Tempe Regional Preview

Tempe Regional Capsule
Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz.
No. 1 Arizona State (45-11)
32nd appearance, automatic, Pacific-10 Conference champion
No. 2 Vanderbilt (40-20)
Seventh appearance, at-large, sixth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 3 Oklahoma (32-24-1)
30th appearance, at-large, eighth place in Big 12 Conference
No. 4 Stony Brook (34-24)
Second appearance, automatic, America East Conference champion

Arizona State vaulted to the top of the rankings with a 19-0 start, including six wins against regional teams Vanderbilt, Michigan, Arkansas and Troy. The Sun Devils went 27-1 before leaving the state of Arizona for the first time in early April—when they promptly lost a series at Stanford. But the Sun Devils withstood injuries to first baseman/lefthander Ike Davis (.378/.451/.773 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs; 4-1, 2.66 with four saves) and relievers Reyes Dorado (3-1, 5.73) and Stephen Sauer (4-1, 4.28), and all three should be available and close to full strength this weekend. ASU's offense retains the core of its 2007 Omaha team, led by Davis and junior third baseman Brett Wallace (.412/.527/.764 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs), who amazingly won the Pac-10 triple crown for the second straight year. The Sun Devils did have to replace five starters from last year's team, including the slick middle-infield tandem of Andrew Romine and Eric Sogard, who helped ASU lead the nation in fielding percentage. The middle infield has been a weakness this year, as ASU's fielding percentage slipped to .969 (54th in the country).
Vanderbilt lost first-team All-Americans David Price and Casey Weathers from last year's SEC championship team, but the Commodores returned a bevy of quality seniors in the lineup, led by outfielders Dominic de la Osa (.305 with 10 homers and 26 steals) and David Macias (.355 with eight homers) and second baseman Alex Feinberg (.312 with 10 steals). Experience and poise are Vandy's greatest assets, but it doesn't lack star power either thanks to shortstop Ryan Flaherty (.325 with 14 homers and 61 RBIs) and potential No. 1 overall pick Pedro Alvarez, who returned from a broken hamate to hit .312 with nine homers in 37 games. It took some time for Vanderbilt to break in some fresh faces on the mound this year, but redshirt freshman righty Caleb Cotham (7-5, 4.26) emerged as a reliable complement to sophomore ace Mike Minor (6-3, 4.26). The Commodores might be wise to start Cotham against Oklahoma and save the lefthanded Minor for Arizona State's big lefthanded bats.
Oklahoma was the most controversial at-large selection after going 9-17-1 in the Big 12 and failing to win a series all year against a regional team. But the Sooners did win games against Texas A&M and Missouri in the Big 12 tournament, getting a complete-game, 12-strikeout masterpiece from ace sophomore righthander Andrew Doyle (8-4, 4.38) in the win against the Aggies. He gives Oklahoma a decent chance against Vanderbilt in the opener. The Sooners finished the regular season with a .316 average in Big 12 play, the best mark in the conference, with seniors Mike Gosse (.359 with seven homers and 48 RBIs) and Aljay Davis (.352 with 13 steals) leading the way. That pair and leadoff man Jamie Johnson (.350 with 20 steals in 21 tries) really make the Sooners go.
Stony Brook was the preseason favorite to win the America East, and though the Seawolves finished second in the regular season, they allowed just three total runs in three games during a perfect run through the conference tournament. Hulking ace Tom Koehler (6-4, 3.70 with 107 strikeouts and 90 innings) gives Stony Brook a fighting chance against Arizona State thanks to a lively fastball that tops out at 94-95, a slider that can be plus at times, and a decent curveball and changeup. Fellow senior righty Gary Novakowski (7-4, 4.37) pitches in the 86-88 range, but his quality slider and changeup look the same as his fastball out of his hand, and he turned in his best start of the year in a 1-0 conference tournament win against top-seeded Binghamton, striking out nine over eight shutout innings. The Seawolves also have strong defenders up the middle in catcher Justin Echevarria and switch-hitting center fielder Brian Witkowski (.348/.431/.604 with nine homers and 12 steals), who is their best overall player.