sun.
#5 Arizona State (53-12) at #3 Cal State Fullerton (46-13) 7:05 Fri.; 3:05 Sat.; 3:05 Sun.
#7 Long Beach State (41-18) at #4 Stanford (44-15) 10:05 Fri., 8:05 Sat., 6:05 Sun.
#18 North Carolina (42-21) at #14 South Carolina (42-20) 3:05 Fri., 12:35 Sat., 3:05 OR 6:05 Sun.
#6 Texas (46-18) at #1Florida State (54-11)8:05 Sat., 6:05 Sun., 1:05 Mon.
#9 North Carolina State (45-16) at #10 Miami (42-15) 12:05 Sat., 2:35 Sun., 1:05 Mon.
#22 Houston (36-28) at #2 Rice (51-10) 7:05 Sat., 3:05 Sun., 1:05 Mon.
#21 SW Missouri State (38-24) at #20 Ohio State (44-19) 8:05 Sat., 6:05 Sun., 1:05 Mon.

Compiled by John Manuel
June 6, 2003

Super-regionals are the best part of college baseball's postseason, because each one is a three-game series, the way baseball is meant to be played. It's also a time when, and it happens rarely in sports, the postseason setup mirrors that of the regular season.

If pitchers get abused, coaches have no excuse. It's a three-game series, and that's what pitching rotations are geared to all year. Of course that doesn't stop some teams from using pitchers heavily, but Nebraska's Shane Komine started on Friday last year, relieved on Sunday and pitched the Cornhuskers into the College World Series. He'd probably do it again if asked.

And of course this year's super-regionals are special. Not only are they on ESPN and televised nationally for the first time, but they are stacked. Scouts and coaches talked to for this story reached a consensus that six of the top seven teams in the country are matched up with each other this weekend--Florida State against Texas, Arizona State against Cal State Fullerton, and Stanford against Long Beach State.

We've talked to coaches who faced the 16 teams as well as some scouts for in-depth scouting reports (names have been omitted to protect the innocent). No basics here--this is the inside dope on the teams left standing on the Road to Omaha.

We start with the four series that start on Friday: Baylor at Louisiana State, ASU at CSUF, Long Beach at Stanford and North Carolina at South Carolina.

No. 11 Baylor at No. 8 Louisiana State

BAYLOR (44-21)

Coach: Steve Smith (ninth season at Baylor).

How the Bears Got Here: Swept through the Hattiesburg, Miss., regional in three games, defeating host Southern Miss for the championship

Key Players: OFs Chris Durbin, Sr. (.335-17-47); David Murphy, Jr. (.420-11-64); and Michael Griffin, So. (.357-11-76); C Josh Ford, So. (.316-12-61); RHPs Steven White, Sr. (8-4, 4.31); Sean Walker, Jr. (8-5, 4.79); Abe Woody, So. (6-0, 3.99, three saves); Mark McCormick, Fr. (6-2, 5.19).

Lowdown on the Bears: "They are a team that is explosive offensively, that has the ability to hit all types of pitching. Murphy and Griffin are their best hitters who are both clutch with power. Durbin can hit mistakes and will be a definite threat at LSU. (Infielder Mark) Saccomanno, Ford, and (first baseman Ross) Bennett give them three more legitimate hitters in the top six. They have improved offensively as (second baseman Kyle) Reynolds and (shortstop Trey) Webb have gotten hot down the stretch. That gives them eight pretty tough outs in their lineup.

"Their pitching staff has had the talent but some of their best young arms were unable to throw strikes. White gives them a number one who can shut down any offense. He gives them a chance to beat LSU’s number one. (Lefthander Trey) Taylor and McCormick have big-time arms and have thrown more strikes in the conference tournament and regional in Hattiesburg. Walker has been adequate and Woody is a potential guy who can shut someone down. Losing (closer Zane) Carlsen for the super will hurt them because he is their go-to guy and gives them the belief that they can win a game late. (Note: Carlson cut his throwing hand on a car door this week and will miss the super-regional). Lamata will have to step up in his absence.

"They have the talent to get to Omaha."

LOUISIANA STATE (43-19), No. 2 National Seed

Coach: Smoke Laval (second season at Louisiana State).

How the Tigers Got Here: Swept through the Baton Rouge, La., regional in three games, defeating UNC Wilmington in 11 innings for the championship.

