Commentary

Region-by-region breakdowns

Originally Published: May 30, 2008
By Aaron Fitt | Baseball America

What should we expect to see in the regional round? Aaron Fitt breaks down each of the NCAA tournament's regionals.

Ann Arbor | Athens | Baton Rouge | Cary | College Station | Conway | Fullerton | Houston | Lincoln | Long Beach | Miami | Raleigh | Stanford | Tallahassee | Tempe | Stillwater

Ann Arbor Regional

Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Teams:
No. 1 Arizona (38-17): 30th appearance, at-large, tied for fourth place in Pac-10
No. 2 Michigan (45-12): 21st appearance, automatic, Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 Kentucky (42-17): Fourth appearance, at-large, fourth place in SEC
No. 4 Eastern Michigan (25-32): Seventh appearance, automatic, MAC tournament champion
Notes:
Arizona opened the season ranked second in the nation and ascended to No. 1 in March en route to a 12-2 start. But the Wildcats struggled early in conference play, dropping five of their first six Pac-10 series before rebounding with series wins against Stanford and Arizona State in the final two weeks. Arizona's calling card is its pitching depth, and it has an unrivaled trio of power bullpen arms in left-hander Daniel Schlereth (2-0, 1.73 with 73 strikeouts in 52 innings) and righties Jason Stoffel (3-2, 3.51 with 67 strikeouts in 41 innings) and Ryan Perry (5-3, 3.21 with 63 strikeouts in 67 innings). All three have mid-90s fastballs and devastating breaking balls, giving the Wildcats an edge in close games and a security blanket in case their starters falter. And the starters have had their ups and downs this season. Of particular concern is ace righty Preston Guilmet (6-4, 3.89), who went 0-2, 10.29 in his final three conference starts. Left-handers David Coulon (7-3, 3.54) and Eric Berger (7-3, 4.53) both pitched well in wins against ASU in the final weekend. The all-or-nothing offense features four players with double-digit home runs, led by senior first baseman C.J. Ziegler's 19.

Michigan makes its fourth straight regional appearance and hosts at beautifully renovated Ray Fisher Stadium after dominating the Big Ten. The Balanced Wolverines have power, speed and athleticism in their lineup, a dominant one-two punch in the rotation and a solid bullpen. First-team preseason All-American right-hander/DH Zach Putnam (8-0, 2.64; .309 with nine homers and 47 RBIs) will go down as one of the greatest players in school history, and his heavy low-to-mid-90s fastball and plus split-finger should enable him to keep the ball in the yard against powerful Kentucky. Six-foot-8 right-hander Chris Fetter (10-1, 2.39) has been even more consistent than Putnam, and closer Michael Powers (6-4, 2.64 with seven saves) has been reliable at the end of games. Michigan lacks experienced starters after its first two but has seen flashes of promise from freshman Travis Smith (5-1, 4.40) and sophomore Eric Katzman (2-1, 3.25). Senior catcher/first baseman Nate Recknagel (.372 with 23 homers and 68 RBIs) set the Michigan single-season and career home run record, and veterans Kevin Cislo (.363), Jason Christian (.321 with seven homers) and Adam Abraham (.342 with seven homers) are solid all-around players with athleticism and toughness.

Kentucky's offensive statistics are inflated by its 19-0 start against a very soft schedule -- the Wildcats scored in double figures in each of their first nine games against the likes of Oakland and Butler -- but the numbers are impressive nonetheless. Senior outfielders Sawyer Carroll (.416/.507/.756 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs) and Collin Cowgill (.359/.487/.687 with 18 homers, 57 RBIs and 23 stolen bases) are two of the most feared hitters in the SEC. Second baseman Ryan Wilkes (.374 with nine homers) and first baseman Brian Spear (nine homers and 51 RBIs) give Kentucky two more power threats, and center fielder Keenan Wiley (.332/.396/.429) is a quality table-setter. Defense was a liability for the Wildcats last year, but they made improving it a point of emphasis in the offseason, and junior college transfer Chris McClendon and redshirt freshman Chris Wade have made a major impact on the left side of the infield. As a result, Kentucky's .973 fielding percentage ranks 15th in the nation. The pitching staff relies upon left-handers Chris Rusin (6-2, 2.84) and James Paxton (4-2, 2.92), and another lefty -- Andrew Albers (7-4, 2.63) -- anchors the bullpen. Michigan's powerful right-handed bats present a challenging matchup.

Eastern Michigan got off to an 0-17 start against a strong nonconference schedule that included trips to New Mexico, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Tennessee and Kentucky. But first-year coach Jake Boss -- a former Michigan assistant -- got his team turned around in conference play, going 15-8 to win the MAC's Western Division. The Eagles then made a perfect 4-0 run through the conference tournament, pounding top-seeded Kent State 12-4 in the finals to reach regionals for the first time since 2003, and just the second time since 1982. EMU has some decent arms on its staff, but they largely underperformed in 2008, and the staff's 7.65 ERA ranked last in the MAC and 269th in the nation. The Eagles ranked in the middle of the MAC in most offensive and defensive categories, and they figure to be overmatched by the other juggernauts in this regional. But Eastern Michigan does have quality seniors in first baseman Steve Bradshaw (.385/.481/.569) and right fielder Jeff Davis (.330/.377/.524), and that kind of experience is important in the postseason.

Athens Regional

Foley Field, Athens, Ga.
Teams:
No. 1 Georgia (35-21-1): Eighth appearance, at-large, SEC regular-season champion, No. 8 national seed
No. 2 Georgia Tech (39-19): 24th appearance, at-large, fifth place in ACC
No. 3 Louisville (41-19): Third appearance, automatic, Big East tournament champion
No. 4 Lipscomb (32-28): First appearance, automatic, Atlantic Sun tournament champion
Notes:
It's boom or bust for Georgia in the coach David Perno era, as the Bulldogs reached the College World Series in 2004 and '06 but failed to make regionals in '05 and '07. This is an even year, which means Georgia must be poised to get back to Omaha. The Bulldogs challenged themselves in the nonconference schedule with series against Pac-10 heavyweights Arizona and Oregon State, but they dropped competitive series to both. They rebounded by winning their next seven series to take control of the SEC race, and they cruised to the regular-season title by 3 1/2 games. But the Dawgs faltered down the stretch, dropping nine of their final 15 games, including an 0-2 showing in the conference tournament. Georgia's greatest asset is its deep pitching staff, which includes three juniors who have pitched on weekends for the better part of three years in righties Stephen Dodson (5-3, 3.80) and Trevor Holder (7-4, 4.48) and lefty Nathan Moreau (3-2, 5.06). The bullpen is one of the nation's most versatile, anchored by SEC pitcher of the year Joshua Fields (2-2, 1.52 with 16 saves and 53 strikeouts in 30 innings) and bolstered by seven quality relievers who all know their roles. The top half of the lineup is very dangerous, led by national player of the year candidate Gordon Beckham (.394/.507/.798 with 23 homers and 57 RBIs), but the bottom half of the order can be exploited.

Georgia Tech tied Miami for the most homers in the ACC (90), but the Yellow Jackets did much of their damage against the soft part of their schedule (just 33 of their 90 home runs came in 30 conference regular-season games) and they struggled against the ACC's elite teams. Tech played its best baseball down the stretch, however, winning quality series against Coastal Carolina, Clemson and Virginia over the final three weekends and out-slugging North Carolina State in the ACC tournament opener. Georgia Tech bludgeoned Georgia in the first two midweek meetings between the teams this year before the Bulldogs won a low-scoring meeting in mid-May. Four Jackets recorded a dozen or more homers on the year, led by sophomore first baseman Tony Plagman (.320 with 16 homers) and standout freshman shortstop Derek Dietrich (.333 with 14 homers and 66 RBIs). The pitching staff lacks depth and consistency, but left-hander David Duncan (7-3, 4.47) and righties Zach Von Tersch (7-5, 4.14) and Deck McGuire (8-1, 3.41) are all capable of dominating on the right day.

