Charlottesville | Chapel Hill | College Station | Columbia (Mo.) | Columbia (S.C.)
Fayetteville | Houston | Long Beach | Myrtle Beach | Nashville | Oxford | Round Rock
San Diego | Tallahassee | Tempe | Wichita
Davenport Field at UVa. Baseball Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
No. 1 Virginia (43-14): Seventh appearance, at-large, ACC
No. 2 Rutgers (41-19): 15th appearance, automatic, won Big East tournament
No. 3 Oregon State (38-17): Eighth appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
No. 4 Lafayette (33-18): 10th appearance, automatic, won Patriot regular season and tournament
Virginia entered the season ranked No. 9 in the nation and has been remarkably consistent, staying in the top 10 all year long. The Cavaliers hosted a regional a year ago and were knocked off by second-seeded South Carolina, but that young team probably overachieved and arrived a year ahead of schedule. This more experienced team is right on schedule. The one-two pitching punch of sophomore right-hander Jacob Thompson (11-0, 1.35) and junior lefty Sean Doolittle (7-3, 2.57) is one of the nation's best, and senior lefty Casey Lambert (2-2, 1.51) has stabilized the back of the rotation after moving from the closer role when freshman lefty Matt Packer faltered. The entire staff ranks third nationally with a 2.76 ERA. Doolittle doubles as a slick-fielding first baseman and leader of Virginia's offense, batting .318 with seven homers and 52 RBIs this spring. That offense got a boost from the late-April return of power-hitting sophomore third baseman Jeremy Farrell (.394/.500/.563 in 71 at-bats) from a forearm strain, but it took a hit when sparkplug infielder Greg Miclat (.376/.476/.488 with 32 stolen bases in 37 attempts) was lost for the year to arm surgery a few weeks later.
Rutgers slugged its way through the Big East tournament to earn its sixth trip to regionals in the last 10 years. The Scarlet Knights are an offensive team -- they rank 13th in the nation in scoring (7.7 runs per game) and led the Big East in home runs. Leading the way is junior shortstop Todd Frazier (.379/.505/.762 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs), who became the first player ever to hit a home run over the scoreboard at short-season Brooklyn's park in the Big East tournament last week. Junior outfielder Ryan Hill (.348/.470/.554 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs) and senior outfielder Dave Williams (.408/.488/.546) give Frazier plenty of insurance in the lineup. Rutgers lacks power arms, but its good defense (.976 fielding percentage, fifth in the nation) helps its pitching staff (3.47 ERA, 13th in the nation). Still, Rutgers is a power-hitting team, and its offense could be suppressed at Davenport Field, one of the nation's most notorious pitcher's parks.
Oregon State won a regional that also included Virginia in 2005 on its way to the College World Series, but that regional was in Corvallis, and the Beavers and Cavaliers didn't face each other. Chances are, Oregon State's path to its third straight CWS will have to go through the host Cavaliers. The Beavers seem well suited for spacious Davenport Field, as their calling card is their defense and pitching. OSU's .979 fielding percentage is the second-best mark in the nation, and its 3.58 ERA ranks 23rd. Juniors Darwin Barney (.293/.365/.428) and Mitch Canham (.346/.473/.581) provide vital leadership and experience, and they'll need to carry the offense as well. Junior right-hander Daniel Turpen (9-1, 3.79) started the year in the rotation before moving to the pen, but he has been pitching very well of late and could end up making a start this weekend.
Lafayette won its first Patriot League title since the league's inception in 1991, thereby clinching its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1990. Speed makes the Leopards dangerous, especially in a place like Davenport Field. They ranked second in the nation with 2.6 stolen bases per game, led by the school's all-time steals leader, senior outfielder James Conrad (.351 with 48 stolen bases in 52 attempts). The lineup is filled with tough outs -- Conrad, sophomore first baseman Chris Luick and junior second baseman Tom Hayes all rank among nation's 83 most difficult players to strike out. Junior righty Kevin Reese (7-1, 2.70) and senior lefty Matt Kamine (7-4, 2.72) give Lafayette an experienced duo atop the rotation.
Chapel Hill Regional
Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
No. 1 North Carolina (48-12): 22nd appearance, automatic, won ACC tournament, No. 3 national seed
No. 2 East Carolina (39-21): 22nd appearance, at-large, Conference USA
No. 3 Western Carolina (40-18): 11th appearance, at-large, Southern
No. 4 Jacksonville (34-26): 11th appearance, automatic, won Atlantic Sun tournament
One of the most balanced teams in the nation, North Carolina ranks in the top 10 nationally in both ERA (3.17, sixth) and fielding percentage (.974, 10th) and ranks 17th in batting (.320). The 2006 national runners-up have more than enough firepower to get back to the championship series, replacing departed first-round arms Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard in the rotation with power-armed freshman Alex White and junior Luke Putkonen. The offense might be even better than it was a year ago thanks to the addition of freshman first baseman Dustin Ackley (.437/.469/.624 with seven homers and 63 RBIs) and freshman outfielder Tim Fedroff (.359/.419/.532), who has forced his way into regular duty in the second half. The bullpen is one of UNC's biggest strengths thanks to Andrew Carignan's transformation from very good closer in 2006 (3.21 ERA, 15 saves) to exceptional closer in 2007 (1.20 ERA, 13 saves). The red-hot Tar Heels are peaking at the right time, having just wrapped up their first ACC tournament title since 1990.
East Carolina won its first three games in the CUSA tournament to earn a championship game appearance against Rice. The Owls exposed ECU's main weakness -- the lack of a quality fourth starter -- by piling on 16 runs on 15 hits. That flaw could loom large this weekend unless the Pirates can win the regional in three games. ECU doesn't have much in the way of star power, unless you count hard-throwing closer Shane Matthews, but first-year coach Billy Godwin has done a masterful job maximizing his talent. The Pirates always play hard and frequently claw back from behind, with an offense that has a knack for big hits. Diminutive outfielder Harrison Eldridge typifies that approach, and so does injured shortstop Dale Mollenhauer, who has only been available for pinch-running duty recently while he recovers from a broken hamate. Sophomore second baseman Ryan Wood has done an outstanding job filling in at short in Mollenhauer's absence, demonstrating smooth, graceful actions and a strong, accurate arm.
Western Carolina earned an at-large bid out of the SoCon even after going 0-2 in the conference tourney. The key was their solid non-conference slate, which included wins against Georgia Tech, Clemson, Georgia, North Carolina State, and Ohio State. Slop-tossing left-hander Drew Saberhagen (8-1, 3.10), the son of hard-tossing major leaguer Bret, was involved in a couple of those wins, and he wound up in the weekend rotation behind ace lefty Tyler Sexton. If the Catamounts can slug their way past ECU, their quality left-handed pitching could help neutralize some of North Carolina's standout left-handed bats. And the Catamounts can certainly hit -- they rank in the national top 10 in scoring, homers, doubles and slugging. Senior second baseman Kenny Smith (.396/.459/.765 with 18 homers and 79 RBIs) leads a group of five Catamounts with double-digit home runs.
