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2004 College World Series Preview
By Will Kimmey
College World Series Schedule
Texas Longhorns 55-13
Coach: Augie Garrido (seventh season at Texas; 11 trips to Omaha, including seven with Cal State Fullerton; four CWS titles, one with Texas in 2002)
How Texas Got Here: Swept through the Austin regional in three games, beating Oral Roberts in the final; swept Vanderbilt by a combined score of 25-5 at Disch-Falk Field in the most lopsided super-regional ever.
CWS History: Texas makes its 31st appearance at the CWS, an NCAA record. The Longhorns make the trip for the fourth time in five years and last won it in 2002. Texas has won 70 games and five titles in Omaha (1949, '50, '75 and '83). Only Southern California has more, and Texas needs four wins to tie USC's mark of 74. Throw in Garrido, who has won four titles--each in a different decade--at two schools to go along with an appearance as a Fresno State player in 1959.
Players To Watch: Jr. LHP J.P. Howell (14-2, 2.26 with 153 strikeouts and 45 walks in 124 innings); Jr. RHP Huston Street (5-1, 1.46 with 12 saves); So. RHP Sam LeCure (9-3, 2.40 with 108 strikeouts and 32 walks in 113 innings); Jr. C/1B Curtis Thigpen (.369-7-48 with 26 doubles); Fr. CF Drew Stubbs (.311-8-44 with 27 steals), So. C Taylor Teagarden (.286-9-49).
Lowdown on the Longhorns: "What's so important about Texas to me is they play the game without looking at the scoreboard. They play a nine-inning game and count on you to make mistakes and lose it. Texas just plays the game itself so well. They do not beat themselves. They're real tough to beat on that turf. If you're going to beat them, it will have to be how N.C. State did it--get amazing pitching.
"Texas has unreal pitching depth. The only thing I've seen close to it was the USA national team. They have as good depth on a college staff as I've ever seen. They have guys in their bullpen that throw 90-92 (mph) without other out pitches. Against Howell, we wanted to sit on his curveball, but I saw it and told our guys they just weren't going to have a chance. I just told them to look for a fastball up and try to slap it. Sam LeCure is good too; he has a good feel and command and works fast.
"They have just enough depth in their lineup in position players they can match up with you with a lefthanded hitter late. They don't have a lot of power. It's mostly Thigpen and Teagarden. (Second baseman) Seth Johnston has some pop at second base. Stubbs is a super talent, and if he makes contact, look out. He's young, so pitch selection isn't a strong suit. They aren't afraid to give up an out to move a runner, and they'll hit and run and bunt. They take advantage of every opportunity and get big hits. That's what you have to do against them if you want to win."
Omaha Outlook: Texas entered super-regionals as a pitching-and-defense team. The second-best ERA in the country and a top-10 fielding percentage have earned that description. The Longhorns left their matchup with Vanderbilt with both of those rankings firmly intact, but also exploded offensively. A team that averaged six runs per game during the regular season (and 5.5 in Big 12 conference games) put 25 on the board against a team that posted the nation's fourth-best ERA despite playing in the offense-heavy Southeastern Conference. Freshmen Stubbs and Carson Kainer have hit better as the season has progressed, and the entire offense should pick up outside of spacious Disch-Falk Field, especially the power of Thigpen and Teagarden. And this doesn't even mention the nation's deepest pitching staff, college's best closer in Street or one of its top coaches in Garrido. Anything less than a title series berth will be a disappointment, and the Longhorns might have a slight edge in the final against whichever team emerges from what could be a war of attrition between the four offensive juggernauts across the bracket.
Arkansas Razorbacks 45-22
Coach: Dave Van Horn (second season at Arkansas; three trips to Omaha, two with Nebraska).
How Arkansas Got Here: Won the Fayetteville, Ark., regional in five games, beating Wichita State twice on the final day; drew record crowds to Baum Stadium in beating Florida State in two games to win the super-regional.
CWS History: This marks the fifth trip to the CWS for Arkansas, but its first since 1989. Coach Dave Van Horn is a bit more familiar with the routine, having led Nebraska to Omaha in 2001 and 2002 before leaving to take the top job at his alma mater. Arkansas' best finish came as the runner-up to Cal State Fullerton in its first visit back in 1979.
