Tempe Regional Capsule

Tempe Regional Capsule
Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz.

No. 1 Arizona State (43-13)
31st appearance, automatic, won Pacific-10 regular season, No. 5 national seed

No. 2 UC Riverside (37-19)
Second appearance, automatic, won Big West regular season

No. 3 Nebraska (30-25)
11th appearance, at-large, Big 12

No. 4 Monmouth (36-22)
Third appearance, automatic, won Northeast tournament

Arizona State’s high-powered offense is its calling card–the Sun Devils led the nation in scoring at 9.6 runs per game. Sophomore first baseman Brett Wallace (.426/.505/.735 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs) is a legitimate player of the year candidate, and he’s surrounded by power bats in Kiel Roling, Petey Paramore, Matt Spencer and Ike Davis. Second baseman Eric Sogard (.390/.490/.624 with 10 homers) greases the wheels atop the lineup and teams with slick-fielding shortstop Andrew Romine to form an exceptional double-play tandem. In all the thunder of the ASU offense, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Sun Devils lead the nation with a .978 fielding percentage. And the front-line pitching is strong, with Mike Leake, Josh Satow and Brian Flores starting and Jason Jarvis closing. The only weakness is in the depth of the staff–lefties Spencer and Davis will need to build a bridge to Jarvis if a starter should get knocked out early. If ASU doesn’t win the regional in three games, its fourth starter is a question mark.

UC Riverside has the pitching depth to win the regional should it get extended to four games, potentially causing ASU to run out of reliable fresh arms. Righthander James Simmons (10-3, 2.32) has been UCR’s ace since he stepped foot on campus three years ago, and he can dominate a game with his outstanding fastball-changeup command. If the Highlanders face the very lefthanded-leaning Arizona State offense, they will miss senior lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who broke a knuckle in his pinky finger when he slammed his fist down on a counter at his home in mid-May. Righthander Matt Montgomery slid into his spot in the rotation and has actually been UCR’s best pitcher down the stretch, with an 87-89 mph fastball and a good slider, but the Highlanders could employ an extra dose of power-armed lefthander Dan Runzler against Arizona State because of the matchup. The Highlanders have the deepest collection of quality pitching on the West Coast, but they’ll have their hands full against the nation’s best offense, and the road through this regional almost certainly runs through the Sun Devils.

It’s been a tumultuous season for Nebraska, which has dealt with a multitude of off-field incidents, most notably the dismissal of shortstop Ryan Wehrle, who was supposed to be the team’s best hitter. Wehrle struggled to the tune of a .241 batting average this spring, but the other veterans who were supposed to comprise the core of Nebraska’s lineup weren’t much better. Andy Gerch (.296), Jake Opitz (.275) and Bryce Nimmo (.265) all saw significant playing time on the Cornhuskers’ 2005 College World Series team, but all were disappointing this spring. The same can be said for juniors Tony Watson (6-4, 3.94), Johnny Dorn (9-3, 5.68) and Charlie Shirek (2-7, 6.39), who were supposed to make up one of the nation’s stronger weekend rotations. Still, the Cornhuskers persevered, winning six of their final seven conference series–a testament to coach Mike Anderson’s ability to keep his players focused through distractions. That characteristic will be vital this weekend.

Monmouth finished third in the Northeast Conference’s regular season standings but got hot at the right time to win the league’s automatic bid and advance to regionals for the first time since 1999. The Hawks won a school-record 36 games this year, but they’re going to have their talons full with the explosive Sun Devils. Junior righthander Brad Brach (9-2, 2.72) draws the assignment of trying to keep Arizona State in check. Andy Meyers (.395/.475/.605, nine homers, 64 RBIs) leads the Monmouth offense.