Stillwater Regional Preview

Stillwater Regional Capsule
Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
No. 1 Oklahoma State (42-16)
36th appearance, at-large, second place in Big 12 Conference
No. 2 Wichita State (44-15)
26th appearance, automatic, Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 Texas Christian (43-17)
Seventh appearance, automatic, Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Western Kentucky (33-25)
Third appearance, automatic, Sun Belt Conference tournament champion
Oklahoma State built a strong (but losing) case to earn a national seed after winning series against each of the other top four teams in the Big 12 (Texas A&M, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas), registering three midweek wins against Arizona and Wichita State and going 2-1 in the Big 12 tournament, with wins over Nebraska and Baylor. The Cowboys finished just a game behind the first-place Aggies in the regular season and enter the tournament as one of the nation's best teams in the second half—they haven't lost a series since March. Oklahoma State typically builds its roster around big power bats who can exploit hitter-friendly Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, but the strength of this team is actually its pitching. Sophomore lefthanders Andrew Oliver (7-2, 2.20) and Tyler Lyons (11-2, 3.33) were two of the Big 12's most consistent starters this season, and closer Jordy Mercer (4.96 ERA, eight saves) has a power arm and plenty of moxie. Mercer is OSU's best all-around player, a sound defender at shortstop who also hit .325 with 10 homers. Mercer is one of four Cowboys with double-digit homers, led by senior first baseman Rebel Ridling's 18. Center fielder Donnie Webb (.368 with 17 stolen bases in 17 attempts) brings speed and patience to the top of the lineup.
Wichita State's regional hosting ambitions were undermined by its 0-6 record against the top 25 and midweek struggles against Big 12 teams of all stripes, but the Shockers are really built for weekends anyway, with one of the best rotations in America. Lefthanders Rob Musgrave (10-1, 1.96) and Anthony Capra (9-0, 2.47) and righty Aaron Shafer (10-3, 2.74) all compete, locate and have plenty of movement on their stuff. The Shockers' other strength is an athletic, versatile lineup, led by second-team preseason All-America third baseman Conor Gillaspie (.421/.506/.708 with 10 homers, 77 RBIs and 16 steals in 18 tries), who ranks among the nation's best hitters. Typical of a Gene Stephenson team, the Shockers have plenty of speed in outfielders Andy Dirks (.394/.507/.628 with nine homers, 53 RBIs and 26 steals in 31 tries) and Ryan Jones (.336 with 16 steals in 20 tries) and shortstop Dusty Coleman (.326 with seven homers, 69 RBIs and 12 steals in 13 tries). Wichita plays a high-octane style that puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. The Shockers' biggest soft spot is their lack of pitching depth and suspect bullpen, making it paramount that the three starters pitch deep into ballgames and Wichita can wrap up the regional in three games.
Texas Christian got off to a slow 14-12 start but was even hotter than Oklahoma State in the second half, going 29-5 after April 1 to reach regionals for the fifth straight year. Despite winning the MWC's regular-season and tournament crowns and ranking 31st in the RPI and 18th in the BA top 25, the Horned Frogs were slapped with a No. 3 seed, but they're a very dangerous No. 3. The well-coached Frogs are not frightfully explosive offensively, but they execute the little things very well, ranking 13th in the nation in sacrifice bunts (62) and 22nd in sac flies (32). They also pitch and defend extremely well, ranking fifth in ERA (3.45), 14th in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (8.58) and seventh in fielding percentage (.975). The staff is anchored by sophomore righthander Tyler Lockwood (7-1, 2.21) on the front end and electric-armed righty Andrew Cashner (8-3, 1.80 with nine saves and 74 strikeouts in 50 innings) on the back end.
Western Kentucky won its last two weekend series against Louisiana-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee State to finish fifth in the Sun Belt's regular-season standings, and the Hilltopers carried that momentum into the conference tournament, scoring 41 runs in four wins to grab the automatic bid. Junior right fielder Chad Cregar (.353/.413/.668 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs) could do a lot of damage in hitter-happy Stillwater, and he's got some protection in sophomore third baseman Wade Gaynor (.344/.393/.591 with 12 homers, 47 RBIs and 11 steals in 11 tries). Six-foot sophomore righthander Matt Ridings (10-2, 3.63 with 93 strikeouts in 92 innings) anchors a pitching staff that ranked second in the offense-first Sun Belt with a 5.31 ERA. Ridings and the Hilltoppers have endured plenty of big boppers this year in the Sun Belt, which features four of the nation's top 10 home-run hitting teams, so they won't be afraid of challenging Oklahoma State's heavy artillery.