Players To Watch: So. RHP Charley Boyce (10-2, 3.10 with 79 strikeouts and 20 walks in 110 innings); Jr. LHP Clint Brannon (4-3, 3.53 with 71 strikeouts and 30 walks in 102 innings); Sr. LHP Jay Sawatski (10-3, 3.32 with seven saves, 83 strikeouts and 22 walks in 89 innings); Jr. SS Scott Hode (.293-7-53); Fr. OF Jake Dugger (.299-8-44); Sr. 1B Haas Pratt (.317-8-52).
Lowdown on the Razorbacks: "They're a blue-collar team, not a bunch of high-profile guys. They're scrappy, well coached and can really execute. They grind it out with solid pitching, solid defense and good hitting, but none of it's great. The catcher (Brady Toops) throws very well and the center fielder (Casey Rowlett) covers a ton of ground.
"Be ready to swing it against their pitchers; they're going to throw it in the zone. They just change speeds and I don't think there's one guy who throws in the 90s, but they've got depth and can match up. Sawatski is a good, solid guy who can throw three pitches for strikes. But Brannon is the guy I really like. He can just pitch. He knows how to pitch. He throws 88 with a sinking fastball and good breaking pitch. He can move it all around and then catch you looking at it.
"They're aggressive offensively and do a little bit of everything. They don't steal a lot and don't hit a lot of home runs, but they don't swing at bad pitches or strike out in key situations. They get a big play or a key hit right when they need it. They play like there's nothing to lose. The amazing thing about them is you don't ever know who's going to beat you. All those guys are hitting .300. They can do it with a senior in Pratt or a freshman with the left fielder (Dugger). They came back a lot this year and did it against Wichita State twice (in regionals)."
Omaha Outlook: Arkansas was picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in a preseason SEC coaches poll. The roster lacks any premium draft prospects. It didn't finish in the top half of the conference in any major category--except for wins. Take it as a slap in the face, or evidence of the sum being much greater than the whole--a true underdog story. Either way, the Razorbacks just keep winning. It was apparent something was special when Arkansas went into Alex Box Stadium and swept Louisiana State at home for the first time ever. The feel-good story continued in super-regionals, where a record crowd of 10,027 saw the Razorbacks punch their ticket to Omaha. While their talent says 0-2 finish, we've seen that talent level doesn't mean a lot to Van Horn.
Arizona Wildcats 35-25-1
Coach: Andy Lopez (third season at Arizona; four trips to Omaha, two with Florida, one with Pepperdine, where he won the 1992 CWS title).
How Arizona Got Here: Won the South Bend, Ind., regional, beating host Notre Dame; went on the road to knock off Long Beach State in three games in a super-regional, with its victories coming in a four-run ninth-inning rally and an 11-inning affair.
CWS History: Arizona ranks eighth all-time with 15 appearances, though this marks the first trip to Omaha since 1986 for the Wildcats. Arizona won three titles under Jerry Kindall in 1976, 1980 and 1986. Lopez isn't quite as decorated, but he does have one title and becomes the third coach to lead three schools to the CWS in earning his first berth since 1998.
Players To Watch: So. OF Trevor Crowe (.341-5-33 with 24 steals); Fr. SS Jason Donald (.324-8-43); So. 1B Jordan Brown (.313-11-53); Jr. RHP Koley Kolberg (9-6, 4.56 with 117 strikeouts and 61 walks in 140 innings); Sr. 2B Moises Duran (.318-6-47); So. RHP John Meloan (9-0, 4.96 with 64 strikeouts and 37 walks in 78 innings).
Lowdown on the Wildcats: "There are some great athletes; they have that freshman shortstop and he's going to be pretty good. Crowe can hit and he can run. Offensively they are very difficult to pitch to because they don't strike out a lot and run deep counts.
"You have to play good defense because you won't get nine, 10, 11 strikeouts. If you get the first guy out it strips their game plan in terms of bunting and hit-and-run. They can put one or two (runs) on the board any time because they are so feisty and have good at-bats, but don't have the thunder to get a bunch at once.
"They have good flexibility left and right and they can run, but there's no big power. The addition of Brown into the lineup in the middle of the year has added a middle-of-the-order threat. He hit 11 home runs in like half a season. One through nine, they can hit.
