2012 Los Angeles Regional Preview

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Los Angeles Regional
Jackie Robinson Stadium, Los Angeles (Host: UCLA)

No. 1 UCLA (42-14, 20-10 in Pac-12)
19th appearance (third straight), automatic, Pac-12 champion
No. 2 national seed.

No. 2 San Diego (40-15, 15-9 in WCC)
Seventh appearance (last in 2010), at-large, second place in WCC

No. 3 New Mexico (36-22, 18-6 in MWC)
Fourth appearance (third straight), automatic, MWC regular-season and tournament champion

No. 4 Creighton (26-28, 6-14 in MVC)
10th appearance (second straight), automatic, MVC tournament champion

A year ago, when Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer led an elite pitching staff, UCLA struggled to generate runs. This year, offense has become a strength for the Bruins, who are less overpowering but still solid on the mound. The lineup is well stocked with experienced, athletic, line-drive hitters, led by right fielder Jeff Gelalich (.367/.458/.540, 9 HR, 15 SB), who has become one of the West's most well-rounded players as a junior. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that key players Gelalich, Cody Keefer (.338), Beau Amaral (.313), Cody Regis (.250) and Kevin Williams (.313) all hit lefthanded, so to maximize your chances to beat UCLA it helps to have a quality lefthander—like Creighton does with Ty Blach. UCLA's athleticism and experience also translate to very sound defense (.975 fielding percentage), and catcher Tyler Heineman (.359) has done a rock-solid job behind the plate while also serving as the perfect No. 2 hole hitter. UCLA's all-sophomore rotation (Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Zack Weiss) is good but not overpowering, as all work mostly in the high 80s and mix in solid secondary stuff effectively. The bullpen, which was a major question mark entering the season, actually has been a huge asset, with two power righties at the back (Scott Griggs and Ryan Deeter), a sidearm righty (David Berg) and a crafty lefty (Grant Watson) in the middle. Berg has had a memorable freshman year, setting a Pac-12 record with 43 appearances, including each of UCLA's last 18 games (he is 1-1, 1.96 with 24 strikeouts in 23 innings during that span).

In 2011, San Diego sunk into a deep hole against one of the nation's most brutal nonconference schedules and never recovered. This year, the Toreros again challenged themselves early (traveling to Sam Houston State and Vanderbilt during the first three weekends, winning the series in Nashville), but this time they were ready for it. Led by a potent offense that ranks 12th nationally in batting (.310), USD reached the 40-win plateau and contended for the WCC title until the final day of the season, when it dropped a winner-take-all rubber game at Pepperdine. The centerpiece of San Diego's lineup is sophomore third baseman Kris Bryant (.359/.478/.660, 14 HR, 57 RBI), who has massive raw power and also makes for a difficult out thanks to his much-improved patience (38 BB, 37 SO). Corey LeVier (.367) and Andrew Daniel (.350) lead a supporting cast that includes good bench depth, giving the Toreros the ability to employ a variety of lineup combinations depending on matchups. When San Diego was playing its best this year, power righties Calvin Drummond (8-6, 3.33) and Dylan Covey (6-3, 3.38) were at their most effective, but both have been inconsistent in the second half, and USD will turn to closer Michael Wagner (5-1, 2.50, 19 saves, 54 IP) to start the opener. Wagner has the best stuff on the staff, and he was extended for 6.1 innings in Saturday's win at Pepperdine. The move is a sign that USD has complete trust in lefty James Pazos (5-1, 1.53, 4 SV) as the bullpen anchor, but also a sign that the Toreros are concerned about their starting pitching.

Five years ago, coach Ray Birmingham inherited a New Mexico program that hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1962, and he and has now led the Lobos to three straight regionals. This year, New Mexico went toe-to-toe with perennial MWC power TCU, splitting six regular-season meetings and sharing the regular-season title. The Lobos played a strong nonconference schedule and put themselves into the at-large discussion, but they removed any doubt by bashing their way through the conference tourney in three games. The top three teams in this regional are all offensive, but New Mexico has one of the nation's very best offenses, ranking fourth in batting (.333), fifth in scoring (7.9 runs per game), sixth in doubles (129), fourth in triples (30) and third in slugging (.482). Few teams can match UNM's fearsome trio of D.J. Peterson (.418/.487/.734, 16 HR, 76 RBI), Mitchell Garver (.391/.451/.637, 10 HR, 57 RBI) and standout freshman Ryan Padilla (.368/.445/.550, 5 HR, 48 RBI). Garver is very athletic for a catcher and has decent speed in the leadoff spot, in addition to bringing excellent catch-and-throw skills (he has thrown out 40 percent of basestealers). Shortstop Alex Albritton and second baseman Kyle Stiner team with Garver to make the Lobos strong up the middle. And the Lobos have three trustworthy starting pitchers in low-three-quarters sinkerballers Austin House (7-5, 2.92) and Josh Walker (8-2, 3.81), plus wily senior righty Gera Sanchez (8-2, 2.45), who excels at pitching backward and keeping hitters off balance with three different arm slots. The Lobos are balanced and dangerous, and Birmingham is confident his team is good enough to win a regional. He might be right.

With 12 seniors and nine juniors on the roster, Creighton is loaded with veterans from a team that went to the Corvallis Regional as a No. 2 seed in 2011. But the Bluejays had a disappointing regular season, going 22-28 overall and 6-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference to sneak into the conference tournament as the No. 8 seed. They became the first No. 8 seed to win the tourney, knocking off top-seeded Indiana State in the opener and making a perfect 4-0 run to the championship. Ace lefthander Ty Blach threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Sycamores; his quality three-pitch mix includes an 89-92 mph fastball that bumps 94, an effective changeup and decent low-80s slurve. He gives Creighton a real chance to upset the lefty-leaning Bruins on Friday. Rock-solid defense is always a hallmark of coach Ed Servais' teams, and these Bluejays are no exception (.979 fielding percentage). Creighton has a quality senior catcher with arm strength in Anthony Bemboom and a sure-handed keystone tandem in Alex Staehely and Jake Peter. But Creighton also ranks last among all NCAA tournament teams with a .248 team batting average. The Bluejays' lack of offensive punch is glaring in a regional filled with potent offensive teams.