Louisville went all the way to Omaha as a No. 3 seed last year, and while the Cardinals lost seven senior starters and a dominant senior closer from that team, several key holdovers remain. Sophomore left-hander Justin Marks (9-1, 2.21) and senior righty Zack Pitts (6-5, 4.74) were Louisville's top pitchers a year ago and anchor the staff again this year. Redshirt sophomore third baseman Chris Dominguez (.369/.430/.689 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs) has as much raw power as any hitter in the country, and he followed up his freshman All-America 2007 campaign by becoming a better all-around hitter this spring, though he still struck out twice as often as he walked. Senior second baseman Justin McClanahan (.369 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs) showed promise as a utility player last year but emerged as an impact bat in a starting role this spring. Louisville's deep bullpen is anchored by fifth-year senior B.J. Rosenberg (5-4, 4.08 with nine saves), who took a medical redshirt last year and settled nicely into the bullpen this spring after struggling as a starter early.

Lipscomb finished third in the A-Sun's regular-season standings behind Florida Gulf Coast and Kennesaw State, two provisional members of the conference who weren't eligible for the A-Sun tournament. Lipscomb took advantage of their absence to win the conference tournament, averaging more than 10 runs per game in their 4-1 run to the automatic bid -- its first NCAA tournament appearance. The Bison will have a hard time matching up with the powerful, experienced teams in this regional, but they do have two of the best players in the A-Sun in junior catcher Caleb Joseph (.345 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs) and junior righty Brandon McClurg (6-5, 2.70). McClurg threw a no-hitter on March 29 against Kennesaw State and gives the Bison a chance to compete against Georgia.

Baton Rouge Regional

Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Teams:
No. 1 LSU (43-16): 22nd appearance, automatic, SEC tournament champion, No. 7 national seed
No. 2 Southern Miss (40-20): Ninth appearance, at-large, second place in Conference USA
No. 3 New Orleans (42-19): 14th appearance, at-large, second place in Sun Belt
No. 4 Texas Southern (16-32): Second appearance, automatic, SWAC tournament champion
Notes:
Coach Paul Mainieri ramped up the rebuilding process in his second season at LSU, guiding the Tigers back to regionals for the first time since 2005. It took some time for the nation's deepest recruiting class to settle in this spring, as the Tigers dropped four of their first six conference series to fall into a 6-11-1 hole in SEC play through April 20. But LSU has not lost since, ripping off a 20-game winning streak that included series sweeps against South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn, followed by a perfect 4-0 run through the SEC tournament. The key to the run has been the solidification of the pitching staff, as left-handers Ryan Verdugo (8-2, 3.61) and Blake Martin (5-3, 4.94) developed into a reliable one-two punch atop the rotation and right-hander Louis Coleman (6-0, 1.49) blossomed into a dominant complement to bullpen ace Jared Bradford (10-4, 4.09). Bradford also made seven starts for LSU and is a valuable weapon in either role. First baseman Matt Clark (22 homers and 52 RBIs) and outfielder Blake Dean (.346 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs) provide the power in a deep, athletic lineup that also ranked second in the SEC in stolen bases. This figures to be another emotional weekend at venerable Alex Box Stadium, which will be replaced by a new facility next year, and the Tigers will be eager to send the Box out with a super-regional, not just a regional.

Southern Mississippi doesn't stand out in any one phase of the game, but the Golden Eagles are well coached and seldom beat themselves. USM ranked near the bottom of CUSA in batting, scoring and stolen bases, and it ranked in the middle of the CUSA pack in ERA and fielding percentage. But Southern Miss was steady for most of the year and easily qualified for its sixth straight regional appearance. Fifth-year senior right-hander Barry Bowden (8-3, 1.62) returned from a strained muscle in his shoulder to pitch well in the final three weeks, and he'll get the start against New Orleans. Bowden's best pitch is his exceptional changeup, which figures to be a critical weapon against a hard-hitting UNO team that feasts on fastballs. The glue in USM's lineup is junior second baseman James Ewing (.369/.451/.542 with five homers and 43 RBIs), who is a tough out in the middle of the order and a leader in the middle of the diamond.

Even while its campus and community continued to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans slugged its way to its second straight regional appearance. But unlike last year, when UNO won the Sun Belt's automatic bid, the Privateers earned an at-large bid this year thanks to seven combined wins against Alabama, LSU, Tulane and Southern Miss along with second-place finishes in the regular season and conference tournament. The Privateers have plenty of veterans who played critical roles on the 2007 team that won a game against Wichita State in regionals, including second baseman Johnny Giavotella (.354 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs), third baseman Nick Schwaner (.349 with 12 homers and 54 RBIs), shortstop T.J. Baxter (.374 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs), and outfielder Joey Butler (.349 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs). The Privateers even added firepower with the transfers of catcher/DH platoon Jeff Lanning (.382 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs) and Josh Vander Hey (.357 with 12 homers and 71 RBIs). With six players in double-digits in homers, it's not surprising that UNO ranks seventh in the nation with 93 home runs. Alex Box Stadium is an offensive yard, and UNO is built to capitalize. Oh, and the Privateers have all three weekend starters back from a year ago, led by ace Bryan Cryer (12-1, 3.00), but expect coach Tom Walter to start fellow senior righty Justin Garcia (6-1, 5.59) in the opener and save Cryer for LSU. New Orleans is very familiar with LSU, having beaten the Tigers twice this year, and won't be intimidated by The Intimidator billboard at Alex Box Stadium.

At 16-32, Texas Southern has the worst record in the field of 64. The Tigers lost 17 out of 18 games during a long stretch from the end of March to the beginning of May, and they went 7-17 in the SWAC -- good enough for fourth place in the league's Western Division. But Texas Southern's offense caught fire in a perfect run through the SWAC tournament, averaging 11.25 runs in four games, culminating in a come-from-behind 12-11 win over defending champion Prairie View A&M in the finals. Texas Southern's 8.93 ERA ranks 281st out of 286 Division I teams, so expect LSU's big bats to feast in the opener. But Texas Southern does have a bit of firepower in its own right, led by junior outfielder Earnest Rhone (.406 with eight homers and 37 RBIs).

Cary Regional

USA Baseball National Training Complex, Cary, N.C.
Teams:
No. 1 North Carolina (46-12): 23rd appearance, at-large, third place in ACC, No. 2 national seed
No. 2 UNC Wilmington (42-15-1): Fourth appearance, at-large, CAA regular-season champion
No. 3 Elon (43-16): Third appearance, automatic, SoCon regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Mount St. Mary's (21-32): First appearance, automatic, NEC tournament champion
Notes:
North Carolina has reached the brink of the national title each of the last two years and is one of the favorites to finally break through and take home the hardware this year. The Tar Heels have seniors who played key roles on each of their last two College World Series teams in center fielder Seth Williams (.308/.430/.513) and third baseman Chad Flack (.291/.365/.449), the latter of whom is UNC's career hits leader and primary purveyor of gigantic hits, including go-ahead homers in the decisive game of each of the last two super-regionals. But the strength of the offense is a trio of sophomores, all of whom were also central figures on last year's Omaha team: first baseman Dustin Ackley (.399/.497/.588), outfielder Tim Fedroff (.383/.448/.634 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs) and second baseman Kyle Seager (.365/.426/.627 with 67 RBIs). The lineup is full of players with experience playing on college baseball's grandest stage, and the Tar Heels always have confidence to come from behind. Of course, their pitching staff leads the nation in ERA (2.73), strikeouts per nine innings (10.3) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.46), so coming from behind is often not necessary. The deep staff is led by the power right arms of Alex White (8-3, 2.86) and Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.50), and the bullpen has a proven stopper in senior righty Rob Wooten (5-2, 1.82 with three saves). The pitching staff is even better in the spacious confines of UNC's temporary home in Cary while Boshamer Stadium gets rebuilt.