"Kolberg without question has the stuff to be a No. 1 guy. The whole staff turns on him. He will stay in the game a long time because there's not a lot of confidence in the bullpen. If you get in that bullpen, you can really get to them. Be patient with Kolberg. He's thrown a lot of pitches this year, and came back to close that one in the ninth (in the regional), so he could be tiring."
Omaha Outlook: Arizona enters the College World Series with the fewest wins since California was 35-26 in 1992. The Golden Bears went 0-2 that year. A similar result might have been expected of the Wildcats against Long Beach State, especially considering the Dirtbags had swept Arizona earlier in the year and had Jered Weaver on the mound. But a scrappy, resilient Wildcats team got just enough pitching to stay within striking distance for two late-inning comebacks. Arizona is the third No. 3 seed to reach the CWS since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, joining San Jose State (2000) and Southwest Missouri State (2003). But no Arizona pitcher has an ERA less than 4.00 entering Omaha, and the Wildcats have just one significant long ball threat. Every other team here has an offense at least superior to Long Beach State's. Arizona gave the Pac-10 a CWS team for the eighth straight year but probably won't make much more noise.
Georgia Bulldogs 43-21
Coach: Dave Perno (third season at Georgia, first trip to Omaha).
How Georgia Got Here: Won the Athens, Ga., regional in four games, beating Clemson in the final; won two straight from cross-state rival Georgia Tech in the Atlanta super-regional.
CWS History: The Bulldogs make their fourth CWS appearance (1987, 1990, 2001). Perno was an assistant to Ron Polk on the '01 team and also was a player on Georgia's 1990 national championship team, though he never appeared in game action.
Players To Watch: Fr. 1B Josh Morris (.319-16-68); Jr. RHP Sean Ruthven (7-1, 2.94 with 86 strikeouts and 32 walks in 86 innings); So. RHP Michael Hyle (7-2, 3.10 with 50 strikeouts and 30 walks in 81 innings); So. LHP Will Startup (7-2, 2.34 with 10 saves, 61 strikeouts and 21 walks in 73 innings); So. RHP Bo Lanier (4-1, 2.61 with two saves, 38 strikeouts and 17 walks in 41 innings); Sr. SS Justin Holmes (.328-8-54).
Lowdown on the Bulldogs: "This was a real surprise for me. I saw them in the fall and early spring and thought they were going to be in trouble. Their biggest star is Morris. I think a lot of teams have just been pitching around him as the season went on. He's got great bat speed; don't test it. I couldn't tell you another name off the top of my head, but they're kind of like Arkansas because no one sticks out but anyone can get big hits. The lineup is OK. (Third baseman) Josh Smith is a singles guy and (second baseman Marshall) Szabo is a scrapper that will surprise you with pop every now and then. They play good team ball and can manufacture a run when they need it.
"(Lefthander Paul) Lubrano, Ruthven and Hyle all stepped up and had a great year. They don't have the best stuff, but they really overachieved on the mound. Ruthven has been great on Friday night. He gets that big breaking ball in there for strikes and it throws you out of whack for the rest of the weekend. He's not lighting up radar guns (at 85 mph), but he's a real pitcher.
"Their bullpen is phenomenal. Startup is 92 and Lanier is 90-95 and can just blow you away with that fastball. They can go lefty or righty, and they have a lot of confidence in their club if they get to one of them in the sixth or seventh inning. If they have a chance to win (at that point), they just put it in the hands of those guys."
Omaha Outlook: Georgia's players don the same blue collars worn by Arkansas, the team it tied for the best regular-season SEC record. The Bulldogs went 13-2 over the second half of the SEC season, proving they can consistently beat anyone in the country--or half of a CWS field that tied the 1998 record with four SEC entries. Perno's decision to start fourth outfielder Jonathan Wyatt in the second game against Georgia Tech looked like a brilliant coaching move as the freshman hit his first college homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning. Add the mystique of that kind of clutch hitting to a shut-'em-down bullpen, and there's hope for the Bulldogs to continue a postseason run few expected at the outset of the season.
South Carolina 50-15
Coach: Ray Tanner (eighth season at South Carolina; three trips to Omaha).
