Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Ky. (Host: Louisville)
No. 1 Louisville (46-12, 20-4 in Big East)
Seventh appearance (second straight), at-large, Big East regular-season champion
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Dace Kime (No. 92), 3B Ty Young (No. 129), RHP Jeff Thompson (No. 152), OF Adam Engel (No. 156), RHP Chad Green (No. 267), OF Coco Johnson (No. 464)
No. 2 Miami (36-23, 14-16 in ACC)
42nd appearance (41st straight), at-large, fifth place in ACC Coastal Division
No. 3 Oklahoma State (39-17, 13-10 in Big 12)
39th appearance (last in 2011), at-large, second place in Big 12
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Jason Hursh (No. 46)
No. 4 Bowling Green (24-29, 13-14 in MAC)
Fourth appearance (last in 1999), automatic, Mid-American Conference tournament champion
Louisville ranked No. 4 in the BA preseason Top 25 and largely lived up to expectations, winning the Big East regular-season title before going 0-2 in the conference tournament, likely costing it a national seed. Louisville’s 46 regular-season victories tied the school record (set in 2010). Talent and experience dot the Cardinals’ roster. Chad Green (9-3, 2.09), Jeff Thompson (10-1, 2.09) and Dace Kime (5-1, 3.08) give the Cardinals three physical power pitchers in the rotation, which ranks as one of the nation’s best. The extremely deep bullpen is anchored by college baseball’s hardest thrower, sophomore righty Nick Burdi (3-3, 0.88 with 56 strikeouts and 11 walks in 31 innings), who routinely runs his fastball into the triple digits. The biggest asset of the Louisville lineup is its premium speed. Led by blazing-fast center fielder Adam Engel (40 SB), the Cardinals rank third in the nation with 142 stolen bases, as three other Cards have posted 20 or more steals. Sweet-swinging third baseman Ty Young (.357/.441/.546, 55 RBI, seven triples, 26 steals) is one of college baseball’s most well-rounded players, and he anchors the lineup in the No. 3 hole. Coco Johnson (6 HR) and Jeff Gardner (9 HR) provide most of the power in the lineup, which is built around pushing the action rather than waiting for the three-run homer. With elite pitching, tons of speed and solid defense, this is a team built to win in the BBCOR era.
Miami has had a down season by the program’s lofty standards, but the Hurricanes still won quality series against Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Of course, all of those series were at home (where Miami is 27-10); the ‘Canes are just 9-13 away from Coral Gables. Miami’s calling card is its quality lefthanded pitching; the ‘Canes emphasize location and movement over velocity. Chris Diaz (6-5, 1.75) has good arm-side life on his high-80s to low-90s fastball, and a cutter that moves down and in against righties, as well as a good curveball. Bryan Radziewski (9-2, 1.49) and Andrew Suarez (3-5, 3.71) don’t have overpowering velocity but make up for it with good feel for pitching from the left side. The bullpen is anchored by a power-armed righty in Eric Nedeljkovic (1.37 ERA, 13 saves, 30-4 K-BB in 26 IP), who has excellent command of his 90-92 mph fastball and has dramatically improved his hard slider this year. Miami’s pitching generally keeps it competitive, but its offense is punchless, ranking 213th in the nation in hitting (.260) and 229th in scoring (4.5 runs per game). The ‘Canes have just 13 home runs as a team, and freshman David Thompson has accounted for six of them. The Hurricanes do have an athletic defense and a slick double-play tandem in Brandon Lopez and Alex Hernandez, but scoring runs has been a challenge all year long. One other thing to monitor: Miami coach Jim Morris was hospitalized with pneumonia at the ACC tournament, and it is unclear whether he’ll be able to make the trip to Louisville this weekend.
Oklahoma State brought in a star-studded coaching staff last summer, hiring former Vandy assistant Josh Holliday as head coach, former Oral Roberts head coach Rob Walton as pitching coach, and former Oregon State assistant Marty Lees as hitting coach. That staff got the most out of the roster they inherited, guiding the gritty Cowboys to a second-place finish in the Big 12, though they nearly finished with a sputter, going 0-3 in conference tournament pool play. OSU’s rotation is anchored by one of the biggest arms in college baseball—righthander Jason Hursh (6-4, 2.65), who works in the 94-98 range and has a pair of good secondary pitches in his 85-88 slider and 76-78 curve. Sophomore lefty Tyler Nurdin (4-3, 1.83) was hampered by turf toe for much of the season but threw a complete-game shutout in his final regular-season start, and he has learned to command a solid four-pitch mix. Mark Robinette (5-1, 3.92) gives OSU another quality starter with an 88-93 fastball and two breaking pitches. Walton is one of the best pitching coaches in the business, and he proved it by getting this group to post a 2.93 ERA (21st in the nation). The offense and defense are both average, but the Cowboys have gotten competitive at-bats from the top of their lineup to the bottom. Zach Fish, Robbie Rea and Tanner Krietemeier bring most of the power in the lineup, combining to hit 17 of the team’s 31 home runs.
Bowling Green had high hopes coming into this season thanks to its deepest pitching staff in years and the return of all its everyday players in the lineup. But the Falcons struggled in the first half, going 7-19 through the first eight weeks of the season, then finishing 17-10. They earned the No. 6 seed in the MAC tournament, where they went 4-1, capped by back-to-back shutouts Saturday and Sunday to clinch their first trip to regionals since 1999. Cody Apthorpe (5-4, 3.50) turned in seven shutout innings against Toledo, and the redshirt junior has plenty of experience, having served as BGSU’s top starter for two years before breaking his forearm in 2012. Fellow fourth-year junior righty Mike Frank (5-7, 3.61) has the best arm on the staff, with an 87-92 mph fastball that has good movement and a quality 11-to-5 curveball. But BGSU’s most valuable pitcher might be senior closer Nick Bruns (6-2, 2.32, six saves in 50 innings), who worked a scoreless ninth for the save Saturday and then threw a four-hit shutout in his second start of the season Sunday. The offense is headlined by Jeremy Shay (.328/.416/.514, 5 HR, 37 RBI) and T.J. Losby (.324/.378/.444, 6 HR, 37 RBI), who have combined to hit 11 of the team’s 14 home runs. For the second straight year, Bowling Green’s biggest weakness is its defense—it ranks 278th in the nation with a .951 fielding percentage. That statistic is glaring in a regional with three other teams that play very good defense and won’t beat themselves.