Key Players: SS Aaron Hill, Jr. (.368-8-62); OFs Ryan Patterson, So. (.357-14-47) and Jon Zeringue, So. (.341-12-39); 1B Clay Harris, So. (.335-13-55); RHPs Nate Bumstead, Jr. (11-2, 3.92); Justin Maier, Fr. (7-3, 2.61); Billy Sadler, Jr. (1-1, 3.92, four saves); and Bo Pettit, Sr. (9-2, 5.38); LHP Jason Determann, Fr. (6-0, 2.81).

Lowdown on the Tigers: "They were scurrying for a while to find pitching because of all the injuries they've had, but you'd never know it now. Most teams would lose Lane Mestepey and Brian Wilson and fall off, but they bring in Nate Bumstead and they keep on rolling. Bumstead is really savvy and has been excellent for them. He's a plus competitor and looks like a leader; that dude's good.

"Bo Pettit is a veteran who doesn't have one special pitch, but he'll throw you a good breaking ball. Maier was right around the dish at all times and competed, and now they're using Determann, who wasn't even being used when we saw them.

"They don't mash like they used to, but they can hit. Aaron Hill has no glaring weakness. He doesn’t have tools like a Brandon Larson, or even a Khalil Greene, but he plays so solid like Khalil and makes plays you don't expect like Larson. I thought he was the best player in the conference. He hits line drives everywhere, and he's strong.

"The guy who gets left out there is Ryan Patterson--he gets overlooked, and he shouldn't be. He's a tough out, and he's dangerous and difficult to pitch to. He solidified their lineup. Zeringue is a powerful hitter with a good strong arm, and Harris is strong. Gill gives them a solid hitter and had a big regional. I just thought this was the best offensive team in the league.

"Smoke Laval was coach of the year for a reason. They went through a lot with their injuries and the death of Wally Pontiff. They took all the hits and they started slow, but they regrouped. He did a great job."

No. 5 Arizona State at No. 3 Cal State Fullerton

ARIZONA STATE (53-12)

Coach: Pat Murphy (ninth season at Arizona State; one trip to Omaha).

How the Sun Devils Got Here: Scored 45 runs as they swept through the Tempe, Ariz., regional in three games, defeating UNLV for the championship.

Key Players: OF Andre Ethier, Jr. (.373-9-66); SS Dustin Pedroia, So. (.423-4-52); DH Jeremy West, Jr. (.384-17-71); 1B Jeff Larish, So. (.372-17-92); RHPs Jared Liebeck, Sr. (8-0, 2.57); Beau Vaughan, Sr. (10-5, 4.34); Ryan Schroyer, Jr. (5-2, 1.61, eight saves); Ben Thurmond, Sr. (7-0, 2.68).

Lowdown on the Sun Devils: "Those games are going to be unbelievable. Are you kidding? No. 5 vs. No. 3? There's no way that should happen, it's just not right, it's really a shame.

"Arizona State doesn't have a real No. 1 starter. Their No. 3 starter isn't as good as some of the teams we saw in our regional, but they have a lot of similar guys who can step up and beat you on any day. I thought Beau Vaughan was their best guy. He's a good power arm. Mark Sopko is another guy that compares to Vaughan, and some of their offspeed guys have excellent control. Schroyer is solid out of their pen and experienced.

"Dustin Pedroia makes them go. He makes everyone around him better. He's their glue; he's just a ballplayer. He gets his hits, catches everything at short--he won't wow you with skills or tools, but his baseball awareness is second to none. He knows what's going on in all situations, and his instincts are amazing.

"Arizona State can be vulnerable to lefthanders, just because Ethier and Larish are lefthanded bats and aren't quite the same hitters against lefties. You'd rather have to face West or (Dennis) Wyrick beat you than have to pitch to those guys with people on base.

"ASU is a different team away from home, but they're also a really good team. They are well coached and will stop the running game, even against Fullerton. But then Fullerton will do the same thing to them. It's going to be a great series."

CAL STATE FULLERTON (46-13), No. 7 National Seed

Coach: George Horton (seventh season at Cal State Fullerton; two trips to Omaha).

How the Titans Got Here: Swept through the Fullerton, Calif., regional in three games, defeating Notre Dame for the championship.

Key Players: OFs Richie Burgos, Jr. (.327-3-46); Shane Costa, Jr. (.371-4-50); Danny Dorn, Fr. (.370-6-53); SS-2B Justin Turner, Fr. (.322-0-34); RHPs Jason Windsor, Jr. (9-2, 1.87); Dustin Miller, Fr. (8-2, 3.19); Chad Cordero, Jr. (5-1, 1.52, seven saves).

Lowdown on the Titans: "Their pitching is very deep; they're very different from Long Beach State in that Long Beach has two pitchers who really scare you and three or four other guys that you might see. Fullerton has so many good pitchers who can start, and while we had some success against them, they're all very solid. I wish I had that kind of depth--to have an All-American like Littleton and he's not in the rotation anymore. That's depth.