UNC Wilmington dominated the CAA's regular season on the strength of its power bats and power arms. The Seahawks slugged 91 home runs, ninth-most in the nation, with senior catcher Mark Carver (.353 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs) and senior second baseman Daniel Hargrave (.336 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs) leading the way. But the spacious ballpark in Cary suppresses power and puts a premium on pitching and defense, where the Seahawks are inconsistent (their .960 fielding percentage ranks eighth in the CAA and 161st in the nation). Wilmington ace right-hander Bradley Holt (10-1, 3.30) might have the biggest arm in the regional full of big arms, with a fastball that touches 97 mph. But the key for the Seahawks will be getting quality outings from their other two starters: right-handers Jeff Hatcher (6-1, 4.47) and Seth Frankoff (5-2, 5.20).

The USA Baseball Training Complex plays perfectly to the strengths of Elon, which won the SoCon largely on the merits of its team speed. The Phoenix rank second in the nation with 152 stolen bases, and four Elon players racked up 20 or more steals, led by junior center fielder Chris Dove's 38. That isn't to say Elon's offense is punchless -- juniors Cory Harrilchack (.428/.507/.711 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs) and Bennett Davis (.346/.467/.649 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs) headline a formidable core of the lineup capable of punishing mistakes. In right-hander Steven Hensley (10-1, 3.34), the Phoenix have a power-armed ace capable of matching UNCW's Bradley Holt in the opener, but the staff is fairly thin after that.

Mount St. Mary's finished fourth in the NEC's regular-season standings with a 13-11 record but won four straight elimination games in the conference tournament -- including two against league favorite Monmouth -- after dropping its tournament opener against the Hawks. The Mountaineers are making their first-ever regional appearance against the two-time national runner-up, and they must be considered one of the tournament's longest shots to win a game this weekend. The Mountaineers' greatest weapon is senior first baseman Josh Vittek (.366/.410/.717 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs), who hold's the school's career home run record and the NEC's single-season home run mark. Vittek carried Mount St. Mary's to the NEC title by going 4-for-4 with a homer and a tournament-record six RBIs in the clincher against Monmouth. Vittek has some protection in senior outfielder Ryan Murray, who hit 10 home runs this year, including four immediately following Vittek blasts.

College Station Regional

Olsen Field, College Station, Texas
Teams:
No. 1 Texas A&M (43-16): 24th appearance, at-large, Big 12 regular-season champion
No. 2 Dallas Baptist (37-17): First appearance, at-large, independent
No. 3 Houston (39-22): 17th appearance, automatic, Conference USA tournament champion
No. 4 Illinois-Chicago (34-20): Fourth appearance, automatic, Horizon regular-season and tournament champion
Notes:
Texas A&M ripped off 16 consecutive Big 12 victories before dropping a pair of heartbreakers at Nebraska in a May 11 doubleheader, starting an eight-game losing streak that finally ended in A&M's final game in Big 12 tournament pool play. Still, the Aggies won the regular-season title by one game over Oklahoma State and will host a regional for the second straight year. In 2007, A&M held off Louisiana-Lafayette to win its regional before falling to Rice in a super-regional, and many of the key bats from that team are still around. While senior second baseman Blake Stouffer (.252 with five homers) slumped after earning All-America honors as a junior, other Aggies emerged as stars, including dynamic third baseman Dane Carter (.382/.457/.609 with eight homers, 59 RBIs and 13 steals), hulking first baseman Luke Anders (.335 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs) and athletic center fielder Kyle Colligan (.312 with 10 homers and 12 steals). As usual with a Rob Childress-coached team, the Aggies' hallmark is the pressure it puts on opposing defenses with its aggressive baserunning. The pitching staff relies heavily upon freshmen, and while righty Barret Loux (5-2, 4.25) got stronger as the year went on, lefty Brooks Raley (6-2, 4.76) seemed to tire down the stretch. But the pitching staff has no shortage of quality arms, including bullpen stalwarts Travis Starling (8-0, 3.53 with nine saves) and Kyle Thebeau (5-4, 1.87 with 70 strikeouts in 67 innings).

Dallas Baptist became the first independent team other than Miami to earn an at-large regional bid since Cal State Northridge in 1992. It was an uphill climb, as the Patriots had to play 27 games on the road and just 19 at home, but they earned a surprise No. 2 seed on the strength of quality wins against Rice, Oral Roberts, Baylor, Texas A&M and San Francisco. In right-handers Jordan Meaker (7-1, 4.28) and Victor Black (1-5, 4.64), the Patriots have a pair of power arms that give them a chance to beat any team on any given day. DBU also has one of the nation's strongest bullpens, anchored by the dynamic duo of Tyson Bagley (4-2, 2.19 with 11 saves) and Chris Haney (6-4, 2.33 with three saves). The lineup is deep and balanced with three players with double-digit home runs and three with double-digit steals. DBU's best all-around player, junior center fielder Evan Bigley (.340/.388/.602 with 13 homers, 58 RBIs and 13 steals), does a bit of everything.

Unlike most teams in the Texas area, Houston challenged itself in nonconference play with series against three quality California programs--UC Santa Barbara, San Francisco and San Diego State. The Cougars won two of those series and also notched big conference series wins against East Carolina and Tulane, and they beat the Pirates twice more in their run to the CUSA tournament title. Houston's greatest strength is its speed: the Cougars rank fourth in the nation with 2.31 stolen bases per game, and every player in the lineup can run. Senior second baseman Ryan Lormand (29 steals in 31 attempts) leads a group of six Cougars with double-digit steals. The lineup also has power threats in Bryan Pounds and Jake Stewart, who combined to hit 23 homers. Houston's pitching staff lacks depth, but it has three impact arms in left-hander Wes Musick (8-4, 4.08), righty John Touchton (5-3, 3.98) and closer Chase Dempsay (6-3, 2.50 with 11 saves).

Illinois-Chicago edged Wright State by a half-game in the regular season but didn't play the Raiders in their run to the conference tournament title. The Flames are battle tested, having held their own in early series at Tulane and Vanderbilt; three of those six games were decided by one run, and UIC got the victory against Vandy ace Mike Minor. Undersized right-handers Mike Kool (6-4, 3.92) and Derrick Miramontes (6-2, 3.31) make up for their small statures with their competitiveness, and closer Adam Worthington (2-3, 2.98 with five saves) is a weapon in the bullpen. UIC's most dangerous hitter is 6-foot-4 junior first baseman Brett Schaefer (.384/.453/.626 with 10 homers and 58 RBIs), but the lineup is filled with tough outs.

Conway Regional

Charles Watson Stadium/Vrooman Field, Conway, S.C.
Teams:
No. 1 Coastal Carolina (47-12): Eighth appearance, automatic, Big South regular-season and tournament champion
No. 2 East Carolina (40-19): 23rd appearance, at-large, fifth place in Conference USA
No. 3 Alabama (34-26): 16th appearance, at-large, fifth place in SEC
No. 4 Columbia (22-28): Second appearance, automatic, Ivy League tournament champion
Notes:
Coastal Carolina has emerged as a mid-major superpower in recent years and dominated the Big South to host a regional for the second straight year. In 2007, the Chanticleers lost the Myrtle Beach regional to Clemson, but they returned the nucleus of that team in outfielders David Sappelt (.344/.410/.632 with 16 homers, 61 RBIs) and Tommy Baldridge (.347/.430/.540), first baseman/right-hander David Anderson (.342 with 17 homers; 5-2, 3.91) and righty Bobby Gagg (6-2, 2.92), who missed time down the stretch with a strained oblique muscle but returned with a strong start in the Big South tourney. Dynamic newcomers Scott Woodward (.357 with seven homers and 40 stolen bases) and Adam Rice (.351 with eight homers and 12 steals) bring speed to the mix and make the Chanticleers even more dangerous than they were a year ago. Power-armed closer Pete Andrelczyk (5-1, 3.38 with nine saves) anchored a bullpen that is much-improved from 2007.