Jacksonville was the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament before becoming the No. 4 seed in the Chapel Hill regional. The Dolphins' spirited run through the conference tournament began with a 12-7 loss to Belmont, but they followed it up by winning four consecutive elimination games. Not much stands out about Jacksonville other than its moxie -- the Dolphins rank in the middle of the A-Sun pack in just about every major statistical category. Their most dangerous hitter is senior outfielder Pete Clifford (.359/.464/.641 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs), but no one else has more than six home runs. The Dolphins do have some speed, with four players in double figures in stolen bases, and a reliable closer in Matt Davis (3.12 ERA, six saves). Jacksonville will have to play a nearly perfect game to beat a North Carolina club that far overmatches it in talent.
College Station Regional
Olsen Field, College Station, Texas
No. 1 Texas A&M (44-16): 23rd appearance, automatic, won Big 12
No. 2 Louisiana-Lafayette (43-15): 11th appearance, at-large, won Sun Belt regular season
No. 3 Ohio State (37-22): 18th appearance, automatic, won Big Ten tournament
No. 4 Le Moyne (34-17): Fourth appearance, automatic, won Metro Atlantic regular season and tournament
Other Big 12 coaches describe Texas A&M's playing style as a full-court press or an all-out blitz. The Aggies are constantly forcing the action with the running game and bunting for base hits. They've got the personnel to suit that style, helping them rank sixth in the nation in stolen bases per game (2.32). Outfielder Ben Feltner leads the way with 34 stolen bases in 37 attempts, and multi-tooled shortstop Brandon Hicks isn't far behind with 28 swipes in 32 tries, to go along with a .349 batting average, 10 home runs and 58 RBIs. Hicks was part of a huge 26-man recruiting class that transformed the Aggies into a CWS hopeful. But holdovers like third baseman Blake Stouffer (.391 with nine homers and 76 RBIs) and Kyle Nicholson (11-1, 1.92) have been the real foundation of A&M's success. Keep an eye on the rotation -- lefty Kirkland Rivers made just his second start of the year against Texas in the Big 12 tournament and pitched very well to earn the victory.
Louisiana-Lafayette is stocked with live athletes and live arms. Junior catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.364/.407/.668 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs) could go in the first three rounds of the draft thanks to his powerful bat and solid catch-and-throw skills, and he has help in the Ragin' Cajuns lineup in Jefferie Tatford (.362, 10 homers), Nolan Gisclair (.341, 11 homers) and Scott Hawkins (.349, 16 homers). Ace righty Hunter Moody (8-3, 4.14) is experienced and extremely competitive, and Andrew Laughter (2-1, 2.73, three saves) is a power arm out of the bullpen with a 93-94 mph fastball and a good slider.
Ohio State entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes slumped when three-year ace Dan DeLucia was lost for the season to elbow surgery in early April. They were swept by rival Michigan and had to fight just to qualify for the conference tournament. Once they got in with the No. 6 seed, the Buckeyes made the most of the opportunity, sweeping through four games to clinch an automatic regional berth. left-hander Cory Luebke (8-1, 1.84) might be the best pitcher in this regional, a likely top-five-rounds pick in next week's draft. Two-way star J.B. Shuck (4-3, 4.48; .348/.400/.410) is a strong No. 2 starter, while also contributing to a solid Ohio State offense sparked by junior outfielder Matt Angle (.365 with 22 stolen bases).
The MAAC produced one of the 2006 NCAA Tournament's biggest upsets when Manhattan left-hander Chris Cody shut down No. 1 seed Nebraska in the Lincoln regional, and Le Moyne ace right-hander Bobby Blevins is capable of pulling off a similar trick this year. An incredibly fierce competitor, Blevins pitched all of last season with a torn labrum in the hip of his landing leg and still went 10-2, 2.57. He's been a weekend starter for four years, and you can count on one hand the number of times he's pitched fewer than seven innings in an outing. He pitches in the 88-91 range and throws four different variations of his fastball, and his slider is a decent out pitch. The Dolphins have a strong No. 2 starter in Eric Beaulac (8-1, 2.55), and senior Ryan Woods (7-1, 1.31, 14 saves) has been steady as a closer despite unspectacular stuff. Shortstop Andy Parrino (.408/.482/.660 with nine homers and 44 RBIs) paces the offense.
Columbia (Mo.) Regional
Taylor Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
No. 1 Missouri (40-16): 19th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 2 Miami (36-22): 36th appearance, at-large, ACC
No. 3 Louisville (40-20): Second appearance, at-large, Big East
No. 4 Kent State (33-24): Seventh appearance, automatic, won Mid-American tournament
Missouri makes its fifth straight regional appearance but hosts for the first time ever. Last year, going on the road proved no hindrance, as the Tigers went to the Malibu regional as the No. 4 seed and won it. But that team had Max Scherzer, and this team lacks that kind of star power. Kyle Gibson (7-3, 4.33, seven saves) was a highly touted recruit out of Indiana, and he has lived up to early expectations by anchoring the bullpen. The all-sophomore rotation of Aaron Crow, Rick Zagone and Ian Berger is very solid but not overwhelming. Of course, that's Missouri's M.O. -- they just win, without the glitz and glamour. The Tigers showed toughness by going 8-0 in one-run games during conference play, including a pair of one-run victories at Texas. Junior DH Jacob Priday provides veteran leadership and pop (10 homers).
For the second straight year, Miami scuffled through the regular season and was sent on the road for regionals. Last year the Hurricanes went to Nebraska and won the regional on their way to the College World Series, and there are signs this year's edition is starting to gel late in the season, as well. Miami went 9-1 to finish the regular season and beat Florida State in the ACC tournament. left-handers Scott Maine (5-5, 3.03) and Eric Erickson (10-3, 2.00) have both pitched well over the last month, and Danny Gil has solidified an otherwise thin bullpen since moving from the rotation to the closer spot midway through the year. But the strength of this Miami team -- other than the coaching of Jim Morris -- is its offensive explosiveness. First baseman Yonder Alonso (.377, 18 homers, 74 RBIs) is one of the nation's elite power hitters, and second baseman Jemile Weeks remains one of the most electrifying players in college baseball thanks to his speed and power mix, though he has struggled through a groin injury in the second half.
In coach Dan McDonnell's first year at the helm, he has guided Louisville to just its second regional appearance in program history. Despite Louisville's lack of postseason experience, the Cardinals are chock full of veterans who know how to play the game -- five of their top six hitters are seniors, including Isaiah Howes, who leads the team in batting (.387) and home runs (15). But Louisville's deep pitching staff is its hallmark. The Cardinals rank fourth in the nation with a 2.89 ERA, led by junior right-hander Zack Pitts (8-3, 1.78). Fifth-year senior Trystan Magnuson (3-1, 0.96, eight saves, 49 strikeouts, eight walks in 49 innings) has grown into his towering 6-foot-7 frame and delivers mid-90s heat out of the bullpen.
Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said his team has rallied around redshirt sophomore right-hander Chris Carpenter as he has worked his way back from arm surgery. The Golden Flashes won 16 of their last 17 games to sweep through the MAC tournament and into a regional, where the hard-throwing Carpenter will go against Missouri and could give the Tigers trouble. Kent State brought in a top-25 recruiting class last fall, and the two jewels of that haul -- Kyle Smith (4-2, 3.84) and Brad Stillings (0-0, 2.57) -- have submitted solid debuts. The Kent State pitching staff, which led the MAC and ranked 12th nationally with a 3.47 ERA, is fairly deep, giving the red-hot Flashes a legitimate chance to stun the regional field.
Columbia (S.C.) Regional
Sarge Frye Field, Columbia, S.C.
No. 1 South Carolina (42-18): 23rd appearance, at-large, SEC
No. 2 North Carolina State (37-21): 22nd appearance, at-large, ACC
No. 3 Charlotte (47-10): Third appearance, automatic, won Atlantic-10 regular season and tournament
No. 4 Wofford (30-31): First appearance, automatic, won Southern tournament
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner has a chance to take on his former employer -- North Carolina State -- in the Columbia regional. That matchup would be a clash of two different styles, as South Carolina is very much an offensive team while N.C. State's strength is on the mound. This regional pits the two leading-home run-hitting teams in the nation against each other, but the Gamecocks come in second to Wofford. South Carolina's fearsome lineup features three infielders who have hit 18 home runs this season -- first baseman Justin Smoak, second baseman Travis Jones and third baseman James Darnell. Pitching is the question; junior right-hander Harris Honeycutt had never lost a decision before dropping five straight in the second half of the year, but he's bounced back over the last two weeks. Lefty Arik Hempy returned from Tommy John surgery and looked like the bona fide staff ace while Honeycutt was scuffling, but Hempy has hit a skid lately. Blake Cooper has been mostly solid in the second half, and right-hander Mike Cisco has come on strong over the last few weeks -- he could push his way into a start this weekend.
North Carolina State will be without the services of one-time ace Andrew Brackman, who was left off the 25-man roster because of mild inflammation in his right elbow. The Wolfpack is deep enough on the mound to do just fine without the big fellow, as left-hander Eric Surkamp (4-4, 3.18) has been the true ace for most of the season anyway. Jeff Stallings has pitched well in the second half, but freshman lefty Jimmy Gillheeney (5-3, 5.98) has been up and down. The bullpen is a major strength, led by lights-out closer Eryk McConnell (1.19 ERA, 11 saves) and four relievers with at least 14 appearances and 3.60 or lowe ERAs. The offense won't blow anybody away, but veterans like Ryan Pond, Caleb Mangum and Marcus Jones have been around the block and tend to elevate their games in big spots.
The Wolfpack will get all it can handle in its opener from Charlotte ace Adam Mills. The 49ers' 2.31 ERA leads the nation by a good margin, and a good reason for that is the ridiculous, eye-popping numbers of national ERA leader Mills (1.06). The senior right-hander has set a school record with 13 wins to go along with 136 strikeouts (third in the nation) and 26 walks in 136 innings. He has impeccable commands of a four-pitch mix and racks up strikeouts with his good slider. Of course, you need more than one good player to go 47-10 and break into the national rankings, and Charlotte's rotation behind Mills is solid, with Spencer Steedley (8-1, 2.56) and Zach Rosenbaum (9-1, 2.97). Junior outfielder Brad McElroy (.412/.479/.668 with 10 homers and 65 RBIs) paces the offense.
Wofford is the feel-good story of 2007. Right after coach Steve Traylor announced his retirement effective the end of the season, the Terriers ripped off five straight SoCon tournament wins to claim the title -- as a No. 9 seed. Wofford is a powerful SEC-style offense that will test its mettle against a powerful SEC team in a homer-friendly SEC park. The Terriers lead the nation with 106 home runs, two more than South Carolina, and junior third baseman Brandon Waring is tied for the national lead with 27. Converted outfielder Ben Austin has gone 11-5, 4.03 in his first year as a pitcher, and he'll get his stiffest test yet from the Gamecocks.
Baum Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
No. 1 Arkansas (41-19): 20th appearance, at-large, SEC, No. 7 national seed
No. 2 Creighton (44-14): Eighth appearance, automatic, won Missouri Valley tournament
No. 3 Oklahoma State (38-19): 35th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 4 Albany (29-27): First appearance, automatic, won America East
Arkansas cruised through the bulk of its season without much incident before dropping its final three conference series, but the Razorbacks still won the SEC's Western Division title, and they reached the championship game of the SEC tournament behind their dominant starting pitching. Junior left-hander Nick Schmidt has been the Hogs' ace for three years and is a potential first-round pick next week, but righty Jess Todd has been just as dominant or moreso of late; he set an Arkansas and SEC tournament record with 17 strikeouts over eight innings against South Carolina. Big right-hander Duke Welker is a very solid third starter with great stuff that he learned to harness as the year progressed. If all three of those arms keep on performing like they have lately, it will be hard for any team to stop Arkansas short of the College World Series. But the Razorbacks are vulnerable beyond their top three and could be in trouble if they get pushed to the fourth game of a regional.
Creighton relies heavily on pitching and defense, just as it usually does under fourth-year coach Ed Servais. Both of those ingredients have been potent this season, as the Bluejays rank 10th in the nation with a 3.38 ERA and sixth with a .976 fielding percentage. Creighton wins most close games because of its lights-out bullpen, which is anchored by hard-throwing closer Andy Masten (1.74 ERA, 16 saves) and ambidextrous marvel Pat Venditte (8-2, 1.83, four saves, 90 strikeouts, 21 walks in 88 innings). Venditte saw his remarkable scoreless streak snapped at 43 2/3 innings in the MVC championship game against Wichita State, but he clinched tournament MVP honors by pitching 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in that decisive contest.
Oklahoma State's style is quite the opposite of Creighton's: quite simply, the Cowboys try to bludgeon teams to death. OSU ranks among the nation's top 10 in batting (.327), scoring (7.9 runs per game) home runs (1.33 per game) and slugging (.526). Third baseman Matt Mangini has had a poor second half but still finished at .341 with nine homers, and Tyler Mach (.410 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs) has done nothing but hit like crazy over the last two years. Outfielder Corey Brown (.345 with 19 homers, 65 RBIs and 21 stolen bases) has tapped into his impressive five-tool potential. The Cowboys have struggled to find any reliable starting pitchers this year, but senior Oliver Odle has pitched well down the stretch. If Oklahoma State wins this regional, though, it will have to do it with the bats.