"I liked their defense, though not as much as Long Beach's defense. (Ronnie) Prettyman at third base is nothing special. Justin Smyres was just OK at short, but I guess they thought so too, because now they have Turner at short and (Jason) Corapci at second, which gives them another veteran.

"Their offense was kind of predictable in that a lot of their hitters hit the same way, so when we found a way to pitch to one of them, it worked for a lot of them. Shane Costa and Kyle Boyer are their most dangerous hitters. Costa runs well and is their best hitter, he'll spray line drives gap-to-gap. Boyer has some tools and has had a big year. Turner is a nice player--not much power but puts it in play and moves runners.

"Cordero finishes stuff off for them and he can be very good. He was 93-94 mph against us with a high 70s slider that makes it tough on lefthanded hitters."

No. 7 Long Beach State vs. No. 4 Stanford

LONG BEACH STATE (41-18)

Coach: Mike Weathers (second season at Long Beach State).

How the Dirtbags Got Here: Swept through the Long Beach, Calif., regional in three games, defeating Washington for the championship.

Key Players: C Todd Jennings, Jr. (.293-5-33); 2B Tim Hutting, Sr. (.325-0-25); OF John Bowker, Fr. (.340-7-33); RHP Jered Weaver, So. (14-3, 1.99); LHP Abe Alvarez, Jr. (11-1, 2.41); LHP Cesar Ramos, Fr. (6-4, 2.85); RHP Neil Jamison, So. (5-2, 2.89).

Lowdown on the Dirtbags: "They are a very different team at Blair Field than they are away from home, and they have really learned to play in that park. It's a tough place to play, so Stanford gets a break in being at home. Stanford's park is a lot more fair. If it's hit well at Blair, it won't get out, and they've learned to pitch in that park as well.

"Alvarez and Weaver are the best 1-2 punch in the country that I can conceive of. They make you swing and miss a lot. Weaver has power and command. He really took it to us, but we're not alone on that. He has great fastball command, and he's a clone of his brother. He's 91-92 mph, drops down a little, and has an outstanding slider and a plus change. Alvarez dominated us with a fastball-change combination. He throws the fastball anywhere he wants and isn't afraid to pitch inside with it. His command is as good as anybody, and his change is outstanding. I thought his curve was average.

"They lead the country in defense, so they have the pitching and defense down. It's a solid bullpen, no one stood out--Jamison was pretty good, he's 88-89 mph with good command. The main thing is, as good as their starters are, their relievers aren't a huge drop-off from that. Still, you want to get into their bullpen. That's hard with how they defend, they don't give away outs. (Travis) Tulowitzki at shortstop, their freshman, has been really good for them and has gotten some key hits.

"Jennings is the main guy for their offense. He's a good player, not a power guy but a streak hitter who's on a hot streak right now. Adam Heether is a solid third baseman and bat. The main thing is they are efficient on offense like on defense--they move runners over, don't strike out, put it in play and make you make plays. They have a team-oriented offense, everyone contributes. You can't just stop one guy."

STANFORD (44-15), No. 6 National Seed

Coach: Mark Marquess (27th season at Stanford, 12 trips to Omaha; two CWS titles).

How the Cardinal Got Here: Swept through the Palo Alto, Calif., regional in three games, defeating Richmond for the championship.

Key Players: C Ryan Garko, Sr. (.418-18-87); OFs Sam Fuld, Jr. (.333-2-32); Carlos Quentin, Jr. (.386-10-55); and Danny Putnam, So. (.349-13-52); RHP John Hudgins, Jr. (10-3, 3.33); LHP Mark Romanczuk, Fr. (11-0, 3.49); RHPs Kodiak Quick, Fr. (2-0, 4.41, three saves) and Matt Manship, Fr. (2-4, 3.59, eight saves).

Lowdown on the Cardinal: "It's a very physical team, particularly offensively. They can really hit. They were more physical than anyone else we saw all year--big, strong players, and if you make a mistake they'll pound you. They're explosive--you walk a guy, and it's boom, bang, bam, you're down three more runs before you can get a guy warmed up in the bullpen. They had the best total club we faced, but their offense is the best part of their team.

"John Hudgins is the real deal. He throws strikes with everything, he's 87-89 mph, touches some 90s, really pitches, and when he has his breaking ball, he's outstanding. He's the best pitcher they have. Romanczuk throws strikes as a lefty and doesn't get rattled easily, and they rely heavily on their freshmen in the bullpen.