East Carolina was swept twice down the stretch in conference play and went just 1-2 in the conference tournament, foiling its hopes to host a regional. But like Coastal, the Pirates have a deep, versatile offense that can beat opponents a number of ways. Senior catcher Corey Kemp (.349/.446/.627 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs) had a breakout year that propelled him to CUSA player of the year honors. Veterans Ryan Wood, Kyle Roller and Stephen Batts joined Kemp with double-digit home runs, while gritty center fielder Harrison Eldridge (.355 with 32 steals in 37 attempts) leads a group of four Pirates with double-digit steals, including Wood and Batts. CUSA freshman of the year Seth Maness (9-1, 2.87) and newcomer of the year Justin Bristow (8-2, 3.22) emerged as ECU's best pitchers while senior righty T.J. Hose (6-4, 5.02) struggled to match last year's consistency, but the Pirates will need Hose to be at his best to go far in the postseason.

Alabama doesn't do anything flashy, but the Crimson Tide just finds ways to win. 'Bama won five series this year against regional teams (Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia); the rest of the teams in this regional combined to win one series against regional teams. Four Alabama players recorded double-digit home runs this year, while shortstop Josh Rutledge (.375/.432/.426 with 14 steals) emerged as a quality table-setter, and outfielder Brandon May (.377/.463/.561 with nine homers and 49 RBIs) blossomed into one of the SEC's best all-around hitters. Left-hander Miers Quigley (5-4, 5.35) has the best arm on the staff, but righty Austin Hyatt (4-4, 4.64) was Alabama's most reliable starter down the stretch. Alabama's Achilles' heel might be its defense--the Tide ranked last in the SEC in fielding percentage (.959). Of course, ECU wasn't much better (.962), but Coastal led the Big South and ranked 25th in the nation (.971).

Columbia got off to an 0-8 start with road trips to Duke and Pepperdine in early March, but the Lions recovered to go 15-5 in the Ivy League and took two out of three in a high-scoring championship series against Dartmouth, punching their ticket to regionals for the first time since 1976. The Lions don't have any power arms on the mound, and their 6.26 ERA ranked seventh in the eight-team Ivy and 210th in the nation. But they have good senior leadership in second baseman Henry Perkins (.371/.437/.570) and outfielder Noah Cooper (.310/.397/.405), as well as a quality catalyst in dynamic freshman Nick Cox (.359/.405/.495 with 27 steals in 31 attempts). Columbia's speed is its best asset: the Lions led the Ivy and ranked 17th in the nation with 1.88 steals per game.

Fullerton Regional

Goodwin Field, Fullerton, Calif.
Teams:
No. 1 Cal State Fullerton (37-19): 30th appearance, at-large, tied for first place in Big West, No. 5 national seed
No. 2 UCLA (31-25): 15th appearance, at-large, third place in Pac-10 Conference
No. 3 Virginia (38-21): Eighth appearance, at-large, sixth place in ACC
No. 4 Rider (29-26): 12th appearance, automatic, MAAC tournament champion
Notes:
Cal State Fullerton scrapped its way to Omaha with one of its least talented teams in recent years in 2007, and the Titans lost their best pitcher (Wes Roemer) and best hitter (Clark Hardman) to the draft after the season. They also lost coach George Horton to Oregon, but they replaced him with the reigning national coach of the year, former Fullerton assistant and UC Irvine head coach Dave Serrano. Known as a pitching guru, Serrano worked wonders with the staff he inherited at Fullerton. Senior right-hander Jeff Kaplan (11-1, 4.00) recovered from a slow start to earn tri-pitcher of the year honors in the Big West, and junior righty Cory Arbiso (11-3, 4.53) took a major leap forward after going winless in 20 innings his first two years at Fullerton. A stiff shoulder could affect Arbiso this weekend, though Serrano said it's "nothing major." and Kaplan had emergency surgery this week after getting a metal fragment in his eye in a freak accident. The Titans expect him to be available for Saturday as well, but it's something to monitor. Right-hander Brian Wilson (1-2, 5.32) will get the start in the opener. Fullerton's true strength is its dynamic offense, which features excellent pure hitters in outfielders Erik Komatsu (.354/.451/.579 with seven homers and 47 RBIs) and Josh Fellhauer (.350/.408/.540 with seven homers and 37 RBIs). Typical of a Serrano team, the Titans also rank among the national leaders with 72 sacrifice bunts (fourth), 105 hit batsmen (third) and 112 stolen bases (10th).

UCLA reached super-regionals with a freshman-and- sophomore-dominated team in 2007 before losing to Cal State Fullerton, and the Bruins garnered a preseason No. 1 ranking this spring on the strength of their supreme talent on the mound and in the lineup. But UCLA was one of the nation's major disappointments for most of the year, as its stars pressed and injuries depleted what was expected to be a deep pitching staff. Still, the Bruins won their final two weekend series against Washington State and California to finish third in the Pac-10 and earn a No. 2 seed. Ace left-hander Tim Murphy (5-6, 3.52) threw 16 consecutive scoreless innings in wins against the Cougars and Golden Bears, and sophomore righty Charles Brewer (8-4, 5.09) followed with 5 2/3 strong innings in another shutout of the potent Bears on Saturday. UCLA will need both to remain at peak form this weekend, but even more critical will be getting sophomore lefty Gavin Brooks (6-2, 4.91) to pitch like he did in the postseason last year, when he threw a complete-game two-hitter against Illinois-Chicago in regionals and struck out 12 in a tough-luck 2-1 loss to the Titans in super-regionals. Perhaps UCLA's greatest asset is its strength up the middle, where catcher Ryan Babineau, shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Alden Carrithers are all standout defenders. Babineau, in particular, will be a key against the potent running games of Virginia and Fullerton; he threw out 43 percent of base stealers this year.

Virginia did not win a season all year against a regional team but took care of business against the bottom half of the ACC to finish 15-15 in conference. The Cavaliers beat North Carolina and Florida State in the ACC tournament before falling to Miami in the championship game. Virginia plays a less intense brand of West Coast baseball, relying heavily on pitching and speed, though it doesn't employ sacrifices the way Fullerton does. Virginia stole 2.27 bases per game (fifth-most in the nation), with All-ACC shortstop Greg Miclat (.322/.418/.383 with 30 steals in 36 attempts) leading a group of seven Cavs with double-digit steals. The lone power threats in the lineup are juniors Jeremy Farrell (.320 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs) and David Adams (.282 with six homers and 50 RBIs), as UVa. ranks 240th in the nation with 25 homers. But the Virginia pitching staff ranks 18th in ERA (3.88), headlined by national ERA leader Matt Packer (6-2, 1.16 in 62 innings, mostly in relief) and fellow left-hander Pat McAnaney (4-5, 3.67 with 92 strikeouts in 81 innings). Right-hander Jacob Thompson (6-4, 4.40) was an All-American last year but displayed less velocity and command for most of this year before coming on down the stretch. The deep bullpen is anchored by Packer and right-handed closer Michael Schwimer (3-1, 1.84 with 13 saves).

Rider surged to a 12-6 start in conference play after sweeping Niagara in late April, but the Broncs dropped nine of their final 11 regular-season games and were no-hit by LeMoyne's Eric Beaulac. Rider abruptly reversed its fortunes in the MAAC tournament as the No. 4 seed, toppling top-seeded Canisius and going 2-1 against preseason favorite Siena to clinch a regional bid for the first time since 1994. Right-hander Jimmer Kennedy (7-4, 3.91) allowed just three hits over eight shutout innings in the win against Siena, which had scored 24 runs the previous day against Manhattan. Two-way star James Hayes (3-2, 3.26 with 11 saves; .335 with 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts) is a major difference maker atop the lineup and at the back of the bullpen.