Albany won nine of its last 11 games, including back-to-back victories over America East regular season champion Binghamton, to earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Great Danes are likely to be overmatched by the three marquee teams in this regional, but power-armed closer Alexander Beaulieu (2.19 ERA, 10 saves) gives them a chance in a close game. Tom Hill (.317, six homers) is a good defensive catcher who can neutralize the running game, and he's got occasional pop at the plate.
Reckling Park, Houston
No. 1 Rice (49-12): 13th appearance, automatic, won Conference USA regular season and tournament, No. 2 national seed
No. 2 TCU (46-12): Sixth appearance, automatic, won Mountain West regular season and tournament
No. 3 Baylor (34-25): 14th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 4 Prairie View A&M (34-23): Second appearance, automatic, won Southwestern Athletic tournament
Rice opened the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, and after struggling to a 3-4 start, the Owls began to show why they garnered such lofty expectations. For the second straight year, Rice went 22-2 in CUSA and won the conference tournament. Freshman right-hander Ryan Berry (10-2, 2.72) emerged as the ace of a staff that also includes the 2005 national Freshman of the Year in left-hander/first baseman Joe Savery, and Berry has remained consistent even as Savery has battled occasional command woes. Senior right-hander Ryne Tacker (9-1, 3.01, three saves) missed all of 2006 with a stress fracture below his elbow, but he emerged as the CUSA pitcher of the year. The return of closer Cole St.Clair from biceps tendonitis allowed Tacker to slide to the rotation, where he blossomed, but he left his CUSA tournament start against Memphis in the first inning with arm soreness. That, and Savery's lackluster season finale against the Tigers two days later, are cause for some concern, but the offense produced 36 runs in the final two games of the tournament and could carry the Owls through a regional.
TCU survived a brutal spate of early-season injuries to key contributors like Corey Steglich, Teddy Kruder, Matt Carpenter, Keith Conlon and Seth Garrison. Conlon and Steglich eventually returned, but Garrison had Tommy John surgery after getting off to a dominant 1-0, 1.96 start in 23 innings. Still, the pitching staff has survived, as flame-throwing closer Sam Demel (6-1, 2.12, 13 saves) has carried the bullpen in Garrison's absence. Junior right-hander Jake Arrieta entered the year as one of the top prospects in the college class but had a somewhat disappointing season by his lofty standards, going 9-3, 3.11. He came on strong late in the year, showing a 94 mph fastball and better command. Chris Johnson and Chance Corgan are both dependable starters behind him, giving TCU enough arms to make a run at Rice.
Baylor brought in the nation's best recruiting class last year, and the freshmen were pressed into duty right away. Not surprisingly, the baby Bears took their lumps early and started 2-7 in conference play, but they came on in the second half of the season and punched their ticket to their ninth regional in 10 years by winning three games in the conference tournament to reach the Big 12 championship game. Touted freshman Aaron Miller and Dustin Dickerson have loads of talent and could get hot, but the Baylor offense is really carried by senior catcher Matt Czimskey (.362/.430/.664 with eight homers) and sophomore shortstop Beamer Weems (.318/.407/.550 with eight homers and 57 RBIs). Baylor figures to be a major force in 2008, but winning a regional against three experienced teams will be a tall order for this young club.
Prairie View A&M makes its second consecutive appearance at the Houston regional (as do host Rice and Baylor). The Aggies are one of the most dangerous No. 4 seeds in the tournament because of their speed and aggressive style of play. Prairie View leads the nation in stolen bases, led by second baseman Michael Richard (.402 average with 41 steals in 49 attempts) and 2006 national stolen base champion Calvin Lester (21 steals in 27 attempts). Lester was mired in a slump for most of the season in a classic case of draftitis, but he snapped out of it to win MVP honors in the SWAC tournament. Ace Wrandal Taylor threw 75 pitches in a win Wednesdy and came back Sunday to throw 89 more, and it will probably take an even more Herculean effort from Taylor to get the Aggies through this regional. Prairie View moved power-armed right-hander Josh Lara to the closer's role last weekend and discovered he has a closer's mentality. He'll remain in the bullpen this weekend.
Long Beach Regional
Blair Field, Long Beach, Calif.
No. 1 Long Beach State (37-18): 16th appearance, at-large, Big West
No. 2 UCLA (30-26): 14th appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
No. 3 Pepperdine (35-20): 24th appearance, at-large, West Coast
No. 4 Illinois-Chicago (34-19): Third appearance, automatic, won Horizon regular season and tournament
One of the most surprising stories of 2007, Long Beach State played its way to a No. 1 seed by weathering one of the nation's most brutal schedules with a young team that features 21 freshmen and sophomores. The Dirtbags won early series against Texas and Arizona State and lost hard-fought series at Rice and Wichita State, and they compiled a 4-0 record in midweek games against UCLA and Pepperdine. LBSU coach Mike Weathers says this is the first true Dirtbag team he's had in his six-year tenure as head coach, and they play above their talent by executing the little things and never wilting under pressure or deficits. Long Beach might lack star power, but sophomore shortstop Danny Espinosa (.318/.415/.523 with seven homers) is a legitimate star in the making. On paper, LBSU doesn't have the firepower of UCLA or Pepperdine, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the Beach's tenacity and resilience.
UCLA entered the year with big expectations but stumbled to an 8-14 start as freshman right-hander Charles Brewer (a projected weekend starter) battled mononucleosis and sophomore third baseman Jermaine Curtis (a catalyst and a leader on the field) worked through academic ineligibility. But Curtis' return in late March sparked the Bruins to a 20-5 surge, before they limped to a 2-7 finish over the final three weeks. In Brewer's absence, sophomore lefty Tim Murphy eventually took over the Saturday starter role and showed flashes of brilliance (14 strikeouts against Arizona State), but struggled with consistency and finished 4-4, 5.94. Freshman left-hander Gavin Brooks (5-6, 5.06) also has big-time stuff and also showed flashes of his talent, including a complete-game three-hitter in the season finale against Oregon State. Senior righty Tyson Brummett (9-5, 3.60) is a rock atop the rotation, but UCLA's chances might hinge upon which Murphy and Brooks show up, and if Brewer is ready to make a start if the Bruins get to a fourth game of the regional.
Pepperdine, a perennial power in the West Coast Conference, saw its string of eight consecutive WCC championship series appearances snapped this year when it dropped back-to-back series against San Diego and Gonzaga late in the year. One reason for that swoon was the absence of sophomore third baseman Chase d'Arnaud (.333/.371/.472), one of the Waves' top power threats who missed time with a leg injury. He's back now, and Pepperdine is fresh and rested after having nearly two weeks off. The lineup is filled with speed threats and gap hitters who are well tailored for spacious Blair Field, and the pitching staff is accomplished. Junior right-hander Barry Enright (12-4, 1.73) and power-armed righty Brett Hunter (6-5, 3.94) lead a deep staff that should be able to withstand an extended regional. Swingman Adam Olbrychowski (5-2, 3.03) could get the start if Pepperdine goes to a fourth game, and he could help the Waves avoid losing in a regional championship game for the fourth consecutive year.