"The offense is just so deep. Quentin and Putnam are power guys. I mean, John Mayberry Jr. was tearing it up early, and he's riding (the pine) right now. Garko is a very tough out--he has more home runs than strikeouts. That's crazy. Jonny Ash is playing a solid third base for them right now and can get hot with the bat, and I like Tobin Swope. He's just a solid, solid defensive shortstop. He plays hard, and he catches what he gets to and throws strikes.

"The biggest thing with them--they believe in their mystique, that they will win. It must be a wonderful feeling. That home environment especially helps, and they feed off that. The program has great momentum."

No. 18 North Carolina at No. 14 South Carolina

NORTH CAROLINA (42-21)

Coach: Mike Fox (fifth season at North Carolina).

How the Tar Heels Got Here: Swept through the Starkville, Miss., regional in three games, defeating host Mississippi State in 11 innings for the championship.

Key Players: 1B-OF Jeremy Cleveland, Jr. (.406-19-64); OF Sean Farrell, Sr. (.354-14-61); 3B Sammy Hewitt, Jr. (.362-10-48); C Chris Ianetta, So. (.320-8-55); LHP Daniel Moore, Jr. (7-2, 3.39); LHP Adam Kalkhof, Fr. (7-1, 3.92); RHP Garry Bakker, So. (6-3, 4.32); RHP Whitley Benson Jr. (3-3, 3.19, four saves).

Lowdown on the Tar Heels: "I'm honestly very surprised for them to be where they are with the talent they have. It's not that it's a bad team, but there isn't a guy who stands out. It's a scrappy team that has taken on the personality of its coach. Mike Fox has this team playing hard and scrappy like his teams at (Division III) North Carolina Wesleyan. They aren't big or strong physically, but they do the little things to win.

"Mike likes to go to his bullpen. Whitley Benson is in the mid-80s with his fastball, but he throws strikes, gets ahead and then puts guys away with his slider. They have some fringy arms out there, but Mike has instilled the confidence in all of them and puts them in roles where they can succeed. They all believe they're going to get outs when they come in. To me, the team is overachieving, but the bullpen is definitely.

"Daniel Moore has really stepped up for them down the stretch and become a leader on the mound. He's had the talent, but now he really battles you. He had a great start in the ACC tournament, got a lot of ground balls and was much more efficient than earlier in his career. He's a big lefty, high 80s fastball, touching the 90s, and has really improved his curveball. He keeps hitters off-stride.

"Sean Farrell is a good college hitter, so is Sammy Hewitt. Cleveland has been their best guy, but he's always been a good hitter. He doesn't have one position he plays well, but he can give you some first, some left field, some right field, and he really hits. The difference is he's in the middle of the order, and when he started getting the job done, he got some confidence and got on a roll."

SOUTH CAROLINA (42-20)

Coach: Ray Tanner (seventh season at South Carolina; one trip to Omaha).

How the Gamecocks Got Here: Swept through the Atlanta regional in three games, defeating Stetson for the championship.

Key Players: C Landon Powell, Jr. (.327-7-52); SS Justin Harris, Sr. (.352-3-32); 3B Brian Buscher, Sr. (.384-12-58); LHP David Marchbanks, Jr. (14-2, 2.36); LHP Stephen Bondurant, Jr. (6-3, 3.90); RHP Aaron Rawl, So. (6-3, 2.85, six saves); LHP Matt Campbell, So. (5-4, 3.74).

Lowdown on the Gamecocks: "They're pretty different from what they were last year. They're geared more to pitching. They can come at you with four guys who are really good from the left side, and then Rawl and Chris Hernandez from the right are good college pitchers. Marchbanks is the SEC pitcher of the year, and they can usually hold him until Saturday. That's pretty good depth right there. I've always thought Campbell was tough to hit and has that breaking ball.

"Hernandez is a good analogy to Yaron Peters from the stepping forward standpoint. He hardly pitched last year (21 innings) and this year he steps in and might be the best righthander on the club. He's a strike-thrower with moxie, and he's a California guy so he knows how to play.

"On offense, they don't have the power they used to have, but Buscher is a clutch player and maybe the best player in the league with (Aaron) Hill. He's a big-play guy, is the best defender in the SEC at third and can swing it. He's clutch; he's got presence. He's got quiet intensity that's good for a team. Landon Powell hasn't hit for that kind of power this year, but he's a threat, and every team would like to have a catcher with his arm that switch-hits with some power. Plus he's better behind the plate than he was. He could play for me; I don't know why he was drafted so late. It doesn't make sense.