Houston Regional

Reckling Park, Houston
Teams:
No. 1 Rice (42-13): 14th appearance, at-large, Conference USA regular-season champion, No. 6 national seed
No. 2 Texas (37-20): 52nd appearance, automatic, Big 12 tournament champion
No. 3 St. John's (41-14): 31st appearance, at-large, Big East regular-season champion
No. 4 Sam Houston State (37-23): Fifth appearance, automatic, Southland Conference tournament champion
Notes:
Rice had to reload after losing a number of mainstays from its back-to-back College World Series teams to the draft last year, and the Owls got off to a slow 6-5 start while its new faces adjusted. It didn't take long for everybody to settle in, and Rice cruised to a 21-3 conference record and its third CUSA regular-season title in three years in the league. The Owls were stunned by Alabama-Birmingham and East Carolina in the conference tournament, but that might actually play to their advantage by giving their pitching staff extra time to rest up for the NCAA tournament. That staff is one of the nation's deepest, with four quality starters in right-handers Ryan Berry (7-4, 3.10), Chris Kelley (5-1, 3.23), Matt Langwell (5-1, 4.38) and Mike Ojala (5-0, 4.21) to go along with a strong bullpen anchored by senior lefty Cole St.Clair (8-2, 2.88 with five saves). The lineup doesn't have as much punch as in past years but still has power threats in catcher Adam Zornes (11 homers) and streaky outfielder Aaron Luna (nine homers). First baseman J.P. Padron (.354) took a major step forward this year, while third baseman Diego Seastrunk (.374 with 54 RBIs) and freshman shortstop Rick Hague (.343 with eight homers) emerged as the next wave of Rice superstars.

It's been an atypical year for Texas, which slumped to 8-10 in the Big 12 when Oklahoma State swept the Longhorns in Austin on April 20. Texas bounced back by winning its final three conference series, culminating in a sweep of rival Texas A&M, but still finished in fifth place in the regular-season standings. The Horns carried their momentum over to the conference tournament, going 3-1 to win the championship, but they were snubbed for a regional host and punished further by being sent to the same regional as No. 5 national seed Rice. Junior outfielder Kyle Russell recovered from a very slow start to hit .297 with 15 home runs, and every starter is capable of hitting the ball out of the park now and then. Texas has an intelligent lineup that excels at making adjustments on the fly, and there are no easy outs, starting with leadoff man Michael Torres (.344 with 35 walks and 15 strikeouts in 224 at-bats). But the key to Texas' second-half surge has been the solidification of its weekend rotation. Freshman righty Chance Ruffin (7-3, 2.04) has emerged as the staff ace, and veterans Kenn Kasparek (4-3, 3.95) and Austin Wood (6-3, 4.58) have pitched well behind him.

St. John's went 20-7 in Big East play to win the conference's regular-season title, and the Red Storm contended to host a regional until going 0-2 at the conference tournament. The Johnnies gained valuable experience in the Myrtle Beach regional a year ago and have plenty of key players remaining from that team, including athletic outfielders Brian Kemp (.359/.448/.484 with 16 stolen bases) and Chris Anninos (.275 with a team-leading 12 homers), but the lineup lacks power threats after Anninos. The strength of the team is its deep pitching staff, whose 3.72 ERA ranks 12th in the nation. Left-handers Scott Barnes (9-0, 2.73) and George Brown (7-3, 3.92) are fierce competitors who won't be cowed by the Longhorns or Owls, and closer Colin Lynch (3-1, 3.76 with 13 saves) brings good stuff and moxie to the bullpen.

Sam Houston State won the Southland Conference tournament as a No. 4 seed for the second year in a row. Last year the Bearkats made quite a bit of noise in the Oxford regional, winning games against Troy and Southern Mississippi before falling to top-seeded Ole Miss in the finals. Senior outfielders Keith Stein (.354 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs), Bobby Verbick (.351 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs) and Todd Sebek (.356 with 24 steals in 27 attempts) give Sam Houston State a potent core with regional experience, and Baylor transfer Seth Hammock (.381 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs) adds even more punch to a lineup that leads all teams in this regional with 61 home runs. Freshman right-hander Dallas Gallant (9-3, 5.15) has come on strong down the stretch, allowing just one run in a complete-game win in a Southland tournament win against Northwestern State, but he'll have his hands full with Rice in the opener. If he can keep the Owls at bay, the Bearkats' explosive offense could power them to an upset.

Lincoln Regional

Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Lincoln, Neb.
Teams:
No. 1 Nebraska (40-14): 12th appearance, at-large, third place in Big 12
No. 2 UC Irvine (38-16): Fourth appearance, at-large, tied for third in Big West
No. 3 Oral Roberts (46-12): 20th appearance, automatic, Summit League regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Eastern Illinois (34-19): Second appearance, automatic, Ohio Valley tournament champion
Notes:
Nebraska coach Mike Anderson is the first to admit his team played above its talent level in 2008 after underachieving with a more talented bunch in 2007. Nebraska's sum is greater than its parts, but the Cornhuskers play better team baseball than anyone in the Big 12. They seldom make mistakes and excel at capitalizing on opponents' missteps. And few teams feed off the energy of their home crowd better than Nebraska, which went 28-3-1 at Haymarket Park. The Huskers' greatest asset is their experience: They lean heavily upon seniors Jake Opitz (.335 with eight homers and 45 RBIs), Mitch Abeita (.333 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs), Bryce Nimmo (.293), Craig Corriston (.283), Johnny Dorn (6-1, 2.38) and Thad Weber (8-4, 5.67). The biggest arm on the staff belongs to junior righty Aaron Pribanic (3-4, 4.42), but do-it-all junior righty Dan Jennings (6-3, 2.95 with four saves and eight starts in 22 appearances) might be Nebraska's most valuable pitcher.

UC Irvine is a high-octane version of Nebraska. Instead of waiting for opponents to make mistakes, the Anteaters force opponents to beat themselves by applying constant pressure with their speed and small game. Irvine's clinical execution carried it all the way to the College World Series a year ago, and two of its primary catalysts returned in center fielder Ollie Linton (.323/.419/.400 with 37 stolen bases in 45 attempts) and shortstop Ben Orloff (.356/.457/.431 with 19 steals). The Anteaters lead the nation with 88 sacrifice bunts, and Orloff has turned it into an art form. Linton, Orloff and catcher Aaron Lowenstein also give the Anteaters premium defenders up the middle, and Jeff Cusick is another standout defender at first base. Irvine's 2.87 ERA ranks second in the nation, and there's not a better big-game pitcher in the nation than junior right-hander Scott Gorgen (10-3, 1.90). Righty Bryce Stowell (7-2, 3.04) and lefty Daniel Bibona (8-3, 3.10) blossomed into reliable starters behind Gorgen in the rotation. The Anteaters should keep the score low, but the key will be getting timely hits -- and they have a knack for it.

Oral Roberts cruised to its 11th straight conference regular-season title and 11th straight conference tournament title in the newly renamed Summit League, and along the way the Golden Eagles notched eight quality wins against Arkansas, Dallas Baptist, Wichita State, Baylor and Pepperdine. So ORU is accustomed to playing strong competition and is a serious threat to win this regional. The Golden Eagles are far and away the most offensive team in Lincoln, and their 74 home runs are seven more than the combined totals of Nebraska and UC Irvine. Five ORU players recorded nine or more home runs, led by senior outfielder Brian Van Kirk (.421/.509/.751 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs). Oral Roberts has solid front-line pitching headlined by right-hander Jerry Sullivan (9-2, 3.61), though depth is a concern after the top five arms. The key for Oral Roberts against UC Irvine will be how well catcher Ben Petralli can control the running game (he threw out eight of 24 base stealers this spring), and how well third baseman David Genao (who made 14 errors and posted a .956 fielding percentage) adapts to Irvine's aggressive bunting game.

Eastern Illinois recovered from an eight-game losing streak in late April and early May to sneak into the OVC tournament by one game. The Panthers caught fire at the right time, making a perfect 4-0 run through the conference tournament to secure their first regional appearance since 1999. Like Nebraska and UC Irvine, the Panthers rely more on execution and speed than power--they hit just 30 home runs as a team, the fewest in this regional. Eastern Illinois' biggest offensive threat is its leadoff man, junior center fielder Brett Nommensen (.397/.518/.588 with four homers and 30 RBIs), who packs gap power into his compact 5-foot-10 frame and is a very difficult out, as illustrated by his 35-13 BB-K ratio. Six-foot-4 freshman right-hander Josh Mueller turned in one of his best starts of the season in the conference tournament, limiting Tennessee Tech to one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings, but he issued 41 walks in 68 innings this year and will need to throw strikes against Nebraska's patient hitters.

