Columbia (Mo.) Regional Capsule

Columbia (Mo.) Regional Capsule
Taylor Stadium, Columbia, Mo.

No. 1 Missouri (40-16)
19th appearance, at-large, Big 12

No. 2 Miami (36-22)
36th appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast

No. 3 Louisville (40-20)
Second appearance, at-large, Big East

No. 4 Kent State (33-24)
Seventh appearance, automatic, won Mid-American tournament

Missouri makes its fifth straight regional appearance but hosts for the first time ever. Last year, going on the road proved no hindrance, as the Tigers went to the Malibu regional as the No. 4 seed and won it. But that team had Max Scherzer, and this team lacks that kind of star power. Kyle Gibson (7-3, 4.33, seven saves) was a highly touted recruit out of Indiana, and he has lived up to early expectations by anchoring the bullpen. The all-sophomore rotation of Aaron Crow, Rick Zagone and Ian Berger is very solid but not overwhelming. Of course, that’s Missouri’s M.O.–they just win, without the glitz and glamour. The Tigers showed toughness by going 8-0 in one-run games during conference play, including a pair of one-run victories at Texas. Junior DH Jacob Priday provides veteran leadership and pop (10 homers).

For the second straight year, Miami scuffled through the regular season and was sent on the road for regionals. Last year the Hurricanes went to Nebraska and won the regional on their way to the College World Series, and there are signs this year’s edition is starting to gel late in the season, as well. Miami went 9-1 to finish the regular season and beat Florida State in the ACC tournament. Lefthanders Scott Maine (5-5, 3.03) and Eric Erickson (10-3, 2.00) have both pitched well over the last month, and Danny Gil has solidified an otherwise thin bullpen since moving from the rotation to the closer spot midway through the year. But the strength of this Miami team–other than the coaching of Jim Morris–is its offensive explosiveness. First baseman Yonder Alonso (.377, 18 homers, 74 RBIs) is one of the nation’s elite power hitters, and second baseman Jemile Weeks remains one of the most electrifying players in college baseball thanks to his speed and power mix, though he has struggled through a groin injury in the second half.

In coach Dan McDonnell’s first year at the helm, he has guided Louisville to just its second regional appearance in program history. Despite Louisville’s lack of postseason experience, the Cardinals are chock full of veterans who know how to play the game–five of their top six hitters are seniors, including Isaiah Howes, who leads the team in batting (.387) and home runs (15). But Louisville’s deep pitching staff is its hallmark. The Cardinals rank fourth in the nation with a 2.89 ERA, led by junior righthander Zack Pitts (8-3, 1.78). Fifth-year senior Trystan Magnuson (3-1, 0.96, eight saves, 49 strikeouts, eight walks in 49 innings) has grown into his towering 6-foot-7 frame and delivers mid-90s heat out of the bullpen.

Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said his team has rallied around redshirt sophomore righthander Chris Carpenter as he has worked his way back from arm surgery. The Golden Flashes won 16 of their last 17 games to sweep through the MAC tournament and into a regional, where the hard-throwing Carpenter will go against Missouri and could give the Tigers trouble. Kent State brought in a top-25 recruiting class last fall, and the two jewels of that haul–Kyle Smith (4-2, 3.84) and Brad Stillings (0-0, 2.57)–have submitted solid debuts. The Kent State pitching staff, which led the MAC and ranked 12th nationally with a 3.47 ERA, is fairly deep, giving the red-hot Flashes a legitimate chance to stun the regional field.