How South Carolina Got Here: Swept through the Columbia, S.C., regional, beating North Carolina in the final; stayed home to win two straight games against East Carolina in the super-regional.
CWS History: Tanner is starting to build South Carolina into a team with plenty in this category. This marks the third straight trip for the Gamecocks, tying Texas for the longest active streak. South Carolina has eight trips to Omaha and three second-place finishes to its credit, most recently in 2002, but no titles.
Players To Watch: Sr. C Landon Powell (.332-19-65); Jr. LHP Matt Campbell (10-4, 2.88 with 135 strikeouts and 28 walks in 112 innings); Jr. 1B Steve Pearce (.327-20-65); Jr. OF Brendan Winn (.310-18-64); Jr. RHP Chad Blackwell (4-3, 2.79 with 19 saves, 74 strikeouts and 13 walks in 58 innings); Jr. RHP Aaron Rawl (12-4, 4.29 with 93 strikeouts and 16 walks in 115 innings).
Lowdown on the Gamecocks: "They always have that superstar senior. It was the third baseman Brian Buscher last year, and that big first baseman Yaron Peters the year before. Now it's Landon Powell. I like him. He's a big league catcher. He's very good offensively, he's a brick wall behind the plate and he handles a good pitching staff and makes them great. He and that whole lineup are so physical. Pearce can be pitched to, though. (Davy) Gregg can fly in center field and covers ground, but they figured him out during the second half of the SEC season and he didn't get many more hits.
"They're very solid on the mound with a first-rounder (Campbell), a second-rounder (righthander Billy Buckner), and that bullpen is nasty. Campbell and (righthander Aaron) Rawl have so much experience and just throw strikes. Buckner missed time with mono. If he's healthy he can make a big difference, but he wasn't himself after he came back. (Freshman lefty Arik) Hempy is a good one, he's going to be a real premium guy in a couple years. The staff is deep, but they really just use six or seven guys--but those guys are usually enough.
"That guy's just a great coach. He gets his guys to play so well when it counts. Just like last year they had an awesome first half, then stumbled a little and then really turned it on down the stretch and in the tournament. I think everybody expects them to win it now; South Carolina is my favorite."
Omaha Outlook: The numbers tell a story of balance: South Carolina leads the nation with 102 home runs and ranks eighth with a 3.31 ERA. Powell leads a powerful lineup that includes four players who topped 14 home runs and 50 RBIs and matches up well against a slugging right side of the CWS bracket (Cal State Fullerton, Louisiana State and Miami). If that race is a four-way tie, South Carolina's pitching staff stands alone with four quality starters and the national saves leader. Still, the most important number for the Gamecocks might be nine. That's how many games the team has played in Omaha the last two years, more than any other team in this field. Add that experience to great depth, and South Carolina should be able to win the season's final game.
Cal State Fullerton 42-21
Coach: George Horton (eighth season at Cal State Fullerton; four trips to Omaha).
How Fullerton Got Here: Won the Fullerton regional in five games, beating Pepperdine twice on the final day; went from beating the Waves to eliminating the Green Wave of Tulane in two consecutive super-regional games.
CWS History: The Titans make their second straight trip to Omaha to bring their aggregate total to 13. Fullerton won titles in 1979, '84 and '95. Horton played for the '79 team and made three trips to Omaha with the Titans as an assistant to Augie Garrido (1992, '94, '95) before leading the club there four times in his last six years as the head man.
Players To Watch: Jr. C/1B Kurt Suzuki (.437-16-86); Sr. RHP Jason Windsor (11-4, 1.84 with 119 strikeouts and 18 walks in 142 innings); So. LHP Ricky Romero (12-4, 3.36 with 111 strikeouts and 38 walks in 139 innings); Fr. OF Clark Hardman (.363-0-31); Sr. 1B/C P.J. Pilittere (.354-4-49); Jr. DH Felipe Garcia (.342-6-43).
Lowdown on the Titans: "Clearly they're one of the hottest teams and have been since the middle of the year. Windsor has been as good as any pitcher in college baseball the second half of the year. Pitching-wise they don't make mistakes. But if you can get through their starters--it's really just the Windsor and Romero show--so if you outlast them and get into the staff in a three-game series, you have a chance.