Long Beach Regional

Blair Field, Long Beach, Calif.
Teams:
No. 1 Long Beach State (37-19): 18th appearance, automatic, Big West champion
No. 2 San Diego (41-15): Fifth appearance, automatic, West Coast regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 California (33-19-2): 10th appearance, at-large, tied for fourth place in Pacific-10
No. 4 Fresno State (37-27): 30th appearance, automatic, WAC regular-season and tournament champion
Notes:
Long Beach State entered the season ranked 13th in the nation and as the favorite to win the Big West, and while their path was circuitous, the Dirtbags did earn the Big West title with a win against Cal State Fullerton on the final day of the season. LBSU started out strong with series wins against Rice, Wichita State, USC and UCLA in the first five weeks of the season, but the Dirtbags went 1-9 on a 10-game road trip in late March and early April, and they dropped early conference series against UC Irvine and UC Davis before rallying down the stretch. As a team that relies upon its pitching, defense and execution, the Beach is much better at spacious Blair Field (23-7) than on the road (14-12), so earning a home regional was critical. Big West tri-pitcher of the year (along with Fullerton's Jeff Kaplan and UC Irvine's Scott Gorgen) Andrew Liebel (8-3, 1.81) garners comparisons to Yankees right-hander Ian Kennedy for his four-pitch mix and feel for pitching, and he anchors a deep, talented pitching staff. Junior righty Vance Worley (7-3, 4.41) and closer Bryan Shaw (2-1, 1.29 with eight saves) both have big-time arms and freshman righty Jake Thompson (2-5, 4.95) has held his own in the rotation after skipping his senior year of high school. Big West co-player of the year Shane Peterson (.399/.510/.601 with seven homers and 50 RBIs) and senior outfielder Jason Corder (.305 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs) provide the punch in an otherwise punchless lineup that struggled frequently this year, scoring just 5.9 runs per game (213th in the nation).

San Diego opened the year at No. 11 in the rankings and stayed in the top 25 all year, climbing to No. 7 this week. The Toreros won the WCC's regular-season and championship series for the second year in a row, but eight early games against Hawaii-Hilo and Harvard hurt their RPI, and they were given a No. 2 seed in the nation's toughest regional at Long Beach. Blair Field suppresses offense, and so does USD's phenomenal pitching staff, led by junior left-hander Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.88 with 131 strikeouts and 21 walks in 96 innings), one of the top candidates for national player of the year honors and the No. 1 overall pick. Center fielder/left-hander Josh Romanski (.316/.406/.481 with six homers; 9-0, 3.76) is the heart and soul of the Toreros and one of the nation's best two-way players. Like Long Beach, the Toreros have a grinder mentality offensively, but they also have some punch in freshman third baseman Victor Sanchez (team-leading 12 homers), the centerpiece of the nation's top recruiting class last year.

After being snubbed for regionals the last two years, California finally forced the selection committee to give it an at-large bid this year, but the Bears still got the short end of the stick by earning a No. 3 seed in the regional of death despite being ranked No. 20 in the nation. The Golden Bears swept a three-game series against top-seeded Long Beach State earlier this year and went 6-0 total against the three other teams in this regional. But Cal gets a lot of its offense from the long ball -- particularly from junior first baseman David Cooper (.363 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs) and senior second baseman Josh Satin (.388 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs) -- and that style of play is not a great fit for Blair Field. Of course the Golden Bears have some pretty good arms to throw out there, starting with junior right-hander Tyson Ross (7-3, 4.40), who ran his fastball into the mid-90s and showed much more confidence in his changeup in the second half of the year. Closer Matt Gorgen (2-2, 3.20 with nine saves) anchors a strong bullpen, but the key will be how well Cal's other inconsistent pitchers fare this weekend.

Fresno State opened the year ranked No. 18 but stumbled to an 8-12 start before recovering to win the WAC's regular season and conference tournament for the third straight year. Fresno's chances took a major hit when ace right-hander Tanner Scheppers (8-2, 2.93 with 109 strikeouts in 71 innings) -- a potential top-10 overall pick in the draft -- went down in mid-May with shoulder pain, ending his season. But the Bulldogs still have a nice collection of experienced, quality arms, led by left-handers Justin Wilson (6-4, 4.29) and righty Clayton Allison (2-5, 4.17), plus a stalwart closer in Brandon Burke (4-5, 3.26 with 10 saves). The lineup has some power, led by senior outfielder Steve Susdorft (.347 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs), first baseman Alan Ahmady (.389 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs) and third baseman Tommy Mendonca (.273 with 14 homers). One major concern: Danny Muno (21 errors, .903 fielding percentage) is a defensive liability at shortstop, and this regional should place a premium on execution.

Miami Regional

Mark Light Field, Miami, Fla.
Teams:
No. 1 Miami (47-8): 37th appearance, automatic, ACC regular-season and tournament champion, No. 1 national seed
No. 2 Missouri (38-19): 20th appearance, at-large, fourth place in Big 12
No. 3 Mississippi (37-24): 14th appearance, at-large, eighth place in SEC
No. 4 Bethune Cookman (36-20): Ninth appearance, automatic, MEAC regular-season and tournament champion
Notes:
Miami dominated from the start of the season to the finish, winning the ACC's regular-season and tournament titles to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. For their troubles, the Hurricanes were rewarded with the most difficult path to Omaha of any top seed, with a pair of preseason top-10 teams in their regional (Missouri and Mississippi) and two more potentially waiting in the super-regionals (Arizona and Michigan). And Miami draws a strong No. 4 seed in its first game in Bethune-Cookman, which played the 'Canes tough in two regular-season meetings. Still, Miami is strong in every facet of the game and enters the tournament as the favorite to win the national championship. The Hurricanes garners plenty of headlines for a deep, explosive lineup anchored by preseason All-Americans Yonder Alonso (.381 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs), Jemile Weeks (.374 with 11 steals, 55 RBIs and 19 steals in 20 tries), Dennis Raben (.314 with eight homers and 45 RBIs) and Blake Tekotte (.371 with 10 homers and 25 steals in 31 tries). But the last four national champions have ranked among the top 20 in the nation in fielding percentage, and the Hurricanes rank sixth (.975), with premium defenders up the middle in Tekotte, Weeks and shortstop Ryan Jackson. Miami's oft-overlooked pitching staff ranks 21st in the nation in ERA (3.96), led by competitive lefties Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.44) and Eric Erickson (7-1, 4.31). The bullpen has a dynamite one-two punch in sidearmer Kyle Bellamy (5-0, 1.94) and sinkerballer Carlos Gutierrez (4-2, 2.92).

Missouri garnered a preseason No. 6 ranking on the strength of its bevy of power arms, but its pitching staff cooled down after a hot start and wound up with a 4.54 ERA (54th in the nation). Junior right-hander Aaron Crow (12-0, 2.56 with 117 strikeouts in 98 innings) is one of the three or four best pitchers in the nation, with an explosive mid-90s fastball and vicious breaking ball, and sophomore righty Kyle Gibson (9-2, 3.40) could follow in his footsteps as a top-10 pick next June. Gibson spent most of the season in the rotation before shifting to relief late in the season to stabilize Missouri's disappointing bullpen, but the Tigers will surely be tempted to start him in a potential Game Two matchup against Miami, which would put pressure on power righties Nick Tepesch (1-3, 5.33 with four saves) and Ryan Allen (2-1, 3.67) and soft-tossing lefty Scooter Hicks (3-2, 4.32 with five saves) to hold down the bullpen. Missouri's other starters, right-hander Ian Berger (4-5, 4.32) and lefty Rick Zagone (2-3, 4.91) have had their ups and downs this season but generally pitched well down the stretch. The offense has a West Coast flavor, relying heavily upon hit batsmen and sacrifices, but outfielders Aaron Senne (.358 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs) and Jacob Priday (.343 with 16 homers and 62 RBIs) do provide some power.

