2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Morgantown Regional Preview
No. 1 West Virginia vs. No. 4 Fordham (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Duke (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 1 West Virginia (37-20)
Season In A Sentence: Led in large part by workhorse starting pitcher and future first-round pick Alek Manoah, West Virginia went 37-20 and advanced to the Big 12 Tournament final, enough to earn the program its first-ever home regional.
Best Pitcher: RHP Alek Manoah, Jr. — Ranked No. 13 in the BA 500, there are some evaluators who think Manoah is the best starting pitcher in the country. The Big 12 pitcher of the year, Manoah is 9-3, 1.85 with a staggering 135 strikeouts and 23 walks in 102.1 innings. He holds opponents to a .186 batting average, and his WHIP is a minuscule 0.88.
Best Hitter: OF Darius Hill, Sr. — A potential senior sign in the upcoming 2019 draft, Hill was a second-team all-Big 12 selection. He ranks second in program history with 298 career hits, and this season he is slashing .304/.365/.511 with 32 extra-base hits.
Outlook: Morgantown should produce one of the weekend’s best atmospheres, but will that be enough to fuel West Virginia? Or will it only add to the pressure? The Mountaineers aren’t as deep on the mound as Texas A&M, but their frontline pitching matches up with anyone thanks to Manoah. To knock West Virginia out this weekend, someone is either going to have to beat Manoah or find a way to push the regional to a seventh game and get deeper into the Mountaineers’ staff.
No. 2 Texas A&M (37-27-1)
Season In A Sentence: Led by pitching, pitching and more pitching, Texas A&M went 37-21-1 in 2019 with a solid 16-13-1 mark in SEC play, earning its 13th straight regional appearance.
Best Pitcher: LHP John Doxakis, Jr. — The 53rd-ranked prospect in this year’s BA 500, Doxakis has a 1.84 ERA in 97.2 innings this spring. Pitching in the highly competitive SEC, Doxakis ranks third in the league in ERA and fourth in innings pitched. He’s limiting opponents to a .207 batting average, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is north of 4-to-1.
Best Hitter: SS Braden Shewmake, Jr. — The heart and soul of Texas A&M’s lineup, Shewmake is hitting .315/.376/.487 with 24 extra-base hits and 46 RBIs this spring. He’s coming off a strong performance in the SEC Tournament in which he hit .444, and he’s ranked No. 27 in the BA 500.
Outlook: The Aggies have one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, combining both elite starters in lefthanders John Doxakis, Asa Lacy and Chris Weber and plenty of depth in the bullpen. Looking ahead to a potential matchup with West Virginia and Manoah is fun, but the Aggies still have to find enough offense to advance to the winners’ bracket. They lost twice last week in the SEC Tournament despite Doxakis and Weber both carrying no-hitters into the eighth inning. Breaking out of that offensive funk is critical to A&M’s chances this weekend.
No. 3 Duke (31-25)
Season In A Sentence: The Blue Devils had to work down the stretch to overcome a somewhat sluggish start and get into the postseason, but work they did, finishing ACC play at 15-15 and earning back-to-back regional bids for the first time since 1956-57.
Best Pitcher: RHP Ben Gross, Sr. — A 34th-round pick by the Astros in 2018 out of Princeton, Gross instead went to Duke as a graduate transfer. Now with the Blue Devils, he is tied for the team lead in wins (six) and has been a reliable Friday starter down the stretch, posting a 4.41 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.
Best Hitter: OF Kennie Taylor, Sr. — A team captain for the Blue Devils, Taylor was a first-team all-ACC selection while leading Duke in almost every offensive category. A 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior, Taylor is one of two Blue Devils to reach base safely in every game this season.
Outlook: It has not played out how the Blue Devils drew it up this season, as injuries have limited what was expected to be a premium pitching staff. But Duke has still found ways to win and may have the most postseason experience of any team in Morgantown after last year falling a win short of the College World Series. The Blue Devils can’t match the frontline arms of A&M and West Virginia, but counting them out this weekend would be a mistake.
No. 4 Fordham (38-22)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: With a 3.08 team ERA and all four primary starting pitchers sporting ERAs of 4.00 or lower, the Rams pitched their way to a 38-22 overall record and the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid, which earned the program their first regional appearance since 1998.
Best Pitcher: RHP John Stankiewicz, So. — Stankiewicz has been a dominant weekend starter for the Rams. In 89.1 innings this spring, he boasts an 8-3, 1.21 record with 102 strikeouts while walking only 15 batters.
Best Hitter: INF Jake MacKenzie, So. — MacKenzie leads the Rams’ offense with a .313 batting average and 48 runs. The only player to start all 60 games for Fordham this spring, MacKenzie has stolen 43 bases in 50 attempts, second only to Army’s Jacob Hurtubise (45 stolen bases) among this year’s NCAA Tournament participants.
Outlook: Fordham, which surprised last week in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, fits right in with the other premium pitching staffs in Morgantown. The Rams rank fourth in the nation in ERA, just behind Texas A&M (3.04). They don’t have the prospects that A&M and West Virginia possess, but they make for a tricky No. 4 seed thanks to their run prevention. Fordham won’t beat themselves—the higher seeds are going to have to knock the Rams out.