2018 NCAA Tournament: Lubbock Regional Preview
1. Texas Tech (39-17, 15-9 Big 12 Conference)
13th appearance (third straight); at-large bid; third in the Big 12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: LHP Steven Gingery (103), RHP Davis Martin (119), OF Grant Little (158), RHP Caleb Kilian (299)
Season In A Sentence: Texas Tech lost Preseason All-American Steven Gingery to injury on Opening Weekend and fell short of a third-straight Big 12 title, but the Red Raiders fared well against an ambitious schedule and will now host a regional for the third straight year.
Player To Watch: Josh Jung, 3B: Jung last year was a Freshman All-American and he’s this season built on that success. The sophomore is leading the Red Raiders in hitting with a line of .381/.484/.650 with 11 home runs. Texas Tech has a balanced attack, but its at its best when Jung is producing in the heart of the order.
Best Weekend: at Oklahoma State, May 17-19. Following a home series loss to Texas that knocked Texas Tech out of the Big 12 race and a break for finals, the Red Raiders traveled to Stillwater on the final weekend of the regular season. Texas Tech had lost seven of its last 10 games but found its mojo against Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders swept the series, denying the Cowboys the conference championship and outscoring them 30-13 along the way.
Outlook: Texas Tech is incredibly difficult to beat at Rip Griffin Park, where they are 23-5 this season and have lost just two weekend series over the last two years. The same could have been said of the Red Raiders last season, however, and they were upended in the Lubbock Regional by Sam Houston State. Texas Tech has a tough regional draw and aside from the series at Oklahoma State, it hasn’t been at its best for a month. The Red Raiders will have to break out of their late-season funk to avoid a similar fate that befell last year’s team.
2. Louisville (43-17, 18-12 Atlantic Coast Conference)
12th appearance (seventh straight); at-large bid; third in the ACC Atlantic Division
BA 500 prospects: OF Josh Stowers (124), LHP Adam Wolf (151), RHP Sam Bordner (216), RHP Riley Thompson (219), 2B Devin Mann (222), LHP Liam Jenkins (311), RHP Bryan Hoeing (391)
Season In A Sentence: Louisville had to replace a strong core led by 2017 College Player of the Year Brendan McKay and went through some growing pains before finding itself in the second half of the season.
Player To Watch: Josh Stowers, OF: Stowers brings an exciting combination of power and speed to the lineup. He’s the Cardinals’ leading hitter at .341/.470/.572 and has nine home runs and 33 stolen bases. He’s a catalyst in Louisville’s lineup and is riding a 13-game hitting streak. A strong weekend from the junior would be a big boost for the Cardinals.
Best Weekend: vs. North Carolina, March 9-11. Louisville was 12-0 going into the start of ACC play but hadn’t yet faced much in the way of premier competition. That changed when a top-10 North Carolina team visited Jim Patterson Stadium. Louisville won the first two games of the series against the eventual ACC champion to make an early season statement.
Outlook: Louisville has been strong in the second half of the season, winning its last four series and then reaching the championship game of the ACC Tournament. The Cardinals are 17-4 in that stretch, a run that pushed them near the top of the ACC standings. But Louisville has also only played five games against NCAA Tournament teams in that stretch, going 3-2 in those games. The Cardinals have done a good job all year of beating teams they should be, while struggling on weekends against the better teams in the ACC. They’ll have to show they can also beat quality competition on the weekend to advance to super regionals for the fourth year in a row.
3. Kent State (39-16, 19-8 Mid-American Conference)
14th appearance (first since 2014); automatic bid; first in the MAC East; MAC Tournament champions
BA 500 prospects: RHP Joey Murray (273), RHP Austin Havekost (496)
Season In A Sentence: Kent State again proved to be the class of the MAC and then swept through the conference tournament, which had tripped up the Golden Flashes the last two years.
Player To Watch: Joey Murray, RHP. Murray gives Kent State a true ace, which it will on Friday need to match up with Louisville. The junior isn’t overpowering, but he’s been one of the most productive pitchers in the country and comes into the weekend at 9-1, 1.71 with 139 strikeouts—a Kent State record—and 38 walks in 94.2 innings. Getting a strong start out of Murray will be the key to the weekend for the Golden Flashes.
Best Weekend: MAC Tournament, May 24-26. The MAC Tournament has been Kent State’s kryptonite the last three years. Despite going 56-19 in conference play during that span, the Golden Flashes were upset in the tournament every time. This year, however, Kent State had no such problems. The Golden Flashes swept through the tournament, twice beating Miami (Ohio)—the second-best team in the conference—to win the championship and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Outlook: Led by Murray, senior lefthander Eli Kraus (9-3, 4.06) and closer Collin Romel (0-0, 1.59, 6 SV), the Golden Flashes have the horses on the mound to play deep into June. Kent State’s lineup is a mature, veteran bunch that plays sound baseball and knows how to put pressure on defenses. It’s not an easy draw, but six years after its run to Omaha, Kent State has another team capable of producing upsets.
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4. New Mexico State (39-20, 17-7 Western Athletic Conference)
Fourth appearance (first since 2012); automatic bid; second in the Western Athletic Conference; WAC Tournament champions
BA 500 prospects: RHP Kyle Bradish (129)
Season In A Sentence: New Mexico State posted some gaudy offensive numbers early in the season but was able to lean on its pitching staff in the WAC Tournament, where it held opponents to eight runs over five games to win the event and advance to regionals.
Player To Watch: Kyle Bradish, RHP: Bradish is the most electric arm on New Mexico State’s pitching staff and the Aggies will need him to deliver this weekend. He is 9-3, 2.79 and has struck out 131 batters in 93.2 innings. The junior last summer had success in the Cape Cod League and pitching on the big stage shouldn’t bother him.
Best Weekend: WAC Tournament, May 23-27. New Mexico State finished in second place in the WAC in the regular season, but it wouldn’t be denied in the tournament. Its pitching staff started the weekend with back-to-back shutouts and its offense did just enough to knock off Sacramento State in the championship game. A 4-3 victory gave the Aggies just their second conference tournament championship and their first since 2002, when they were members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Outlook: New Mexico State regularly plays midweeks against Texas Tech but has lost six straight games to the Red Raiders, a streak that dates to 2016. Even with their own high-powered offense, the Aggies can’t afford to get into a slugfest with the Red Raiders. They’ll need some pitchers to step up on the mound if they’re to upset the hosts.