Like Missouri, Mississippi's gaudy preseason ranking (fourth) was largely predicated on its deep stable of big-time arms, but the Rebels were one of the nation's biggest disappointments for most of the season before rallying to reach the SEC tournament championship game. That late run contained several reasons for encouragement, notably a strong 12-strikeout performance from junior right-hander Lance Lynn (7-3, 4.21) and hot hitting from outfielders Jordan Henry (.294 with 14 stolen bases) and Michael Guerrero (.303 with nine homers, including five in five games at the SEC tournament). Henry endured a mighty sophomore slump in the first half of the season but has re-emerged as an igniter atop the Ole Miss lineup down the stretch. The Rebels have a freshman left-hander with power stuff to potentially throw at Miami in Drew Pomeranz (4-3, 4.30), but they'll need junior right-hander Cody Satterwhite (3-5, 5.40) to live up to his enormous potential if they're to reach their fourth straight super-regional. Mississippi's greatest weapon is bullpen ace Scott Bittle (6-1, 1.63 with eight saves), who used an exceptional cutter to lead the nation with 16.02 strikeouts per nine innings.

Bethune-Cookman dominated the MEAC as usual to reach regionals for the ninth time in 10 years, but the Wildcats have been stuck in the state of Florida for eight of those regionals, and this is their third appearance at a regional in Coral Gables. This year's edition might be the most dangerous B-CU club yet (its winning percentage was the second-best in school history), and the Wildcats have had two weeks to rest up since winning the MEAC tournament. Junior right-hander Hiram Burgos (9-1, 1.20), who ranks second in the nation in ERA, gives the Wildcats better than a fighting chance against Miami, though his lone loss of the year came against Miami in March. Bethune-Cookman has two more quality starters behind him in Joseph Gautier (6-2, 2.00) and Eric Thomas (9-0, 2.04), who is slated to start B-CU's second game. The lineup isn't flashy but has a bona fide star in MEAC player of the year Jose Lozada (.414/.514/.660 with seven homers, 57 RBIs and 13 steals), a senior shortstop. Senior first baseman Osvaldo Torres (.339 with 12 homers and 72 RBIs) brings plenty of pop.

Raleigh Regional

Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh, N.C.
Teams:
No. 1 North Carolina State (38-20): 22nd appearance, at-large, fourth place in ACC
No. 2 South Carolina (38-21): 24th appearance, at-large, seventh place in SEC
No. 3 Charlotte (43-14): Fourth appearance, automatic, Atlantic-10 tournament champion
No. 4 James Madison (38-17): Seventh appearance, automatic, CAA tournament champion
Notes:
North Carolina State is the lone pitching-oriented team in a regional filled with big offenses. The Wolfpack's 3.41 ERA ranks fourth in the nation and helps explain its 18-11 conference record, which was the single biggest factor in earning it a home regional. Junior right-hander Clayton Shunick (7-5, 2.12 with a 100-21 K-BB ratio in 89 innings) emerged as the ace of the staff thanks to a quality four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a devastating split-finger, which should help him keep the ball in the park against the big home run hitters in this regional. Left-hander Eric Surkamp (5-2, 4.39) gives the 'Pack another proven winner with good stuff, and he pitched very well down the stretch, including in a victory at Florida State. A big blow was the loss of left-handed closer Jimmy Gillheeney (2-0, 1.12 with 10 saves and 42 strikeouts in 32 innings) to an undisclosed "student privacy issue" with the university -- he will not be available to pitch this weekend. That means right-hander Eryk McConnell (4-2, 5.18) must put his senior year troubles behind him and revert to last year's form, when he posted a 1.72 ERA and 11 saves.

South Carolina spent much of the first half of the season around the top 10 in the rankings fading in conference play. The Gamecocks were swept in three conference road series and finished seventh in the SEC, but they still earned a No. 2 seed in Raleigh -- the old stomping grounds of South Carolina coach and former NCSU coach Ray Tanner. Most of Tanner's South Carolina teams rank near the top of the nation in home runs and fielding percentage, and this team is no exception: its 103 homers rank third, and its .978 fielding percentage ranks second. Few teams have a quartet of power hitters as dangerous as senior DH Phil Disher (.309 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs) and juniors Justin Smoak (.377 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs), Reese Havens (.363 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs) and James Darnell (.310 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs). The pitching staff lacks power arms and consistent starters, but senior right-hander Nick Godwin (7-3, 3.02) has emerged down the stretch as South Carolina's most reliable arm.

Charlotte posted its second straight 40-win season and reached regionals in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The 49ers have gone 6-2 against the other three teams in this regional over the last two seasons, registering at least one win over each of them. Four of those games came last year in the Columbia, S.C., regional, when Charlotte beat N.C. State twice and lost twice to South Carolina. This year's 49ers feature a number of key holdovers from last year's team, including outfielder Brad McElroy (.364/.460/.565 with seven homers and 46 RBIs), third baseman Aaron Bray (.333/.423/.453) and catcher Chris Taylor (.343/.432/.665 with 19 homers and 69 RBIs) -- the Atlantic-10 player of the year. Sophomore DH Rob Lyerly (.367/.422/.705 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs) has made a huge impact since transferring from Campbell, sliding into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. The pitching staff isn't as strong as it was a year ago, when All-American Adam Mills helped Charlotte lead the nation in ERA, but 6-foot-6 freshman righty Joe Yermal (8-1, 3.81) is a quality ace in his own right, and redshirt freshman righty Kelly McLain (7-0, 1.98 with a 50-9 K-BB ratio in 50 innings) has emerged as the anchor of a strong bullpen.

James Madison went 20-9 in the CAA to finish second in the regular season, five games behind UNC Wilmington. But the Dukes caught fire in the conference tournament, going 4-0 to secure their first regional bid since 2002. JMU is a physical, offensive team, and sophomore first baseman Steven Caseres (.349/.440/.749 with 21 homers and 68 RBIs) might have more power than any hitter in this regional outside Smoak and Darnell. Caseres launched two homers against flame-throwing UNCW ace Bradley Holt on May 9, proving he can handle elite velocity, and he homered twice more in the CAA tourney. Three other Dukes hit seven or more home runs, led by junior outfielder Brett Sellers (.414/.473/.752 with 16 homers, 52 RBIs and 15 steals). While Dukes coach Spanky McFarland has literally written a book on the subject, pitching is not JMU's strength; their top arm is 6-foot-6 junior right-hander Kurt Houck (7-2, 4.86).

Stanford Regional

Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto, Calif.
Teams:
No. 1 Stanford (33-21-2): 28th appearance, at-large, second place in Pac-10
No. 2 Pepperdine (36-18): 25th appearance, at-large, second place in West Coast
No. 3 Arkansas (34-22): 21st appearance, at-large, ninth place in SEC
No. 4 UC Davis (34-22): First appearance, at-large, sixth place in Big West
Notes:
After missing regionals last year for the first time since 1993, Stanford bounced back and became one of 2008's most pleasant surprises. The Cardinal climbed as high as No. 3 in the rankings and won 10 straight weekend series, including sets against Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Texas, Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA. But the Cardinal's lack of pitching depth sabotaged it in midweek action, helping explain its modest overall record. Ace left-hander Jeremy Bleich (2-2, 1.24) was limited to six starts by injuries, though he returned to throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the final game of the regular season, which could be a major development for the Cardinal. In Bleich's absence, junior right-hander/third baseman Austin Yount (4-3, 3.88) moved into the Friday starter spot, giving Stanford a second quality starter alongside senior righty Erik Davis (7-2, 4.22). The best arm on the staff among pitchers who work regularly belongs to freshman closer Drew Storen (2-3, 2.89 with six saves). Stanford's lineup is deep and athletic, and it has good power sources in junior catcher Jason Castro (.369/.418/.592 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs) and junior outfielder Sean Ratliff (.286 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs). Perhaps Stanford's most important bat is hulking first baseman Brent Milleville (.324 with nine homers and 47 RBIs), a right-handed power threat in the middle of a very left-handed-leaning lineup.

