2021 Super Regional Preview: Tucson
Coach: Jay Johnson
Postseason history: Fifth super regional appearance (first since 2016). Seeking 18th trip to Omaha and first since 2016.
Postseason route: No. 1 seed in Tucson Regional. Went 3-0, defeating UC Santa Barbara in regional final.
Scouting report (anonymous coach breaks down the Wildcats)
“They went into the regional and they won close games. To me, it’s a sign of a great offense not to rely on scoring 10 runs a game, but to go in and win 5-4 or whatever it takes. And while they weren’t scoring 10 a night, they were limiting it on the pitching side of things.
“Their lineup is almost unfair, to be honest. The way they put it together, goodness gracious. It’s one through nine and you could flip it nine through one, if you wanted to. You could really go either way.
“They’re willing to take their walks. They can steal, they can run, they can do so many things if they’re not hitting the ball far over the fence. The way they’re a well-oiled machine. It’s not easy to do, not to mention to sustain it all year. To do it day in and day out, that’s serious mindset. What they just came through (in the regional), they faced some real pitching. They grinded those guys out.
“The beauty about that pitching staff is those guys have been used in different situations. They’re all going to get the ball at some point. They’re fearless. ‘Yeah, we’ll take the ball in any situation.’ I thought their bullpen besides when Garrett Irvin went CG in game two, the bullpen was lights out. In the regular season, they got so many guys work it was just another weekend for them. They continued to keep everybody in the same roles, it was impressive. The fact they stayed within themselves and stayed true to character, that’s not easy to do. In a regional, there’s more pressure, more eyes on you, you have to try harder, and they found ways.
“Their defense starts up the middle. Behind the plate, shortstop and center field and don’t forget Kobe Kato at second base making every play. Branden Boissiere is an absolute pick machine, he’s a rock over there. Pitching and defense go hand in hand and that’s why they’ll be in most games. Very few teams out there can match their middle.
“(To play in Tucson) you have to have thick skin and be OK if you give up a big number one inning. You have to be able to absorb the blow, so to speak, and move on. I think that happens is once someone gives up a number it’s an easy snowball. If that lack of confidence creeps in, that’s exactly where they want them and look out. You’ve just got to be ready for it. You can’t shy away from the fact the ball will travel there.”
Coach: Mike Bianco
Postseason history: Seventh super regional appearance (second straight). Seeking sixth trip to Omaha and first since 2014.
Postseason route: No. 1 seed in Oxford Regional. Went 3-1, defeating Southern Mississippi in regional final.
Scouting report (anonymous coach breaks down the Rebels)
“It feels like they’ve been playing well for so long. They have really good baseball players, positionally they’re playing with a lot of confidence and they have great at-bats throughout the lineup. They have guys that can hurt you. It feels like a lineup that there’s never really a break. I was just impressed with how they played. Hayden Dunhurst is arguably one of the best receivers you could ever find. He does such an unbelievable job with those guys. Doug Nikhazy is just ultra-competitive. He has a few different pitches that he can do different things with. Taylor Broadway is ultra-competitive with really good stuff.
“It’s been amazing how they handled losing Gunnar Hoglund. They really had two aces, but when a bona fide ace goes down, how they keep trucking has been very impressive.
“Nikhazy can move the ball to both sides of the plate. You’ve got to be above the ball because his fastball has some good ride on it. Lefties, he’s going to move the ball around on, righties have to find a way to get to the ball middle in. I don’t know if anybody really knows how to attack him. When you’re on to something he can do something else. I don’t know if anybody has that answer right now. He really gets to his glove side, he’s got a good breaking ball. There’s not a lot of people that have got to him.
“You can tell when you’re around him the guy has incredible confidence and (Tim Elko is) a team guy. The guys that are real team guys never really surprises you when they do special things. What he’s doing is super impressive.
“Defensively, you start with the catcher and (Dunhurst is) as good as it gets. Receiving, blocking, really good arm. If you pay attention to how he swallows the baseball and you really just look at him, he gets a lot of pitches on the edges and he handles the breaking ball in the dirt. He’s back there every day. I have the utmost respect for what he does behind the plate. You go to shortstop and Gonzalez has had as good a year as you can imagine. He goes to back hand and it really works. They’re good up the middle with TJ McCants. That’s a good place to start. On the corners, they’re just OK for me. Where they’re really solid is at the most important positions
“The climate in Arizona a little different. What does that air do the breaking ball? When they go to the desert, it’s definitely a little bit different. That’s a challenge.
“This is a really good team. To me, this feels like a team that’s going to do it. It’s a team that has a lot of confidence, really good baseball players. The guys they’re relying on on the mound are older. This team just amazes me with what they’ve done.”
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