"Stephen Tolleson will be a good infielder for them and he's helped them in the outfield. Justin Harris is a solid shortstop, he and Coutlangus give them some speed, and then Kevin Melillo at second has 11 jacks--that's good production from that spot. You look and see a .973 fielding percentage and say this is a team with pitching, defense and enough offense."

No. 6 Texas at No. 1 Florida State

TEXAS (46-18)

Coach: Augie Garrido (sixth season at Texas; nine trips to Omaha, including seven with Cal State F ullerton; two CWS titles, one with each school).

How the Longhorns Got Here: Won the Austin regional in four games, defeating Lamar in the championship.

Key Players: SS Omar Quintanilla, Jr. (.355-5-68); RF Dustin Majewski, Sr. (.395-12-81); OF Eric S ultemeier, Jr. (.318-9-50); 2B Tim Moss, Jr. (.320-3-31); LHP Justin Simmons, Jr. (8-2, 2.39); LHP J.P. Howell, So. (5-5, 4.15); RHP/3B Huston Street So. (8-0, 1.35, 12 saves).

Lowdown on the Longhorns: "Experience and confidence are their keys. They are not as talented as last year but believe that they can win and they know how to win. Quintanilla, Moss, and Majewski give them three very good offensive players who know how to get it done. They have enough other dangerous hitters to put pressure on any pitching staff. As a team they will not make many mistakes offensively. They will move runners and do not strike out much or hit into many double plays. They know how to take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses.

"Their pitching has been good but not as dominant as last year. Simmons has struggled and has not been their number one or at times not even their number three. Howell has pitched very well as the number one and is capable of beating anyone. Their other starters are good enough to give them a chance to win but will not take over the game and shut the other team down. But if they have the lead beyond the seventh inning the game is over. Huston Street is the best closer in the business.

"They have been average defensively in the infield but have played better lately. They are strong behind the plate with Taylor Teagarden and in the outfield. They have a tough opponent at Florida State, but Texas will not make mistakes and will have a chance to win each game."

FLORIDA STATE (54-11), No. 1 National Seed

Coach: Mike Martin (24th season at Florida State; 12 trips to Omaha).

How the Seminoles Got Here: Dropped the first game of the Tallahassee regional to South Alabama, but rallied to win four straight--including two against South Alabama on the final day--to advance.

Key Players: SS Stephen Drew, So. (.326-11-59); C Tony Richie, Jr. (.363-11-75); OF Tony McQuade, Jr. (.321-13-56); 3B Eddy Martinez-Esteve, Fr. (.373-9-42); LHP Trent Peterson, Jr. (10-1, 2.68); LHP Daniel Davidson, Sr. (10-0, 2.63); LHP Daniel Hodges, Sr. (5-2, 2.12, 12 saves).

Lowdown on the Seminoles: "Getting Martinez-Esteve back (from a hamstring injury) makes a big difference; they can use his bat because he can hit. If he just DH's, that's fine, because Brian Zech has played well at second, and Chris Hart is just a scrappy guy who's solid at third base and can get big hits.

"They're a typical Florida State team. They pitch, play defense and play hard. Especially down there, I'd say Texas has a tall order. It's a deep lineup, and 1-to-9 can all hurt you, all have pop. That's a little atypical for Florida State. Stephen Drew is for real, he's just an electric player, and Blake Balckom is a nice piece to their lineup.

"Tony Richie is a money player. He comes up big in big spots. No one on or out, and he doesn't scare you. But put runners on base and he always seems to come through. He's the best defensive catcher in the country. Quiet behind the plate, best catch-and-throw guy I've seen in college. He'll l ull you to sleep in infield practice and then n ullify your running game. Their lefthanded starters do a good job of holding runners. Augie (Garrido) will have to hit-and-run, because Florida State and Richie will take away the straight steal.

"My favorite Florida State player is Tony McQuade. All he does is switch-hit, hit for power, run well and play a great defensive left field. He's as important as Drew in my opinion.

"On the mound, Peterson is their best guy. They're all peas in a pod, lefties with three pitches for strikes, good breaking balls thrown for strikes whenever they want, but Peterson is different. You can't sit offspeed with him like you do with the others. He's got some life on his fastball, and you must respect it. If you're too patient, you'll be down 0-2 in the count to all of them.

"Daniel Hodges hasn't been good lately, and people may have figured him out. He's 58-62 miles an hour with his breaking ball. I mean, come on. He's throwing low 80s or high 70s screwballs, and then he's throwing changeups off his changeups. He's an unorthodox guy, but he's been pretty successf ul."

No. 9 North Carolina State at No. 10 Miami

NORTH CAROLINA STATE (45-16)

Coach: Elliot Avent (seventh season at North Carolina State).

