2014 Stillwater Regional Preview


Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, Stillwater, Okla. (Host: Oklahoma State)

Zach Fish (Photo by John Williamson).

Zach Fish (Photo by John Williamson).

No. 1 Oklahoma State (45-16, 18-6 in Big 12) Roster | Statistics
40th appearance (second straight), at-large, Big 12 regular-season champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 2 Nebraska (40-19, 18-6 in Big Ten) Roster | Statistics
13th appearance (last in 2009), at-large, second place in Big Ten tournament
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (32-22, 14-1 in Big West) Roster | Statistics
36th appearance (23 straight), at-large, fourth place in Big West
Top 200 Prospects: 2b/3b Matt Chapman (64), OF/1B J.D. Davis (118)

No. 4 Binghamton (25-25, 11-12 in America East) Roster| Statistics
Third appearance (second straight), automatic, America East tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

Oklahoma State has exceeded expectations in each of coach Josh Holliday's first two seasons at the helm, following up last year's 41-win, regional runner-up campaign with 45 wins and a Big 12 regular-season championship this spring. The Cowboys caught fire in the second half, winning their final eight series and going 4-2 in the conference tournament to reach the title game. OSU has a balanced team with a nice mixture of seasoned veterans and very talented freshmen. The Cowboys stand out most for their power: they rank 10th in the nation with 49 home runs, but also third in walks and fourth in sacrifice bunts, a good illustration of their multi-faceted offensive attack. The biggest threats in the heart of the order are physical veterans Zach Fish (.320/.401/.534, 11 HR, 44 RBI), Tanner Krietemeier (.270/.360/.444, 9 HR, 43 RBI) and Gage Green (a team-best .321/.409/.437 with 14 doubles, tied with Fish for the team lead). Fish has legitimate plus power from the right side, while the switch-hitting Krietemeier has pop from both sides. CF Saulyer Saxon and SS Donnie Walton provide strong defense up the middle and on-base ability in the top two spots in the lineup; both have at least as many walks as strikeouts. 2B Tim Arakawa is another steady up-the-middle defender with a patient approach (a team-best 43 walks and 37 strikeouts). On the mound, RHP  Perrin (7-4, 1.78) emerged as a solid ace this year thanks to a fastball that can reach 93 and good command of his secondary stuff. The rest of the rotation has been less consistent, though freshman righty Tyler Buffett (2-1, 3.22) has been very good at times. The backbone of the staff is the bullpen, where moment-of-truth veteran Vince Wheeland (9-0, 1.49 in 73 innings) and undersized bulldog closer Brendan McCurry (5-0, 0.42, 18 SV, 47-7 K-BB in 43 IP) can really shorten games, and Blake Battenfield (3-0, 1.76 in 51 innings) has emerged as another invaluable piece. The fearless McCurry has the best stuff, with an 88-91 fastball with life from a three-quarters slot and two swing-and-miss offspeed pitches in his curveball and changeup. Wheeland also has a three-quarters slot and good life on his 87-88 fastball, but his calling card is his low-80s slider. Battenfield's slider might be even better; he and Wheeland have both bumped 91 at times.

Nebraska came on strong down the stretch last year but lost in the Big Ten title game to Indiana to finish one game below .500 on the season, making it ineligible for an at-large berth. The Huskers built on that momentum in coach Darin Erstad's third season this spring, reaching the 40-win plateau for the first time since 2008. Erstad was famously hard-nosed during his playing days, and his team shares his blue-collar ethic. They consistently grind out quality at-bats, leading the Big Ten in walks and sacrifice bunts. They're also a fundamentally sound defensive club, leading the conference and ranking 18th nationally with a .977 fielding percentage. The Huskers have two very exciting up-the-middle talents in 2B Pat Kelly (.312/.371/.416, 4 HR, 55 RBI) and CF Ryan Boldt (.302/.375/.413), two defensive standouts who drive the gaps and run the bases well. On the corners, Michael Pritchard (.311/.380/.478 with a team-best 21 doubles), Austin Darby and Blake Headley provide physicality and experience, and so does catcher Tanner Lubach. The pitching staff is led by funky, deceptive lefties Aaron Bummer (7-4, 3.59) and Kyle Kubat (5-2, 4.55) and righthander Chance Sinclair (9-1, 2.29). The 6-foot-4 Sinclair throws strikes with three pitches and has big-game experience from his junior-college days, when he led Neosho (Kan.) to the junior college world series. Another key starter, bulldog righthander Christian DeLeon (5-2, 2.46), has missed three weeks with an arm injury and is day to day heading into the regional. Upperclassmen Josh Roeder (3-1, 2.70, 12 SV) and Zach Hirsch (4-1, 1.32, 4 SV) give Nebraska a pair of trustworthy veterans anchoring the bullpen.

