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NCAA Regional Preview: Long Beach
By Will Kimmey
1. Long Beach State 36-20, at-large, tied for second in Big West, 16th NCAA tournament, fifth consecutive appearance
Player To Watch: Three juniors in this regional will be first-round picks Tuesday: Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and lefthander Cesar Ramos and Southern California catcher Jeff Clement. But the pivotal player is one that will be a first-rounder next year, USC sophomore righthander Ian Kennedy (11-2, 2.44). He's averaged 12.12 strikeouts per nine innings for his career; a former Trojans All-American named Mark Prior averaged 11.52.
The Favorite: The records and strength of schedule are pretty much a wash for the top two seeds, but Southern California gets the edge on the road after winning all three games it played against Long Beach State this season, even if the wins came by a total of four runs. Kennedy beat Ramos head-to-head at Long Beach State in February, and he'll need to do so again. Clement (.353/.482/.632) serves as the fulcrum in a young but opportunistic offense. He hit 13 of the team's 41 home runs.
On The Other Hand: Long Beach State really could be dubbed the co-favorite. It's playing at home a year after going on the road and toppling No. 1 seed Stanford, so there's no adversity it can't overcome. Its 2.44 ERA led the nation because of the weekend rotation of Ramos (2.27) and righthanders Marco Estrada (2.27) and Jared Hughes (2.83) and a senior bullpen of righthanders Neil Jamison (0.00) and Brian Anderson (0.88). Tulowitzki (.355/.431/.603) leads the offense in those three categories despite missing 20 games with a broken hamate bone.
Bracket Buster: Pepperdine's resume would have resulted in at least a No. 2 seed if Malibu was on the East Coast. The Waves beat Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, Oregon State, South Carolina, Tulane and Winthrop during the regular season. Sophomore catcher Chad Tracy (son of Dodgers manager Jim Tracy) batted .363/.419/.617 and led the WCC in slugging and homers (12). Senior first baseman Steve Kleen batted .353 and recorded 15 saves as the closer for a weekend rotation that combined for 28 wins, led by junior lefty Paul Coleman (9-2, 2.99 with a .212 average against).
Don't Forget About: Rhode Island won its first conference title after pacing the A10 in batting (.318) and ERA (3.69), ranking among the top 25 nationally in those categories as well. Six regulars posted on-base percentages better than .400, and senior right fielder Matt Sullivan hit 13 homers. Junior lefthander Zack Zuercher ranked third in the conference with 99 strikeouts in 83 innings, and should pose an interesting opening starter for Long Beach State to face.