How the Wolfpack Got Here: Swept through the Wilson, N.C., regional in three games, two of which went extra innings, including a 14-inning win against Western Carolina in the championship.

Key Players: C Colt Morton, Sr. (.267-17-46); SS/RHP Chad Orvella, Sr. (.310-5-30; 2-2, 8.31); DH/1B Justin Riley, Sr. (.270-17-46); 3B Jeremy Dutton, Sr. (.320-11-48); RHP Michael Rogers, So. (12-3, 2.64); RHP Vern Sterry, Jr. (11-0, 3.04); RHP Joey Devine, Fr. (6-2, 2.03, 14 saves).

Lowdown on the Wolfpack: "They are a confident team. It's always hard to win at Miami, and State has had trouble on the road, but it wo uldn’t surprise me if they won the series.

"Their guys can be pitched to, but they hammer mistakes. They're all strong enough to get balls out of a park like Miami. They are just solid guys, older guys. Colt Morton is their leader and has the most power, real light-tower power. He's a great leader and is good defensively; their pitchers do just enough to hold runners. I think that's a holdover from Bill Kernan when he was their pitching coach; they do a lot of little things well.

"Chad Orvella was the most improved player in the ACC. He was almost a liability for them last year, but now he makes all the plays and even pitches some. Mark Maynor can run balls down in center and Adam Hargraves is solid at second, so they're very good up the middle.

"On the mound is the biggest difference for them. Michael Rogers' stuff is better, but Vern Sterry is such a competitor. Rogers is too. Both are strong, both compete, both have mound presence and makeup. They are their own middle relief, they go deep in games. You have to beat them, make them throw strikes.

"If you're behind late, forget it. Devine is as good as I've seen. His stuff is better than David Bush; that's saying a lot because David Bush dominated this league the last three years. He doesn't have Bush's presence, but has better stuff. He's got a funky arm action; you don't see the ball, it's on you late, and the stuff is good--90-93, wicked slider. He's a tall order.

"They have a great recipe for success: good starting pitching, great closer, good power, veteran team. When you pitch against them, you better not have people on base in front of Morton, Riley or Joe Gaetti, because that's how they win games."

MIAMI (42-15), No. 8 National Seed

Coach: Jim Morris (10th season at Miami; seven trips to Omaha; two CWS titles).

How the Hurricanes Got Here: Won the Miami regional in four games, defeating Florida for the championship.

Key Players: SS Ryan Braun, Fr. (.376-15-70); C Erick San Pedro, So. (.309-3-34); 3B Gaby Sanchez, Fr. (.326-6-53); 1B Jim Burt, Sr. (.309-10-39); OF Brian Barton, So. (.332-7-50); LHP J.D. Cockroft, Jr. (11-2, 2.20); RHP Vince Bongiovanni, So. (7-4, 3.95); LHP Brandon Camardese, So. (9-1, 5.03); RHP Shawn Valdes-Fa uli, So. (3-0, 3.74, four saves).

Lowdown on the Hurricanes: "They're a young team that plays with the confidence of the old Miami teams. They are thin on talent, especially off the bench and in the b ullpen. I think Jim Morris has done a great job juggling that line up to get it where it is today. He puts them in good situations offensively so the players are not asked to do too much. He has worked the b ullpen well and they are playing with a swagger now.

"The two keys to their season have been Ryan Braun and Erick San Pedro. Braun has provided that big bat in the middle of the order and has not slowed down at all. San Pedro has become a better player that I thought (he wo uld be) and has provided them with much-needed offense. Braun playing short is not pretty, but he gets the job done and he has that charisma that other players respond to.

"Daniel Figueroa makes the team go. When he gets on, they have options offensively. He plays a great center field. Adam Ricks is a professional hitter that will go deep in the count to allow Figueroa to steal a base. He has excellent bat control, can bunt and hit and run. Braun has power, but now he's (also) learned to hit the ball the other way. Burt's not a real good hitter. He takes his hacks. He's a very emotional guy; you can get him to chase some bad pitches.

"Gaby Sanchez is a good freshmen hitter. He has holes in his swing, but if you get in on him he will hurt you if you make a mistake. San Pedro is the surprise of the year. He has made himself into a good player, has hit in the clutch and has learned to lay off bad pitches. A tremendous catcher, he gives the pitchers the ability to waste pitches. He sho uld be a decent draft pick next year.

"Brian Barton is Miami's most overrated player. He has a slow bat and poor pitch recognition. On the plus side, he's an excellent bunter and good runner. The only thing is he really thinks he is the man, so his confidence carries him. Joey Hooft can handle the bat and he's a good runner. Go after him. He will bunt and they will hit and run with him. He has occasional power.