Cal State Fullerton won 49 games a year ago and entered this season ranked No. 4 in the BA Preseason Top 25. The Titans collapsed midway through the season, losing nine out of 13 games during one stretch in April and May, with coach Rick Vanderhook on paid administrative leave for much of that stretch while the athletics department investigated his conduct. When the Titans dropped two of three against UC Riverside to fall to 25-22 overall, 8-10 in the Big West, their 22-year NCAA tournament streak seemed dead in the water. Then Vanderhook returned to the dugout for a series at UC Irvine the next week, and the Titans haven't lost since, finishing the regular season on a seven-game winning streak that carried them back to regionals. Even after all the turmoil, Fullerton still has the nation's best pitching staff, leading Division I in ERA (2.03), fewest walks allowed per nine innings (1.46), strikeout-walk ratio (5.2-to-1) and WHIP (1.00). Thomas Eshelman (8-3, 1.92, 94-7 K-BB in 117 IP) has smothered opponents with quality strikes for two straight years, setting the tone for a staff that forces opponents to beat them, rather than giving free bases. Justin Garza (5-3, 2.51) missed some time to injury this year but returned down the stretch and appears to be peaking at the perfect time—he struck out 12 in a no-hitter last week against Cal State Northridge. Garza has the best stuff on the staff, with a fastball that reaches 94 and two very good secondary pitches. Grahamm Wiest (4-4, 1.55) followed with another complete-game shutout a day later, and unsigned first-round pick Phil Bickford (6-3, 2.04) gives the Titans a fourth stellar starting option or bullpen depth. Koby Gauna (4-2, 1.45, 5 SV, 56 IP) anchors the bullpen, and two-way talent J.D. Davis (2.95 ERA, 6 SV) has swing-and-miss stuff back there too. Davis (.338/.425/.521, 5 HR, 38 RBI) has been red-hot down the stretch, going 9-for-16 with two homers, two doubles and a tripe last week. He and fellow preseason All-American Matt Chapman (.321/.418/.516, 6 HR, 46 RBI) have the power to take advantage of hitter-friendly Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, providing most of the thump in a Fullerton lineup that otherwise likes to skill it up.

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Binghamton entered the season as the favorite to repeat as America East champion with a lineup that returned all nine everyday starters and a proven senior ace in Jack Rogalla (5-8, 3.77), a Coastal Plain League all-star last summer with an 88-91 fastball and good command of his slider and changeup. But the Bearcats finished 11-12 in the conference during the regular season to earn the No. 3 seed, then lost their tournament opener against Hartford's Sean Newecomb. Then they proceeded to run through the losers' bracket with four straight wins, beating top-seeded Stony Brook in back-to-back nail-biters to win the AEC title for the second straight year, and third time in the last six years. Closer Greg Ostner (3-1, 2.01) came up huge in a rematch against Hartford in the semifinals, delivering a six-hit shutout in his first start of the year. But Rogalla and sophomore righty Jake Cryts (5-5, 3.90), a high-80s pitcher with a good breaking ball, anchor the rotation. The lineup is crammed with veterans who work counts and get on base, and the trio of Daniel Nevares (5 HR), Jake Thomas (6 HR) and Shaun McGraw (4 HR) provide some pop, which will be an asset in a hitter-friendly ballpark this weekend. Second baseman Nevares (.957 fielding percentage) and shortstop John Howell (.980) also form a rock-solid double play tandem, anchoring a quality defense. The Bearcats are a heavy underdog in this loaded regional, but they are well stocked with postseason experience and could hold their own as the No. 4 seed.