Illinois-Chicago has established itself as a heavyweight in the Horizon League, winning the regular-season title six years in a row. This year's UIC edition tested itself early, playing three-game series at Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Washington State -- and winning the set against the Vols. The Flames won't be intimidated by the regional atmosphere or the big-name programs they'll be competing against. UIC's solid pitching staff is led by Horizon ERA champion Steve Crnkovich (4-3, 2.27) and fellow righty Zach Peterson (7-3, 3.59). Senior outfielder Larry Gempp Jr. (.397/.478/.598 with seven homers and 54 RBIs) is a true impact bat in the middle of the lineup.
Myrtle Beach Regional
Coastal Federal Field, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
No. 1 Coastal Carolina (48-11): Seventh appearance, automatic, won Big South regular season and tournament
No. 2 Clemson (38-21): 33rd appearance, at-large, ACC
No. 3 St. John's (40-17): 30th appearance, at-large, won Big East regular season
No. 4 Virginia Commonwealth (37-21): Ninth appearance, automatic, won Colonial tournament
Coastal Carolina earned the right to host its first regional by dominating the Big South and playing well against a difficult non-conference schedule, including two wins against both Nebraska and Virginia. But the Chanticleers were shut out in their only meeting with fellow Myrtle Beach regional participant Clemson. Coastal has a veteran pitching staff anchored by sophomore right-hander Bobby Gagg (11-2, 2.75) but supported by seniors Andy DeLaGarza and John Mariotti. The Chanticleers are well coached and seldom beat themselves, and their lineup contains good power in Chris Raber (17 homers), Tommy Baldridge (13 homers), David Sappelt (10 homers) and Dom Duggan (nine homers). But Myrtle Beach is one of the best pitcher's parks in the minors, which could suppress some of Coastal Carolina's power. The Chanticleers can win a variety of different ways, but the long ball is a bigger part of their success than it is for any of the other regional teams.
Clemson boasts one of the deepest collections of prized arms in the nation. Junior left-hander Daniel Moskos (3-5, 3.15) has continued to pitch mostly well in the rotation after moving from the closer spot, despite limited run support. He'll pitch Friday against St. John's, lining up righty David Kopp for a potential dalliance with the Chanticleers on Saturday. Kopp has great stuff and shut down Florida State in the ACC tournament, allowing just an unearned run over nine innings of work. Offense has been a problem for Clemson this year, but the recent return of leadoff man Brad Chalk from back troubles could provide a spark. The pitcher-friendly confines of Coastal Federal Field could play to the strengths of the pitching-rich Tigers.
St. John's went 40-10 after starting the year 0-7 and won the Big East regular season title before submitting a 1-2 showing in the conference tournament. The Johnnies have a big gun of their own to combat Moskos in sophomore left-hander Scott Barnes (7-2, 3.08, 92 strikeouts in 88 innings), a potential late-first-round pick in 2008. Offense is actually the Red Storm's forte -- its .333 batting average is sixth-best in the nation. St. John's has just two power hitters in Chris Joachim and Ryan Mahoney, who combined for 24 home runs, but the lineup is chock full of tough outs, like scrappy senior second baseman Sam DeLuca (.352), the third-toughest hitter to strike out in the nation.
The Colonial Athletic Association was a dogfight this year, with four teams tying for first place in the final regular season standings, but Virginia Commonwealth finally came out on top. The Rams tested themselves early by traveling across country to play a four-game series against San Diego, but they lost three of those games. The strength of the Rams is their bullpen, which is anchored by junior right-hander Luke Pisker (9-1, 1.87, 11 saves). Righties Robbie Andrews (2-0, 1.50) and Mick Mattaliano (4-2, 1.81) have been dependable as well, and VCU coach Paul Keyes won't hesitate to lean on his pen if his starters slip up. The Rams lack home run power, but they won't need it at Coastal Federal Field, anyway. First baseman Jared Bolden (.393) and slick-fielding shortstop Sergio Miranda (.370) lead the offense.
Hawkins Field, Nashville
No. 1 Vanderbilt (51-11): Sixth appearance, automatic, won SEC regular season and tournament, No. 1 national seed
No. 2 Michigan (39-16): 20th appearance, at-large, won Big Ten regular season
No. 3 Memphis (36-25): Fourth appearance, at-large, Conference USA
No. 4 Austin Peay (39-20): Third appearance, automatic, won Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament
Vanderbilt enters the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win the national title, though it has never been to Omaha. The Commodores boast the nation's best pitcher in junior left-hander David Price (11-0, 2.71, 175 strikeouts and 29 walks in 123 innings) and one of the most dangerous hitters in sophomore third baseman Pedro Alvarez (.397/.467/.706 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs). Alvarez and multi-tooled junior outfielder Dominic de la Osa caught fire in the SEC tournament, combining to hit .458 with four homers, five doubles and 15 RBIs. The pitching staff behind Price is deep, and senior right-hander Casey Weathers (11-2, 2.64, seven saves, 67 strikeouts in 44 innings) is a huge security blanket at the back of the bullpen.
Michigan rose into the top 20 in the rankings before fading a bit down the stretch, when they split a four-game home series with Illinois and lost three of four to Penn State, then went two-and-out in the Big Ten tournament two weeks later. The Wolverines are led by one of the nation's best two-way players in sophomore right-hander/DH Zach Putnam (7-4, 3.58; .355 with eight homers and 58 RBIs), who became the first player in Big Ten history to earn first-team all-conference honors at two different positions in the same season. The Wolverines are an athletic, balanced club -- they led the Big Ten in batting (.337) and fielding percentage (.958) and ranked second in ERA (4.31). And playing in a hostile environment won't wilt Michigan, whose 19-5 road record this season is the best in the nation.
In coach Daron Schoenrock's third year at the helm, he has guided Memphis to its first regional appearance since 1994. Memphis has a chance to slug its way to the regional championship game. Led by senior sluggers Bill Moss (.332/.419/.597 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs) and Adam Amar (.351/.408/.598 with six homers and 46 RBIs) on the infield corners, the Tigers ranked second in CUSA in scoring (6.8 runs per game). Five-foot-six outfielder K.K. Chalmers adds a speed dimension (33 stolen bases in 38 attempts) as well as some more pop (seven homers). But Memphis' pitching staff doesn't compare to the other three staffs in this regional -- the Tigers' 5.43 ERA ranks 176th in the nation.
Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the year Shawn Kelley (11-3, 2.52) gives Austin Peay State a fighting chance against Vanderbilt, though he surrendered four runs (three earned) in 2 1/3 innings in his last start against the Commodores on Feb. 27. Though the Governors went a combined 0-4 against Vandy and Memphis in the regular season, they proved they can hang with quality competition by beating Evansville and Mississippi State twice apiece. Pitching and defense is the key -- Austin Peay led the OVC in ERA (3.61, 20th in the nation) and fielding percentage (.973, 17th in the nation). Closer Ben Wilshire (nine saves, 2.97 ERA) gives the Governors a weapon in the late innings if they can keep things close.
Swayze Field, Oxford, Miss.
No. 1 Mississippi (37-23): 13th appearance, at-large, SEC
No. 2 Southern Mississippi (38-21): Eighth appearance, at-large, Conference USA
No. 3 Troy (34-25): Fourth appearance, at-large, Sun Belt
No. 4 Sam Houston State (38-22): Fourth appearance, automatic, won Southland tournament
Mississippi hosts its fourth straight regional and seeks its third consecutive super-regional appearance. Pitching is the Rebels' hallmark, as right-handers Will Kline and Lance Lynn are an imposing one-two punch atop the rotation who both recorded double-digit strikeout performances in Ole Miss' two SEC tournament victories. Closer Cody Satterwhite (4-4, 2.75) runs his fastball into the high 90s, and Scott Bittle (2-5, 2.35, seven saves) has thrives in whatever role the Rebels have put him in, closing games when Satterwhite was hurt early and even throwing seven strong innings in the SEC tournament against Vanderbilt. But despite Mississippi's strong bullpen, the Rebels are just 8-13 in one-run games this year. Preseason All-American shortstop Zack Cozart and the brothers Henry (gritty second baseman Justin and speedy outfielder Jordan) lead a solid Rebels offense.
Southern Mississippi recovered from a six-game losing streak in late March to finish third in CUSA. The Golden Eagles took a hit in their first game of the conference tournament when their best player, first baseman Trey Sutton (.368/.459/.569 with eight homers) dislocated his kneecap and missed the rest of the weekend. After losing Sutton, USM quietly dropped its next two tournament games. Sutton is penciled in as a DH this weekend, but his status remains clouded. Pitching will have to carry the Golden Eagles through the regional -- right-handers Ryan Belanger and Barry Bowden both pitched well down the stretch, and closer Patrick Ezell (1.33 ERA, eight saves) is a major weapon in the late innings.
There is no shortage of quality closers in this regional, and Troy has another. With a funky, deceptive arm action, a low-90s fastball and a quality slider, Josh Dew (7-2, 2.56, 10 saves) has been a workhorse out of the bullpen, amassing 63 innings. A two-way threat, Dew also contributed nine home runs for a Troy team that averaged 1.25 long balls per game, ninth-best in the nation. Hulking first baseman Clint Robinson (.359, 17 homers, 69 RBIs) led that onslaught, but Edgar Ramirez and Kevin Weidlich contributed 11 homers apiece, making Troy's heart of the order very dangerous. Starting pitching has been a problem, as none of Troy's top four starters posted an ERA below 5.18.
All of these closers have great numbers, but only Sam Houston State has the national saves leader. Senior right-hander Luke Prihoda has 17 of them to go along with a miniscule 1.21 ERA and a 63-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 67 innings. Prihoda attacks hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a slider, and he has come up huge when the Bearkats have needed him most. He threw six scoreless innings over three appearances in Sam Houston's surprising run through the Southland Conference tournament as a No. 4 seed. The Bearkats can hit too -- their .318 batting average led the Southland and ranked 24th in the nation.
Round Rock Regional
Dell Diamond, Round Rock, Texas
No. 1 Texas (44-15): 51st appearance, at-large, won Big 12 regular season, No. 4 national seed
No. 2 UC Irvine (40-15): Third appearance, at-large, Big West
No. 3 Wake Forest (33-27): 11th appearance, at-large, ACC
No. 4 Brown (27-19): First appearance, automatic, won Ivy regular season and tournament
Under coach Augie Garrido, Texas is known for applying pressure on opposing defenses through small ball. The 2007 Longhorns can still execute all the little things, but they can also mash. Leading the way is sophomore outfielder Kyle Russell, whose 27 home runs tied him for the national lead and shattered Texas' single-season record (20). Russell has plenty of offensive help in Bradley Suttle, Chance Wheeless, Russell Moldenhauer and company, and the Longhorns rank in the top 25 in the nation in batting, home runs, triples and slugging. Typical of a Garrido team, they can also defend (.977 fielding percentage, third-best in the nation). right-hander Adrian Alaniz has 12 wins, two off the national lead, and senior Randy Boone has settled in at the back of the bullpen, notching 13 saves (ninth in the nation). This is an experienced team, and it would certainly be surprising if the 'Horns lost a home regional for the second straight year.
UC Irvine is very capable of knocking off Texas. Despite winning series against three other Big West teams that earned No. 1 or 2 seeds in regionals (Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside) and reaching No. 9 in the rankings, the Anteaters were denied a home regional and shipped to the No. 4 national seed. Irvine coach Dave Serrano is in the extended Augie Garrido coaching tree (he was an assistant at Cal State Fullerton under George Horton, who had assisted Garrido), so it shouldn't be too surprising that the Anteaters play a similar style of baseball, applying constant pressure on the defense, making things happen by starting runners on the basepaths, fielding soundly. NCAA career saves leader Blair Erickson has been up and down at the back of the bullpen, but right-handed starters Scott Gorgen and Wes Etheridge have been outstanding all season. The sinkerballer Etheridge will get the nod against Wake Forest, keeping the red-hot Gorgen available for a potential meeting with Texas. Gorgen struck out 11 in a three-hit shutout against UC Riverside last Friday.
Wake Forest made a late surge to secure its first regional appearance since 2002. The Deacons sealed the deal with a run to the ACC championship game, which they dropped to North Carolina. Sophomore first baseman Allan Dykstra is truly one of the nation's premier power hitters -- he blasted 18 homers this year to give him 33 in his first two years at Wake. Dykstra has drawn 54 walks this year, and don't expect him to get too much to hit this weekend, because the lineup around him is uninspiring. Excepting Dykstra, only Willy Fox has an average over .300, and no other player has more than eight home runs. The Demon Deacons have experienced quality arms in senior Josh Ellis (5-3, 2.74) and junior Ben Hunter (7-6, 4.41), but they'll hand the ball to sophomore lefty Garrett Bullock (4-2, 4.71) against UC Irvine.
Brown won its first-ever Ivy League championship this year to reach its first regional. right-hander Jeff Dietz (9-3, 2.53) has arm strength and a deceptive sidearm delivery, and he could keep the Bears in the game against Texas. The offense is powered by switch-hitting senior catcher Devin Thomas, who set Brown single-season records for home runs (16) and RBIs (64). Dietz, a two-way player, was second on the team with eight homers and 52 RBIs. Closer Rob Hallberg doesn't have pretty numbers (5.48 ERA), but he's got a low-90s fastball and could be a weapon out of the bullpen if he's on. But Brown will put the ball in Dietz's hand and hope he can go the distance like he did in a 1-0 win against Pennsylvania in the first game of the Ivy League championship series. He struck out 10 and allowed just three hits in the complete-game shutout; but that was Penn, and this is Texas.