"Richard Gianotti could be one of the most talented guys in the country but has yet to put it all together. He's an enigma. He can run, has power and will bunt. He's a good defensive outfielder with an above-average arm. He can be invisible or he co uld kill you. If you go after him with fastballs in, you might be able to get him to fold.

"J.D. Cockroft throws two speeds: slow and slower. He has a great change that he will throw at anytime, and he does not get rattled. Has a curveball he used occasionally, but the changeup is his bread and butter. He will throw it three or four times in a row. He holds runners well and fields his position well. Bongiavonni has a 90-92 mph flat fastball and a good 12-to-6 curveball. He gives the hitters a good look at the ball, and he will run out of gas. The key is to make him throw strikes.

" It shocked me that Brandon Carmodese is 9-0. He throws an 84-87 mph fastball, has an OK curveball and an average changeup. You can get to him, he will get rattled. He's very hittable, if you take the right approach. Alex Perez is real poor version of the first two lefties, but he has some toughness. He has a bad body, and is not a great fielder. Shawn Valdes-Fa uli is their closer now. His fastball is only 85-86 mph with a solid curveball. I honestly do not know how he gets outs."

No. 22 Houston at No. 2 Rice

HOUSTON (36-28)

Coach: Rayner Noble (ninth season at Houston).

How the Cougars Got Here: Won the College Station, Texas, regional in five games after dropping the opener to Alabama. Defeated host Texas A&M twice to win the championship.

Key Players: 3B Hyung Cho, Jr. (.364-14-63); OF Travis T ully, Fr. (.353-0-26); OF Michael Bourn, Jr. (.319-1-15); IF Cole Bruce, Jr. (.294-7-25); RHP/IF Brad S ullivan, Jr. (6-7, 2.71; .400-0-11); LHP Danny Zell, Jr. (8-5, 3.47); RHP Ryan Wagner, So. (5-5, 2.09, 14 saves).

Lowdown on the Cougars: "They have to have the wind at their backs. They have nothing to lose and all the momentum after winning four games from the loser's bracket and beating A&M twice.

"It all starts with Sullivan; he's a key. They've moved him back a day, maybe to give him more rest; I know there's some talk of fatigue or an injury, but he's a bulldog and an unbelievable competitor. Ryan Wagner is so good. He hides his fastball and slider well, and then they vanish. His fastball has unreal sink. It moves left and right, and it was 93 mph when we saw him, but I've heard more. He's got some extra zip on it when he needs it. You've got to have a closer like that in today's game.

And I like Zell, he's a lefty with solid stuff, challenges hitters inside and has a good breaking ball to the back leg of righthanded hitters. He'll do well in pro ball.

"Travis Tully has been a real sparkplug for them offensively. Michael Bourn is healthy and did well in the regional; he can drag (bunts) and that p ulls the infield in, and then he can hit through it. Cole Bruce got hot in the regional and really got some big hits for them. He was hitting .256 coming into the regional and then just didn't seem to make an out. Cho has been their guy all year. He's a solid guy, some power, real patient.

"They're a solid club and has a lot of returning guys from a good team last year, so you would have expected a better year. But they have started to hit the ball. I know they miss Brett Cooley, but maybe now they have adjusted."

RICE (51-10), No. 5 National Seed

Coach: Wayne Graham (12th season at Rice; three trips to Omaha).

How the Owls Got Here: Swept through the Houston regional in three games, defeating Wichita State for the championship.

Key Players: 1B Vincent Sinisi, So. (.361-8-54); OF Chris Kolkhorst, Jr. (.358-3-43); 3B Craig Stansberry, Jr. (.311-5-50); OF Austin Davis, Jr. (.345-5-57); RHPs Jeff Niemann, So. (15-0, 1.65), Philip Humber, So. (10-2, 3.16); Wade Townsend, So. (9-1, 1.97, five saves); David Aardsma, Jr. (5-3, 3.38, 10 saves).

Lowdown on the Owls: "They're amazing. Humber, Townsend and Niemann--all three are good kids and all three have great arms. Townsend has beaten a lot of good teams. Niemann has separated himself for me, though. He uses his height well, throws up and down in and out of the zone, and really college hitters just don't see that. When he pitched in relief, he was up to 97 mph and throwing sliders in the upper 80s. College hitters just don't see that, either.