Pepperdine finished second in a deep West Coast Conference despite losing seven players to the draft and getting just 15 innings out of ace right-hander Brett Hunter because of arm injuries. Hunter slowly started working his way back over the last few weeks, but he did not pitch in the WCC championship series and remains a question mark heading into this weekend. The Waves have gotten used to being without him, though, and newcomers Nathan Newman (7-4, 3.52), Scott Alexander (7-4, 4.44) and Matt Bywater (7-2, 4.97) have held down the rotation. But losing junior outfielder Eric Thames (.407/.513/.769 with 13 homers, 59 RBIs and 11 steals) -- the WCC player of the year -- is another story. Thames injured his upper leg while running out a ground ball May 16 against Santa Clara, and MLB.com has reported he sustained a slight tear in his quadriceps muscle that required season-ending surgery. The Waves have not responded to requests for confirmation, but it seems safe to assume they'll be without Thames for the postseason, leaving junior shortstop Chase d'Arnaud (.306/.407/.507 with eight homers and 45 RBIs) as the lone major threat in the lineup.

Arkansas failed to qualify for the eight-team SEC tournament by a half-game but still earned a No. 3 seed in a regional thanks largely to quality series wins against South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida. The Razorbacks stand out most for a lineup that contains few easy outs. Junior third baseman Logan Forsythe (.352/.473/.536 with seven homers and 11 stolen bases) is one of the grittiest, savviest players in the nation, and he sets the tone for the team. Transfer Chase Leavitt (.360/.514/.488), an older player whose baseball career was on hold for two years while he went on a Mormon mission, is a spark plug atop the lineup. The Hogs lost their entire weekend rotation from last year's regional-hosting team, but right-hander Cliff Springston (5-2, 3.83) transferred in from Baylor to stabilize a staff that contains a number of outstanding but inconsistent arms.

Perhaps the most dangerous No. 4 seed in the tournament, UC Davis qualified for a regional in its first year of eligibility after completing the transition from Division II. The Aggies finished 13-11 in the Big West, a game out of the three-way tie for third place, but their at-large resume was bolstered by series wins against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara as well as a 3-1 record in midweek action against Bay Area powers Stanford and California. Davis is a veteran team built to contend this year, with four pitchers who could go in the top 10 rounds of the draft in starters Eddie Gamboa (6-3, 2.67), Brad McAtee (8-4, 3.03) and Bryan Evans (3-3, 4.90) and closer Justin Fitzgerald (3-1, 2.76 with 15 saves). Catcher Jake Jefferies (.396/.453/.540 with 54 RBIs) could trump them all and go in the top two or three rounds thanks to his fine catch-and-throw skills and contact bat: he has 20 walks and just nine strikeouts in 235 at-bats, making him the nation's fifth-toughest player to whiff. The lineup's only true power threat is versatile senior center fielder Ryan Royster (.341/.417/.535 with 10 homers, 36 RBIs and 13 steals), who bats leadoff. But the Aggies have a lineup full of players who battle, and they are a legitimate threat to win this regional as a No. 4 seed.

Tallahassee Regional

Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla. Teams:
No. 1 Florida State (45-11): 46th appearance, at-large, second place in ACC, No. 4 national seed
No. 2 Florida (34-22): 24th appearance, at-large, third place in SEC
No. 3 Tulane (37-20): 19th appearance, at-large, third place in Conference USA
No. 4 Bucknell (29-22-2): Fourth appearance, automatic, Patriot League champion
Notes:
Florida State entered the year outside the top 25 after losing rotation stalwarts Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde along with first-team All-American second baseman Tony Thomas. But the Seminoles far exceeded expectations on the mound, posting a 3.77 ERA (13th in the nation), and lived up to every offensive expectation. Led by junior catcher and national batting leader Buster Posey (.467/.567/.864 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs), Florida State has a powerful, patient lineup that leads the nation in batting (.350) and walks (369). Sophomore left-hander Matt Fairel (10-2, 3.32) and junior righty Elih Villanueva (6-2, 3.23) are competitors who know how to locate their stuff, and senior righty Ryan Strauss (8-1, 4.39 with four saves) is capable of excelling at the back of the bullpen or as a starter. Posey (0-0, 0.00 with six saves) gives FSU another power arm late in games, and he could shoulder more of a pitching load in the postseason after working just seven innings this spring. Defense is Florida State's greatest liability: its .960 fielding percentage ranked next to last in the ACC and 169th in the nation.

Florida failed to make regionals the last two years after reaching the College World Series finals in 2005, prompting the Gators to replace coach Pat McMahon with Kevin O'Sullivan. In his first year at the helm, O'Sullivan has maximized the modest talent on his roster, guiding the Gators to a third-place finish in the SEC's regular-season standings and series wins over Vanderbilt, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi. Florida's offense lacks big boppers but has a number of players capable of hitting the ball out of the park from time to time, led by standout shortstop Cole Figueroa (.350/.422/.539 with nine homers, 57 RBIs and 19 steals in 23 attempts). The Gators run a lot, and they do it at the right times: their 106 steals led the SEC by a wide margin and ranked 15th in the nation, and they were caught just 22 times. Outfielders Avery Barnes (.372/.447/.488 with 26 steals in 29 attempts) and Matt den Dekker (.332/.416/.507 with 20 steals in 20 tries) set the tone from the top two spots in the lineup. The pitching staff has three solid but not overpowering starters in right-handers Tommy Toledo (4-4, 3.99), Patrick Keating (8-1, 3.47) and Billy Bullock (4-4, 4.69).

Tulane saw its streak of nine straight regionals snapped in a disappointing 2007 season marked by Hurricane Katrina-related adversity, but the Green Wave earned one of the final at-large spots this year thanks largely to series wins over East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. Tulane's greatest asset is junior right-hander Shooter Hunt (9-3, 2.45 with 119 strikeouts in 92 innings), who could be drafted among the top 10 picks in June thanks to a plus fastball and plus curve. Hunt did seem to tire down the stretch, dropping his last two starts against Rice and Marshall (in the CUSA tournament), but Tulane's best chance of beating host Florida State might be to save Hunt for a possible meeting on Saturday. That strategy would likely mean sophomore left-hander Matt Petiton (6-1, 2.81) would start the opener against Florida. A transfer from North Carolina, Petiton has come on strong down the stretch. Tulane's offense doesn't do anything exceptionally well but has good athletes in outfielders Aja Barto, Anthony Scelfo and Drew Allain. Scelfo (12 homers) and first baseman Sam Honeck (seven homers) are the only real power threats in the lineup, though third baseman Rob Segedin (.333 with six homers and 56 RBIs) has good power to the gaps and occasional home run pop.

Bucknell won the Patriot League tournament as a No. 4 seed after winning four one-run games against the two favorites, Army and Navy. Patriot League player of the year Jason Buursma -- Bucknell's best hitter and bullpen ace from a sidearm slot -- earned the win in relief in all four games, striking out eight over 10 scoreless innings in the four games. In addition to going 9-3, 2.72 with a 75-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 79 innings on the mound, Buursma paced the Bison offense, batting .372/.432/.676 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs. He gets some protection in the lineup from DH John Avanzino (.312 with nine homers), but the lineup has little power after that. If the Bison are going to win a game in this regional, Buursma is going to have to carry them.

Tempe Regional

Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz.
Teams:
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 SEC
No. 3 Oklahoma (32-24-1): 30th appearance, at-large, eighth place in Big 12
No. 4 Stony Brook (34-24): Second appearance, automatic, America East champion
Notes:
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/left-hander 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 left-handed Minor for Arizona State's big left-handed 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 right-hander 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.

Stillwater Regional

Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
Teams:
No. 1 Oklahoma State (42-16): 36th appearance, at-large, second place in Big 12
No. 2 Wichita State (44-15): 26th appearance, automatic, Missouri Valley regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 TCU (43-17): Seventh appearance, automatic, Mountain West regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Western Kentucky (33-25): Third appearance, automatic, Sun Belt tournament champion
Notes:
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 left-handers 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. Left-handers 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.

TCU 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 right-hander 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 Hilltoppers 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 right-hander 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.

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