San Diego Regional
Tony Gwynn Stadium, San Diego
No. 1 San Diego (43-16): Fourth appearance, automatic, won West Coast regular season and tournament, No. 8 national seed
No. 2 Cal State Fullerton (33-23): 29th appearance, at-large, Big West
No. 3 Minnesota (40-16): 28th appearance, at-large, Big Ten
No. 4 Fresno State (36-27): 29th appearance, automatic, won Western Athletic regular season and tournament
San Diego caught everyone's attention in early February when it won a series at Texas, but that was just the tip of the iceberg for a Toreros team that has climbed to a program-best No. 4 in the top 25 rankings entering the NCAA Tournament. USD won its third West Coast Conference title last weekend even after ace lefty Brian Matusz lost the opener against Gonzaga. Matusz (10-3, 2.73) ranks second in the nation with 156 strikeouts, and fellow sophomore lefty Josh Romanski (9-1, 3.16) teams with him to form a menacing duo. It's easy to forget right-hander Matt Couch (9-2, 3.60), who won the WCC clincher, and freshman closer A.J. Griffin (6-1, 2.63, 11 saves), who can pitch extended stretches when needed. Griffin bailed the Toreros out of plenty of tight spots early in the year before the rotation got settled. But it's not all about the arms -- USD plays terrific defense (.974 fielding percentage, ninth in the nation) and gets leadership and offense from seniors Shane Buschini (team-leading .356 average and 13 homers) and Jordan Abruzzo (.333, eight home runs) and junior second baseman Justin Snyder (.354).
Cal State Fullerton won a regional last year that also contained San Diego and Fresno State, but that regional was in Fullerton, and that Titans team had a lot more experience and firepower. This CSF edition has had to break in new starters in the rotation behind stalwart Wes Roemer (9-6, 3.51) and new faces all over the diamond. right-hander Jeff Kaplan (10-3, 3.36) emerged as a reliable No. 2 starter, but freshman Sean Urena (3-3, 4.50) tailed off in the second half and the Titans have essentially been auditioning other candidates every Sunday since. Junior center fielder Clark Hardman (.378/.421/.508) has had a fine season, but just one other Titan regular is hitting over .300 (Josh Fellhauer at .310). Fullerton faltered down the stretch, losing their final four conference series sandwiched around a road series win at Wichita State. George Horton's teams are always fundamentally sound and tough outs in the postseason, but he'll need to find some magic to overcome a San Diego team with considerably more talent.
Minnesota has now been sent to California for each of its last three regional appearances, most recently in 2004 when Fullerton's Jason Windsor beat Minnesota's Glen Perkins. The Gophers earned an at-large bid this year out of the Big Ten on the strength of a challenging non-conference schedule. They didn't just play tough warm-weather teams, they also held their own, going a combined 3-4 against Mississippi, Arkansas and Pepperdine. The Golden Gophers could have an advantage in close, late-game situations thanks to their stellar bullpen, which includes Josh Oslin (11 saves, 2.75 ERA), Bill Johnson (two saves, 2.13) and Kyle Carr (eight saves, 3.56). Ace Gary Perinar has good stuff, as evidenced by his 70 strikeouts in 67 innings, but he's been inconsistent (4-5, 5.10).
Fresno State won the WAC for the second straight year, but after earning a No. 2 seed in the Fullerton regional a year ago the Bulldogs were stuck with a No. 4 seed and a tournament-opening date with San Diego this year. Not that the Bulldogs will be intimidated -- they took two of three from the Toreros back in March, putting up six runs on Matusz in the opener and getting a strong start from junior right-hander Clayton Allison in the finale. Allison, a junior college transfer before the year, led Fresno with 10 wins despite striking out just 63 in 102 innings. Sophomore lefty Justin Wilson (8-5, 3.19) misses more bats, racking up 101 Ks in 96 innings. The balanced Bulldogs don't dazzle in any area, but the lineup has some pop and some speed in Steve Susdorf (.342, 12 homers, 11 stolen bases), Loren Storey (.338, seven homers, 21 steals) and Tommy Mendonca (nine homers).
Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
No. 1 Florida State (47-11): 45th appearance, at-large, won ACC regular season, No. 6 national seed
No. 2 Mississippi State (33-20): 28th appearance, at-large, SEC
No. 3 Stetson (41-19): 15th appearance, at-large, won Atlantic Sun regular season
No. 4 Bethune-Cookman (33-25): Eighth appearance, automatic, won Mid-Eastern regular season and tournament
Florida State opened its season by rattling off a 23-game winning streak that remains the longest in the nation this season. The Seminoles have scarcely cooled off since, winning the ACC regular season title in convincing fashion on the strength of a dynamic offense and experienced pitching staff. FSU leads the nation in batting (.355 -- that's not a typo), led by the incredible season of junior second baseman Tony Thomas (.442/.537/.760 with 11 homers and 30 stolen bases), who has transformed himself from an underachieving strikeout machine into a sure-fire All-American and potential top-three-rounds pick. The senior-laden pitching staff is headlined by national wins leader Bryan Henry (14-1, 2.54), who has used location, deception and command to dominate for three years.
Mississippi State got off to a strong start but tripped up down the stretch, dropping four of its last five weekend series and going two-and-'cue in the SEC tournament. Injuries played a major part in that slide, as the Bulldogs are particularly banged up on the mound. The bats of catcher Ed Easley (.373 with a team-leading 12 homers and 60 RBIs), first baseman Mitch Moreland (.338, seven homers) and second baseman Jeffrey Rea (.344, 12 stolen bases) will have to carry MSU through the regional.
Stetson dominated the A-Sun as usual and might have been in position to earn a No. 2 seed before losing in the conference tournament to Jacksonville. The Hatters have proven their mettle with series wins against Louisiana State, Louisville and Central Michigan and other wins against Florida and Notre Dame. Stetson went 2-1 against Bethune-Cookman this year. Pete Dunn's club is not particularly offensive, but the one-two pitching punch of Corey Kluber (11-2, 2.19) and Chris Ingoglia (9-5, 2.98) is strong, and closer Robbi Elsemiller (3-1, 2.32, 12 saves) can be trusted in tight spots.
Pitching is the hallmark for Bethune-Cookman, as well. The Wildcats' 3.80 ERA ranks 30th in the nation, with workhorses Dustin Blackwell (8-5, 2.86) and Francis Rodriguez (10-3, 3.28) leading the way. Like Stetson, Bethune-Cookman tested itself in non-conference action, playing series against Tennessee, Michigan and Oral Roberts before going 16-1 in conference play. The Wildcats have a bit of sock in the lineup with Angel Mercado (.400, eight homers), Angel Negron (.346, nine homers) and Chris Henault (10 homers).
Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz.
No. 1 Arizona State (43-13): 31st appearance, automatic, won Pacific-10 regular season, No. 5 national seed
No. 2 UC Riverside (37-19): Second appearance, automatic, won Big West regular season
No. 3 Nebraska (30-25): 11th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 4 Monmouth (36-22): Third appearance, automatic, won Northeast tournament
Arizona State's high-powered offense is its calling card -- the Sun Devils led the nation in scoring at 9.6 runs per game. Sophomore first baseman Brett Wallace (.426/.505/.735 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs) is a legitimate player of the year candidate, and he's surrounded by power bats in Kiel Roling, Petey Paramore, Matt Spencer and Ike Davis. Second baseman Eric Sogard (.390/.490/.624 with 10 homers) greases the wheels atop the lineup and teams with slick-fielding shortstop Andrew Romine to form an exceptional double-play tandem. In all the thunder of the ASU offense, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the Sun Devils lead the nation with a .978 fielding percentage. And the front-line pitching is strong, with Mike Leake, Josh Satow and Brian Flores starting and Jason Jarvis closing. The only weakness is in the depth of the staff -- lefties Spencer and Davis will need to build a bridge to Jarvis if a starter should get knocked out early. If ASU doesn't win the regional in three games, its fourth starter is a question mark.
UC Riverside has the pitching depth to win the regional should it get extended to four games, potentially causing ASU to run out of reliable fresh arms. right-hander James Simmons (10-3, 2.32) has been UCR's ace since he stepped foot on campus three years ago, and he can dominate a game with his outstanding fastball-changeup command. If the Highlanders face the very left-handed-leaning Arizona State offense, they will miss senior lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who broke a knuckle in his pinky finger when he slammed his fist down on a counter at his home in mid-May. right-hander Matt Montgomery slid into his spot in the rotation and has actually been UCR's best pitcher down the stretch, with an 87-89 mph fastball and a good slider, but the Highlanders could employ an extra dose of power-armed left-hander Dan Runzler against Arizona State because of the matchup. The Highlanders have the deepest collection of quality pitching on the West Coast, but they'll have their hands full against the nation's best offense, and the road through this regional almost certainly runs through the Sun Devils.
It's been a tumultuous season for Nebraska, which has dealt with a multitude of off-field incidents, most notably the dismissal of shortstop Ryan Wehrle, who was supposed to be the team's best hitter. Wehrle struggled to the tune of a .241 batting average this spring, but the other veterans who were supposed to comprise the core of Nebraska's lineup weren't much better. Andy Gerch (.296), Jake Opitz (.275) and Bryce Nimmo (.265) all saw significant playing time on the Cornhuskers' 2005 College World Series team, but all were disappointing this spring. The same can be said for juniors Tony Watson (6-4, 3.94), Johnny Dorn (9-3, 5.68) and Charlie Shirek (2-7, 6.39), who were supposed to make up one of the nation's stronger weekend rotations. Still, the Cornhuskers persevered, winning six of their final seven conference series -- a testament to coach Mike Anderson's ability to keep his players focused through distractions. That characteristic will be vital this weekend.
Monmouth finished third in the Northeast Conference's regular season standings but got hot at the right time to win the league's automatic bid and advance to regionals for the first time since 1999. The Hawks won a school-record 36 games this year, but they're going to have their talons full with the explosive Sun Devils. Junior right-hander Brad Brach (9-2, 2.72) draws the assignment of trying to keep Arizona State in check. Andy Meyers (.395/.475/.605, 9 homers, 64 RBIs) leads the Monmouth offense.
Eck Stadium, Wichita
No. 1 Wichita State (49-19): 25th appearance, at-large, won Missouri Valley regular season
No. 2 Arizona (40-15): 33rd appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
No. 3 Oral Roberts (40-15): 19th appearance, automatic, won Mid-Continent regular season and tournament
No. 4 New Orleans (37-24): 13th appearance, automatic, won Sun Belt tournament
Wichita State is one of the most balanced teams in the nation, with power arms, power bats, speed and good defense. The pitching and defense, in particular, carried this club, as the Shockers ranked second in the nation in ERA (2.67) and 19th in fielding percentage (.973). For a while, right-handers Travis Banwart and Aaron Shafer looked like the best one-two pitching punch in the nation, but Shafer went down with arm soreness in May and didn't make his return until the MVC tournament, throwing five scoreless, two-hit innings in a 2-1 win against Creighton. Banwart stumbled down the stretch, losing three of his last four starts to finish 9-5, 2.66. The Shockers will need Banwart and Shafer to be healthy and effective in order to make a deep postseason run, but their offense is good enough to slug and steal its way through a regional if the arms are not sharp.
Arizona reached the 40-win plateau for the first time since 1989 and earned their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in Andy Lopez' six-year tenure as head coach. The Wildcats have gone on the road to win regionals seven times in the past, but this team has struggled away from the friendly confines of Jerry Kindall Field. Arizona has been dominant at home, going 28-4, but mediocre on the road, going 11-11. Ace right-hander Preson Guilmet (11-2, 1.79) matches up well with any pitcher in the country, and power arms Jason Stoffel and Daniel Schlereth have been money in the bullpen. The rotation has been more unsettled, as Brad Mills, Mike Colla, Ryan Perry and David Coulon have all auditioned for starting roles, with Mills losing his spot to a lingering back injury late in the year. The offense has some power with the suddenly red-hot Bill Rhinehart (.362 with 11 homers) and C.J. Ziegler (.349 with 13 homers).
Oral Roberts dominated the Mid-Con for the final time this year. That's only because the conference will cease to be known as the Mid-Con starting today -- its new name is the Summit League, but the Golden Eagles should continue to dominate that circuit for years to come. This year marks ORU's 10th consecutive conference title and regional appearance. Ace right-hander Chance Corgan (8-1, 1.23) owns one of the best sliders in college baseball, helping him record a 17-strikeout game against Arkansas and a 19-strikeout effort against Centenary this year. He'll go toe to toe with Preston Guilmet in ORU's opener, and Jeremy Hefner (9-1, 2.53) gives the Eagles a good shot in their second game.
New Orleans bludgeoned its way through the Sun Belt tournament, averaging nine runs per game in its four wins. But the pitching came through when it mattered, as UNO got five shutout innings from its bullpen against a dangerous Louisiana-Lafayette offense in the championship game. The Privateers will go as far as the long ball can carry them this weekend -- they average 1.46 home runs per game, fifth-best in the nation. Johnn Giavotella (.373) and Drew Anderson lead that onslaught with 15 home runs apiece, but three other players have recorded 11 homers each.
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