"Suzuki and Pilittere are the leaders, and both have Omaha experience. You can't let Suzuki beat you--that's become real obvious. They are very confident at the plate, very offensive, and they feed off each other. They can drag and push (bunts), hit-and-run, take the extra base. You must get the first guy out so they don't get big in an inning, but they can also bunt and run. You'll need to pitch them backward, cross-count them a little, so you need a guy who can throw three pitches for strikes. You'll need a stud on the mound who can take the game to them and not let them get confident.
"Suzuki can defend the running game. They're OK up the middle with (second baseman Justin) Turner and the (Neil) Walton/(Blake) Davis platoon at short is good. Hardman is a very good freshman outfielder in center, and (Ronnie) Prettyman is good at getting to bunts at third.
"They play sound baseball from start to finish. If there's an open sore--you can't control the running game, miss cutoffs, whatever--they will exploit it. And if you're giving them a problem, don't expect it to last nine innings. That (coaching) staff is as good as any at making in-game adjustments and will fix it and take it away from you."
Omaha Outlook: With Long Beach State's Jered Weaver out of the tournament, Fullerton's Suzuki enters the CWS as the top player. He posted a .527 on-base percentage and .753 slugging mark to key every Titans rally. The biggest comeback might have come when Fullerton, 15-16 in early April, finished 27-5. Credit Horton, the 2003 Coach of the Year, with another great job. He's shown the ability to adjust, leaning more on his starters this season. The Titans pitched 15 complete games and earned just four saves after closer Chad Cordero took his 34 career saves to the Expos after last season's CWS run. But the bullpen is a bit thin, and the staff lacks a consistent number three starter behind Windsor and Romero, meaning Fullerton will be a difficult opponent in Omaha, but likely not one that reaches the final.
Louisiana State Tigers 46-17
Coach: Smoke Laval (third season at Louisiana State; two trips to Omaha).
How LSU Got Here: Swept through the Baton Rouge, La., regional, beating College of Charleston in the final; defeated Texas A&M at Alex Box Stadium in one slugfest and one pitchers' duel to win the super-regional.
CWS History: Laval's second consecutive trip raises LSU's tally to 13 in 19 seasons, a time span in which the Tigers have captured five crowns (1991, '93, '96, '97 and 2000) to tie for second on the all-time list.
Players To Watch: Jr. OF J.C. Holt (.390-6-51 with 20 steals and 18 doubles); Jr. OF Jon Zeringue (.387-12-55 with 19 doubles); Jr. OF Ryan Patterson (.340-14-64 with 22 doubles); Jr. LHP Lane Mestepey (7-3, 3.43 with 41 strikeouts and 26 walks in 94 innings); Sr. RHP Nate Bumstead (10-3, 3.59 with 52 strikeouts and 19 walks in 90 innings); Jr. SS Blake Gill (.344-5-41).
Lowdown on the Tigers:
"Their defense is good, not great. Compared to last year with Aaron Hill and even Ryan Theriot before him, the shortstop isn't as good, but there's going to be more pressure on (the opposing) shortstop than LSU's because of they way they hit. Next to South Carolina, LSU has the deepest lineup in the SEC and puts constant pressure on you.
"One through nine, everybody can beat you, but I just don't think they're as scary as LSU of the mid-90s. They are definitely not as powerful as those teams. They have some guys with 13, 14 homers, but should have more in that park. They are very aggressive swingers, especially early. If you mix it up early, you can get ahead. I think you can jam a lot of their guys, and they'll chase breaking balls in the dirt and changeups away if you get ahead of them. You can get in on Zeringue, he's got some holes in his swing. Good lefties can get Holt, too.
"LSU's pitching staff is real average. Bumstead is just away, away, away--all sliders and changeups. Get on top of the plate and take the outer half away from him and you've got a chance. (Lefthander Lane) Mestepey, he just competes. He's so emotional on the mound, and when he doesn't pitch he's always the first one running out of the dugout. If he pitches and wins the first night, they've got a great chance. They're real reluctant to go to the bullpen. Basically, there are one or two guys they're comfortable with. If you can get to their starters early, you'll be in business. But you're going to have to hit because they will score their runs."
