Blacksburg Regional Preview

Blacksburg Regional
English Field, Blacksburg, Va. (Host: Virginia Tech)

No. 1 Virginia Tech (38-20, 15-14 in ACC)
11th appearance (last in 2010), at-large, third place in ACC Coastal Division
Top 500 Prospects: 3B/SS Chad Pinder (No. 54), OF Tyler Horan (No. 293)

No. 2 Oklahoma (40-19, 13-11 in Big 12)
35th appearance (sixth straight), automatic, Big 12 tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Jonathan Gray (No. 1), LHP Dillon Overton (No. 60), 1B Matt Oberste (No. 120), LHP Billy Waltrip, (No. 356)

No. 3 Coastal Carolina (37-21, 18-6 in Big South)
13th appearance (seventh straight), at-large, first place in Big South’s South Division
Top 500 Prospects: OF Jacob May (No. 203)

No. 4 Connecticut (34-26, 9-15 in Big East)
18th appearance (last in 2011), automatic, Big East tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: 2B L.J. Mazzilli (No. 250)

Chad Pinder

Chad Pinder (photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Virginia Tech will host a regional for the first time ever thanks primarily to its 6-2 record against ACC powers Virginia and Florida State, and its run to the ACC tournament title game. Both of Tech’s series wins against UVa. and FSU were in Blacksburg, where the Hokies are 17-9 this season. This team is built to take advantage of its power hitter-friendly ballpark, ranking 12th nationally with 52 home runs. Few teams in college baseball have a quintet as physical and powerful as Tyler Horan (.349, 11 HR), Mark Zagunis (.336, 9 HR), Chad Pinder (.327, 7 HR), Andrew Rash (.312, 9 HR) and Sean Keselica (.305, 5 HR). Pinder began the year at third base, where he was a standout defender, but he has solidified the infield defense since moving to shortstop, where his hands and arm strength are assets. The athletic Zagunis, a sophomore catcher, also brings plus speed to the basepaths, where he has 17 stolen bases. The Hokies have solid pitching depth as well, headlined by senior lefthander Joe Mantiply (6-0, 2.92), who complements his lively sinker with a good changeup and slider. Devin Burke (10-3, 3.30) has blossomed into a steady weekend starter thanks to his ability to spot his 88-91 fastball and excellent changeup. Brad Markey (4-4, 5.12), Eddie Campbell (2-4, 5.71) and Jake Joyce (7-1, 3.58) can all run their fastballs up to 94, and the Hokies have an unflappable sidearm closer in Clark Labitan (2.83 ERA, 10 SV), an undersized bulldog with serious sink on his 89-90 fastball. All in all, this is a balanced club that is riding a wave of momentum into the postseason.

Jonathan Gray

Jonathan Gray (John Williamson)

Oklahoma got off to a 25-4 start and peaked at No. 11 in the BA rankings in early April, before losing its final three regular-season series and dropping out of the Top 25 altogether. The Sooners headed into the Big 12 tournament on the at-large bubble, and they proceeded to win four straight games, propelling them to a No. 2 seed. Oklahoma has had postseason success in Virginia before, winning a 2010 super regional and a 2012 regional in Charlottesville, and this team still has a couple of key holdovers from both of those teams in center fielder Max White (.306/.373/.402) and shortstop Jack Mayfield (.250/.316/.398, 7 HR). That duo provides experience, leadership and athleticism up the middle. The centerpiece of the lineup, however, is first baseman Matt Oberste (.382/.460/.636, 10 HR, 54 RBI), who hits for power and average but slumped down the stretch; his resurgence is key to Oklahoma’s postseason fortunes. But the Sooners will likely go as far as juniors aces Jonathan Gray (9-2, 1.55) and Dillon Overton (9-2, 2.89) take them. Gray, the top prospect on the BA 500, can run his fastball into the triple digits and complements it with a nasty slider and quality changeup. Overton, a quick-armed lefty with three quality offerings, missed some time late in the year with a strained muscle near his elbow and hasn’t been as sharp since returning to action but did throw five innings of three-hit ball against Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. Expect the Sooners to throw Gray in the opener against Coastal Carolina, Overton on Saturday and finesse lefty Jake Fisher (2-2, 2.25) on Sunday. Okahoma has great confidence in its bullpen, featuring fearless freshman lefty Jacob Evans (6-2, 1.75, 9 SV), a relentless strike-thrower with good movement on his 85-88 fastball and a big-time breaking ball.

Coastal Carolina had to break in a host of new faces this season and struggled early in the season, getting off to a 7-10 start. With new starters at catcher, first base, third base, shortstop and right field, the defense took a while to gel, fielding .952 over the first 20 games of the season but fielding .976 in Big South play. The Chanticleers wound up going 18-6 in the Big South and earned an at-large bid after they failed to win the conference tournament (snapping a 17-game winning streak in Big South tourney games). Coastal has had to overcome injuries on the mound, as ace Tyler Herb (6-1, 4.04) missed five weeks with a shoulder injury, and talented freshman Alex Cunningham had his season end on April 7. Big South freshman of the year Seth Lamando (5-4, 3.43), a smallish righty with explosive life on his 87-91 fastball, helped pick up the slack. But for the second straight year, the biggest strength of this team is its pair of sidewinding relievers, Ryan Connolly (6-4, 2.10 with 11 saves and 77 innings) and Aaron Burke (3-2, 3.86 in 47 innings). Connolly’s 2.23 career ERA is a Big South record, and his 137 career appearances are sixth-most in Division I history. Offensively, the Chanticleers are not particularly offensive, but they have a dynamic catalyst in speedy outfielder Jacob May (.321/.414/.478, 6 HR, 16 SB), a compact switch-hitter with some pop in his bat.

Connecticut has a pair of key holdovers from the team that hosted a regional in 2010 and won a regional in 2011: senior second baseman L.J. Mazzilli (.364/.419/.534, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 28 SB) and senior center fielder Billy Ferriter (.285/.363/.357, 25 SB). That duo keys UConn’s high-pressure offense, the top two speed threats for a team that ranks 13th in the nation with 115 steals. Tom Verdi (19 SB) brings more speed out of the leadoff spot and also teams with Mazzilli to form a slick double-play tandem. Athletic freshman cleanup man Vinny Siena (.302/.371/.351) is another above-average runner with good arm strength at the hot corner, but he is fielding just .875. The Huskies rely on their patience to get on base and their speed to help them manufacture runs, but they don’t have a lot of punch in the lineup. They do have sound pitching, led by lefthander Anthony Marzi (5-6, 3.87) and righty Carson Cross (8-4, 2.50). Marzi, who threw a complete-game gem on two days’ rest in the Big East championship game, has good feel for his secondary stuff and does a good job keeping hitters off balance. The 6-foot-5 Cross works downhill and pounds the strike zone. Power sinkerballer Pat Butler (3-1, 2.23, 4 SV) gives the bullpen a senior anchor.