2022 NCAA Tournament Stanford Regional Preview
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 4 Binghamton (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 2 Texas State vs. No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 1 Stanford (41-14)
Season in a Sentence: The preseason favorite in the Pac-12, Stanford took a somewhat circuitous route to getting where it wanted to go, but it did eventually get there, as it won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, and the Cardinal seem to be playing their best baseball at exactly the right time.
Best Pitcher: Alex Williams, RHP—Williams went into the season in the unenviable position of trying to fill Brendan Beck’s shoes at the front of the rotation, and as it turns out, the shoes fit pretty well. He’s 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA, 84 strikeouts compared to 21 walks and a .204 opponent batting average in 91 innings of work. More impressively, in Pac-12 play, his ERA dropped to 1.36 and the opponent batting average fell to .172.
Best Hitter: Brock Jones, OF—There’s a real argument to be made that the answer here should be Brett Barrera, who led the team in hitting, or Carter Graham, who has 20 homers, but Jones gets the nod, especially with the way he came on strong late. Jones is hitting .329/.464/.667 with 10 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 48 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, and like Williams, his numbers got better in conference play. Against Pac-12 opponents, he hit .350/.490/.795 with 13 home runs.
Outlook: Stanford got a relatively tough draw in having its two and three seeds, Texas State and UC Santa Barbara, be teams that dominated their respective leagues this season, but if Stanford plays anywhere close to as well as it has played in recent weeks, it probably doesn’t matter who the Cardinal are matched up with. If there are questions about Stanford, they stem from what it can expect to get on the mound once it gets past Williams and Quinn Mathews. The pitching depth is such that those concerns might end up being foolhardy, but even if they prove true, the offense is good enough to more than make up for it.
No. 2 Texas State (45-12)
Season in a Sentence: Texas State impressed in non-conference play, going a combined 3-2 against Arizona and Texas, which catapulted the Bobcats into conference play, where they dominated by going 26-4, which wasn’t enough to earn a spot as a host but is enough to make them one of the most dangerous two seeds in the field.
Best Pitcher: Levi Wells, RHP—Closer Tristan Stivors and righthander Zeke Wood deserve a mention here, but we’ll go with Wells. The Texas Tech transfer has been everything Texas State could have asked for this season. Leading with a fastball that reaches the mid 90s, he’s 7-2 with a 3.01 ERA, an 80-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .222 opponent batting average in 83.2 innings.
Best Hitter: Dalton Shuffield, SS—Texas State boasts a good lineup from top to bottom, but Shuffield is the standout among standouts. He’s hitting .390/.450/.686—his batting average places him 22nd in the country—with 20 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He’s truly a Swiss Army knife of an offensive weapon for the Bobcats.
Outlook: Getting past Stanford will be a tough task, but Texas State has proven its ability to take down tough opponents on the road this season. If the Bobcats are vulnerable anywhere, it’s probably pitching depth behind Wells and Wood in the rotation and Stivors and Triston Dixon in the bullpen, so staying on schedule on the mound will be important. If they can do that and hit like they’ve hit during the regular season, Texas State will make some noise all the way through to Sunday.
No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (43-12)
Season in a Sentence: UC Santa Barbara didn’t lose a series all season, and its only non-winning weekend was a four-game split with Oregon, on the way to finishing 43-12 and absolutely dominating the Big West with a 27-3 record, five games ahead of second-place Cal Poly, all of which makes the Gauchos a brutally tough three seed.
Best Pitcher: Cory Lewis, RHP—UC Santa Barbara has moved quite a bit of pitching talent into pro baseball in recent years, most notably with Rodney Boone and Michael McGreevy, and yet its rotation of Cory Lewis, Mike Gutierrez and Ryan Gallagher has made it to where UCSB hasn’t missed a beat on the mound in 2022. We’ll go with Lewis for this distinction even though all three deserve consideration. He’s 9-0 with a 3.35 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 83.1 innings.
Best Hitter: Christian Kirtley, DH—Shortstop Jordan Sprinkle, as a member of the Collegiate National Team last summer, is the UCSB position player with the best pedigree, but Kirtley has been the most productive bat this season. He’s hitting .310/.421/.547 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs.
Outlook: UC Santa Barbara is in the enviable position of having three established weekend starters it can trust in this setting. If those three pitch up to their potential and the offense can continue the form that saw it hit .314 as a unit in Big West play, there’s no reason why UCSB can’t win the regional. Anything less and it gets tough given that the Gauchos will have to go toe-to-toe with offenses as stout as Stanford’s and Texas State’s and that they might have to face one of Wells or Wood and then Alex Williams in consecutive days.
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No. 4 Binghamton (22-28)
All-Conference Team Honorees: RP Jack Collins (1st), C Evin Sullivan (1st), SP Thomas Babalis (2nd), 1B Connor Aoki (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: Binghamton got off to a tough 4-17 start overall and lost its first three America East series, but it played better baseball over the second half of the season to get back to 15-15 in conference play and then punctuated the second-half surge by sweeping through the conference tournament and securing the automatic bid.
Best Pitcher: Jack Collins, RHP—Starters Thomas Babalis and Ryan Bryggman have been solid this season, but it’s Collins, a dominant force on the back end, who has been the best arm for the Bearcats. He has a 2.18 ERA, a 56-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .189 opponent batting average in 41.1 innings. Binghamton likely won’t be shy about turning to him early in games this weekend.
Best Hitter: Evin Sullivan, C—Suffice it to say that Sullivan adjusted to Division I baseball well as a freshman. He goes into regionals hitting .350/.413/.552 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 41 RBIs. He is tied for the team lead in doubles, leads the team outright in RBIs and he’s second in home runs to Connor Aoki, who has eight.
Outlook: Binghamton is rare among four seeds from low-major conferences in that it has two workhorses in the rotation in Babalis and Bryggman. In a perfect scenario those guys pitch well enough to turn the ball straight over to Collins. Like most four seeds, Binghamton will have to play at the top of its potential to win games this weekend, and if it does, it’s likely by following that specific formula on the mound.