Omaha Outlook: The fans in Baton Rouge feel Omaha is an entitlement, and openly questioned Laval's coaching abilities as the team lost seven SEC series openers. LSU rallied to win six of those series before sweeping through the first two rounds of the tournament to put that talk to rest. Back in Omaha, the Tigers resemble most of their recent CWS teams with a deep, powerful lineup. However, the other three teams on LSU's side of the bracket have the ability to score just as frequently, so an inconsistent pitching staff must deliver a strong performance. Mestepey, who struggled to regain his 2001-02 form after missing 2003 with shoulder surgery, has done so in allowing four earned runs in 24 1/3 postseason innings, including a complete-game shutout against Texas A&M. The Tigers will need at least two more starters to follow that lead if they are to advance out of their bracket.
Miami Hurricanes 49-11
Coach: Jim Morris (11th season at Miami; nine trips to Omaha; two CWS titles).
How Miami Got Here: Swept through the Coral Gables, Fla., regional in three games, beating Florida Atlantic in the final; topped Florida in two home games to win the super-regional.
CWS History: Miami ties Southern California for second all time with its 21st CWS appearance, nine of which have come in the last 11 years under Morris. The Hurricanes won titles in 1982, '85, '99 and 2001.
Players To Watch: Sr. 1B Jim Burt (.373-14-72 with 25 doubles); So. SS/DH Ryan Braun (.347-9-43 with 20 steals); So. RHP Cesar Carrillo (11-0, 2.73 with 85 strikeouts and 39 walks in 106 innings); Sr. LHP J.D. Cockroft (9-4, 3.41 with 63 strikeouts and 36 walks in 100 innings); Jr. OF Brian Barton (.365-6-45 with 16 steals); Fr. OF Jon Jay (.364-5-49 with 19 steals).
Lowdown on the Hurricanes: "They crushed Long Beach, roughed up (Jered) Weaver. They're seeing the ball well and busting good pitches for extra bases. They hit everything we threw. Burt right now is just a great hitter. He was hitting balls down and away, everywhere. We couldn't get him out. With Braun, pitch him up; he's a low-ball hitter. Down and away, he crushes that, so you've got to try to tie him up and stay up in the zone. (Third baseman Gaby) Sanchez has kind of a long swing, so tie him up inside, too. These are all great hitters in hitters' counts.
"They play really good defense. Jim Burt looks like he might not be that great at first, but he's pretty good. Sanchez is the weak link in the infield. He tends to play real deep and you can attack with the bunt.
"Carrillo is their best guy in his first year on that staff (he sat out his freshman year as a partial qualifier). He's the only one with great stuff. He gave up four in the first against N.C. State (in the regional), but they got it back and he settled down and hasn't given up anything since then. That's a positive for them. Cockroft is Cockroft. If you start a bunch of lefthanders against him, he will struggle. He has no pitch for them. He just throws that 58 mile an hour changeup that gets sucked into the dirt. He has a good move to first but you can run on his leg kick--just go before he gets it all the way up. The problem is that (catcher Erick) San Pedro is good enough behind the plate to make up for that a little bit. The bullpen has some younger guys like (freshman righthander Danny) Gil, but he's been good lately and all those guys have the confidence to close out games.
"They have great confidence playing at home. You know how Yankee Stadium is in October? That's Mark Light during regionals and super-regionals. They play so many games there during the regular season (45) and win, so they just kind of expect it and are confident in the tournament. It's a different team in Omaha."
Omaha Outlook: Health issues have hampered Miami all year, but the Hurricanes have continued to win nonetheless. Miami lost just one weekend series and enters the CWS with the nation's longest winning streak at 12 games. Still the team doesn’t have the star quality of a typical Miami team, which suits Morris just fine. The offense is packed with slashers who stole 137 bases and can manufacture runs, while the bullpen offers plenty of matchup options after three workhorse starters. Burt is a working man's player who has transformed himself into a difficult out and the team leader over four seasons. His offense helped fill the void created by the rib injury that stole 18 games from Braun and has forced him to DH-only duties. If you must name a star, it's Carrillo. The Hurricanes are 18-0 in games he pitches. After him, there's plenty of depth, but not the same power stuff that helps navigate power-packed postseason lineups.