2022 NCAA Tournament Stillwater Regional Preview
No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Missouri State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 2 Arkansas vs. No. 3 Grand Canyon (1 p.m. ET, SECN)
No. 1 Oklahoma State (39-20)
All-Conference Team Honorees: OF Jake Thompson (1st), DH Griffin Doersching (1st), UTL Nolan McLean (1st), SP Justin Campbell (1st), RP Roman Phansalkar (1st)
Season in a Sentence: Oklahoma State got the season started with a bang by winning a road series against Vanderbilt, and while there were ample ups and downs throughout the campaign, the Cowboys ended up right about where most anticipated after that Vanderbilt series win, with the best RPI in the Big 12 and holding down a spot as a top-eight seed.
Best Pitcher: Justin Campbell, RHP—So much has gone on around Campbell on the pitching staff. Victor Mederos and Bryce Osmond have been inconsistent in the rotation, and Osmond was out due to injury during last week’s Big 12 Tournament. Closer Trevor Martin has gone through his struggles. Infielder Hueston Morrill found his calling as a key reliever. But through it all, Campbell has just been so steady. He has a 9-2 record with a 3.43 ERA, 133 strikeouts compared to 23 walks and a .212 opponent batting average in 94.1 innings.
Best Hitter: Jake Thompson, OF—There’s a real argument to be made that the answer here should be Griffin Doersching, given that he has 13 homers despite playing in just 37 games, but Thompson gets the nod for his quiet consistency. He’s hitting .349/.453/.624 with 17 doubles, 14 home runs, 62 RBIs and 41 walks compared to 40 strikeouts.
Outlook: The season has been enough of a roller coaster for Oklahoma State that it’s hard to know what to expect. The key on the mound is getting good outings out of pitchers other than Campbell, especially if the Cowboys elect to start someone else in the opener against a physical Missouri State offense. If that happens and Campbell is ready to go in a winner’s bracket game against Arkansas or Grand Canyon, OSU will be in good shape. But having to tax the pitching staff on days other than the one Campbell throws could be a recipe for the Cowboys really having to battle to get out of the regional.
No. 2 Arkansas (38-18)
All-Conference Team Honorees: None
Season in a Sentence: It seemed clear fairly early this season that this was not an Arkansas team as good as the ones seen over the last several years, but for much of the season, the Razorbacks continued to win games like not much was different, right up until a late-season swoon that definitively pushed the team off of the host line and into a role as a dangerous two seed.
Best Pitcher: Connor Noland, RHP—Although the quality of his outings slipped over the last five weeks of the season, it’s tough to imagine where Arkansas would be on the mound without Noland having the resurgent year that he’s had. He goes into regionals with a 5-5 record, a 4.07 ERA and a 95-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 86.1 innings. He’s not been dominant, but he’s been invaluable as a Friday starter the Razorbacks can build a staff around.
Best Hitter: Cayden Wallace, 3B—In a lineup that has had several players take steps back or fail to impress in debut seasons in Fayetteville, Wallace has been the steadiest contributor. He’s hitting .295/.386/.524 with 17 doubles, 11 homers, 48 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, making him the only Arkansas player with double-digit steals. He also got better in SEC play, hitting .310/.373/.543 with 12 doubles and six homers.
Outlook: Things have just been a bit off for Arkansas this season, as evidenced by not having a single player on the all-SEC team, but things haven’t been so far off that we shouldn’t look at the Razorbacks as one of the more capable two seeds in the entire tournament. It starts with getting a good outing from Noland on the mound, but the bigger challenge might be what their offense does when it has to contend with arms like GCU’s Daniel Avitia or Nick Hull in the opener and Oklahoma State’s Justin Campbell, which it could see in the winner’s bracket Saturday night.
No. 3 Grand Canyon (41-19)
All-Conference Team Honorees: 3B Juan Colato (1st), SS Jacob Wilson (1st), OF Tayler Aguilar (1st), C Tyler Wilson (1st), SP Daniel Avitia (1st), RP Vince Reilly (1st), SP Nick Hull (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: Grand Canyon challenged itself with a difficult schedule throughout the 2022 regular season and that paid off in the way it played in WAC competition, as it went 25-5 in those games, as well as in being able to earn the program’s first-ever at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Best Pitcher: Daniel Avitia, RHP—Righthander Nick Hull could also be the correct answer here, but Avitia, a Cubs draft pick coming out of high school in 2021, gets the nod because of the immense ceiling he has. Using a repertoire led by a low-90s fastball, Avitia has an 8-4 record with a 3.59 ERA, a 107-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .220 opponent batting average in 82.2 innings.
Best Hitter: Tayler Aguilar, OF—The GCU lineup has a ton of dangerous hitters, but Aguilar stands out for his immense power and ability to demoralize an opponent with one big swing of the bat. He goes into regionals hitting .310/.386/.676 with 20 home runs and 69 RBIs, both of which are record-setting totals in GCU’s Division I history.
Outlook: With wins against Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona and Texas Tech already on its resume, GCU won’t be intimidated by the situation in Stillwater. That alone makes the Lopes dangerous, but they also boast a pair of aces in Hull and Avitia and a deep lineup with real physicality, both of which stand out amongst mid-major teams. The presence of Oklahoma State and Arkansas in this regional is going to make it a tough road for GCU, but doubt its ability to win this regional at your own peril.
College Podcast: 2023 NCAA Regionals Preview
Teddy Cahill and Peter Flaherty preview the 2023 NCAA Regionals.
No. 4 Missouri State (30-27)
All-Conference Team Honorees: C Drake Baldwin (2nd), OF Spencer Nivens (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: After struggling throughout parts of the regular season, including going 8-13 in Missouri Valley play, Missouri State played some of its best baseball last week at the MVC Tournament, going 4-1 and clinching the automatic bid to get to the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven tournaments.
Best Pitcher: Riyan Rodriguez, RHP—MSU has a pair of solid starting pitchers in Adam Link and Forrest Barnes, but Rodriguez might be the Bears’ most valuable arm because of his versatility out of the bullpen and the way he’s been pitching lately. On the season, he has a 3.76 ERA, 59 strikeouts and a .212 opponent batting average in 52.2 innings, which came across 26 appearances. In the MVC Tournament, he threw seven combined shutout innings in wins over Illinois State and Evansville, and it seems like a safe bet that MSU will turn to Rodriguez several times over the course of this weekend.
Best Hitter: Drake Baldwin, C—Missouri State has a number of feared hitters in the lineup, including outfielder Dakota Kotowski, who will go into the weekend with 23 home runs, but Baldwin stands out for his combination of feel to hit, plate discipline and power. He’s hitting .335/.446/.615 with 13 doubles, 16 home runs and 60 RBIs with 36 walks and 36 strikeouts. On a team that has struck out 523 times this season, that gives him the lowest strikeout rate of anyone who started 33 games or more.
Outlook: Missouri State has a 5.61 ERA this season and that number jumped to 7.22 in MVC play, so it goes without saying that MSU’s path to success in Stillwater is either paved with pitching performances unlike those that the team has gotten this season, or more likely, scoring enough runs to force the opposition into slugfests, which the Bears are always going to be capable of winning.