"Townsend is a big kid, just pure power. Humber has the sinker/slider combo and throws up to 94. Josh Baker would be a weekend starter for plenty of clubs, but he's their fourth guy as a starter, and then there's Aardsma, who has quite an arm. He hasn't been as consistent in the second half with his delivery and so his command has been off.

"They are better offensively than they get credit for; the pitching overwhelms it, you know? Kohlkorst does a real nice job getting on base and setting the table. Jorgensen and Stansberry give them great speed, so they can manufacture a run when they have to. Jorgensen was a track guy and runs everything down in center field. Austin Davis is just a solid hitter who has done it for three years. He's a tough out.

"Sinisi is a big key, both for their offense, because he's such a smooth hitter, and on defense. He's smooth around the bag at first. Enrique Cruz was out of position at shortstop, but now he's settled in at second and he's solid. Paul Janish is a true shortstop, and Stansberry could play short for a lot of teams.

"A lot of the credit for their improved defense sho uld go to Mike Taylor, their infield coach. He's done a great job. They're an outstanding defensive team now."

No. 21 Southwest Missouri State at No. 20 Ohio State

SOUTHWEST MISSOURI STATE (38-24)

Coach: Keith Guttin (21st season at Southwest Missouri State).

How the Bears Got Here: Won the Lincoln, Neb., regional in four games, defeating host Nebraska for the championship.

Key Players: OF Dant'e Brinkley, Sr. (.344-7-42); SS/RHP Shaun Marcum, Sr. (.282-5-38; 0-4, 1.98, 13 saves); C Tony Piazza, Sr. (.305-14-48); RHP Chad M ulholland, Jr. (10-3, 2.73); RHP Brad Ziegler, Sr. (11-1, 3.93); RHP Bob Zimmermann, Jr. (5-3, 4.20).

Lowdown on the Bears: "It's a veteran team that has gotten hot at the right time. Everyone knew they had good pitching, but it's just surprising that they were able to go on the road and beat Nebraska like that.

"Bob Zimmermann was better as a freshman, when he was a little wilder. His velocity was down when we saw him, in the high 80s, and he didn't have much feel for his offspeed stuff. But he pitched the game of his life in the regional championship game. I like him better out of the b ullpen just letting it go.

"Brad Ziegler, I don't know why he was back or why he doesn't get drafted higher. He's a pitcher, with a 12-to-6 curve, good changeup, throws strikes with everything. We thought he'd be their best pitcher, but M ulholland was when we saw him. He's 88-91 with command of a slurvy breaking ball and solid changeup. Then there's Marcum. He's flashy at short, can be a cocky player, but he plays hard. He has good actions at short, but he's an aluminum bat hitter. He has a plus slider and has hit 91 mph with his fastball, and his curveball and his command is OK.

"Brinkley is the table-setter for them on offense. He's unorthodox--he has his hands apart kind of like Mel Ott on the bat. But he gets the job done, he always seems to be on base and gets a lot of key hits for them. He steals bases as well (breaking Bill Mueller's school record).

"The rest of their lineup is nothing special. Tony Piazza hits some homers, but a lot of teams know how to pitch him, and he strikes out a lot. He's OK behind the plate, mostly he's a veteran. They're a solid team defensively, nothing special."

OHIO STATE (44-19)

Coach: Bob Todd (16th season at Ohio State).

How the Buckeyes Got Here: Swept through the Auburn, Ala., regional in three games, defeating Auburn for the championship.

Key Players: OF Chris Snavely, Jr. (.335-16-54); 2B Drew Anderson, So. (.314-11-33); OF Steve Caravati, Jr. (.330-6-46); LHP Josh Newman, Jr. (8-5, 4.12); RHP Matt Davis, Jr. (3-1, 5.17, 14 saves); RHP Mike Madsen, So. (8-1, 3.17).

Lowdown on the Buckeyes: "Their pitching has been there all season. I cannot believe they are doing this without their ace, Scott Lewis. Since Lewis went down in the Minnesota series the hitters have really stepped up.

"The sleeper pitcher for them recently has been Madsen. He has thrown very well as of late after not being in the rotation early in the season.  He throws an 88-90 mph fastball and he has a good curveball and change. Closer Matt Davis has a 90 mph arm with a plus slider, and he has been effective for them all season."

"Brett Garrard, Drew Anderson and Steve Caravati are all hot right now. Anderson was just huge in the regional; he had seven home runs going in and hit four down there in the first two games. Snavely has been their best hitter most of the year and is very patient, and he has some pop. He's not a great defensive player and they have him in right field for now.

"Early in the year, they had a lot of injuries and their defense was poor (they were last in the Big 10 Conference in defense), but recently they have not had the defensive meltdowns that plagued them early."

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