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2022 NCAA Tournament Austin Regional Preview

Friday’s schedule

No. 1 Texas vs. No. 4 Air Force (2 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)

No. 2 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 3 Dallas Baptist (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

No. 1 Texas (42-19)

All-Conference Honorees: C Silas Ardoin (first), SS Trey Faltine (second), SP Lucas Gordon (second), SP Pete Hansen (first), 1B Ivan Melendez (first), 3B Skyler Messinger (second), OF Murphy Stehly (first)

Season in a sentence: Ranked No. 1 in the Preseason Top 25, Texas overcame some tough injury luck to win more than 40 games and again host regionals thanks to the star power of lefthander Pete Hansen and slugger Ivan Melendez.

Best pitcher: Pete Hansen, LHP. Hansen has been among the best pitchers in the nation this season and is 10-1, 3.01 with 107 strikeouts and 16 walks in 92.2 innings. He’s been excellent in taking over as the team’s ace this season, following the departure of Ty Madden in the draft. He matches up well with anyone in the nation.

Best hitter: Ivan Melendez, 1B. Melendez is one of the favorites for the Golden Spikes Award after hitting .406/.522/.903 with 29 home runs. He was named Big 12 player of the year and leads the nation in both home runs and slugging percentage. He has a chance this weekend to become the first player to hit 30 home runs since Kris Bryant in 2013.

Outlook: The Longhorns are not quite the juggernaut on the mound we expected them to be coming into the season, but their frontline arms stack up well with just about anyone’s. Their offense, with Melendez and Stehly (.377/.432/.680, 17 HR) has been excellent, and they play defense at an elite level, leading the nation in fielding percentage (.986). Texas won’t beat itself, has plenty of experience from last year’s Omaha team and is 24-7 at home this season. The Longhorns are a very difficult matchup this weekend.

No. 2 Louisiana Tech (42-19)

All-Conference Honorees: C Jorge Corona (second), RP Kyle Crigger (first), SP Cade Gibson (second), RP Ryan Harland (second), OF Cole McConnell (first), SS Taylor Young (first)

Season in a sentence: After last year hosting regionals, Louisiana Tech again put together a strong season, winning 42 games and the Conference USA Tournament behind an experienced team and a strong pitching staff.

Best pitcher: Kyle Crigger, RHP. Crigger is La Tech’s best weapon on the mound. The righthander has appeared in 35 of the Bulldogs’ 61 games and is 6-1, 1.79 with nine saves. He’s more than a one-inning reliever and has worked up to 4.2 innings this season, making him capable of shortening games. If La Tech is to win games this weekend, Crigger is sure to play a big part.

Best hitter: Taylor Young, SS. Young last year was named C-USA defensive player of the year after not making an error in the first 54 games of the season at second base. This year, as a fifth-year senior, he moved to shortstop and has continued to play solid defense. He’s also the Bulldogs’ leading hitter, batting .358/.505/.633 with 11 home runs and 26 stolen bases.

Outlook: La Tech last season reached the Ruston Regional final before falling to North Carolina State. The Bulldogs won’t have home-field advantage this season but do have the benefit of experience. They’ll need it on the road, especially in a field that includes a team that went to the CWS a year ago and another that went to super regionals. The Bulldogs aren’t the most powerful offense and will be looking instead to their pitching staff to shoulder the load this weekend.

No. 3 Dallas Baptist (34-22-1)

All-Conference Honorees: RP Chandler Arnold (first), OF Jace Grady (second), 3B Luke Heefner (second), 1B Cole Moore (first), 2B Miguel Santos (second), C Ryan Wrobleski (first)

Season in a sentence: DBU piled up some big non-conference wins this year and went 6-3 against regional hosts, but it hit a skid in conference play, finished third in the Missouri Valley standings and ultimately squeaked into the field on the strength of its high-end victories.

Best pitcher: Chandler Arnold, RHP. Arnold has worked both out of the bullpen and the rotation this season and is 2-3, 4.56 with eight saves in 45.1 innings. He’s coming off a couple rough outings—he didn’t get an out in a start against Evansville in the Missouri Valley Tournament last week—but has good stuff when he’s on and figures to pitch in an important role this weekend.

Best hitter: Cole Moore, 1B. Moore has been DBU’s most consistent hitter this season, anchoring the middle of the order. He’s hitting .356/.473/.606 with 10 home runs, nearly identical numbers to what he put up a season ago. He’s an excellent defender who has made a total of five errors over the last two years.

Outlook: DBU is one of the tougher teams to figure out. It’s risen to the occasion several times throughout the season and even when it was struggling in conference play, it still showed the ability to go out and beat major conference foes in mid-week competition. So, how will it fare in a difficult regional? If they’re going to win a regional as an underdog for the second year in a row, the Patriots will need to pitch much better than they have of late. They have some powerful bats in their lineup—five players have hit at least 10 home runs this season—but if they can’t find reliable starting pitching this weekend, that won’t be enough to keep pace.

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No. 4 Air Force (30-27)

All-Conference Honorees: 1B Sam Kulasingam (first), SP Paul Skenes (first), 3B Jay Thomason (first)

Season in a sentence: After a sluggish start to the season—the Falcons were at one point just 5-10 in Mountain West Conference play—Air Force came on strong in the second half of the season and went on to win the Mountain West Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1969.

Best pitcher: Paul Skenes, RHP. Skenes, a sophomore, was named co-Mountain West pitcher of the year after going 10-2, 2.42 with 92 strikeouts in 81.2 innings. He’s also a two-way player and hit .326/.426/.652 with 12 home runs. Skenes last summer played for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and has serious prospect upside on the mound thanks to his powerful arm.

Best hitter: Sam Kulasingam, 1B. Kulasingam became the first Air Force player to be named Mountain West player of the year and comes into the weekend hitting .414/.486/.683 with 11 home runs. The sophomore ranks second in the nation in batting and makes the Falcons lineup go.

Outlook: Air Force isn’t going to be overwhelmed by playing Texas on Friday. The Falcons split a pair of midweek games against the Longhorns earlier this season and went 5-6 this spring against major conference teams. Skenes gives Air Force a true ace that will challenge Texas and its offense averages 8.6 runs per game. While the Falcons have a solid all-around team, winning a regional would be a steep climb. They are 17-19 away from home this season and the NCAA Tournament will be a new experience for everyone on the roster. That said, don’t be surprised if Air Force springs an upset this weekend.

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