NCAA tournament regional breakdowns
Get ready for the NCAA baseball tournament with Baseball America's analysis of every team and every regional site.
Site: Russ Chandler Stadium, Atlanta. (Host: Georgia Tech)
No. 1 Georgia Tech: (25th appearance, at-large bid, fourth place in Atlantic Coast Conference).
Georgia Tech (35-17-1) was in contention for a national seed before stumbling down the stretch, losing five of its last seven games. The Yellow Jackets boast the ACC's most powerful offense -- they rank second in the nation (behind Elon) with 1.96 home runs per game. There is power up and down the lineup, as seven Jackets have hit eight or more home runs, and three hit 15 or more, led by senior outfielder Luke Murton (.363 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs). The lineup also has a fine table-setter in sophomore center fielder Jeff Rowland (.348 with 18 steals).
The pitching staff is anchored by ACC Pitcher of the Year Deck McGuire (10-1, 3.15), who figures to start Tech's second game if the Jackets think they can bash their way past Georgia State on Friday (as they did in their last meeting against the Panthers, winning 18-2). The staff after McGuire is filled with inconsistent power arms, but right-handers Brandon Cumpton and Kevin Jacob have the stuff to dominate when they've got their command. Georgia Tech's postseason fortunes likely rest on their arms.
No. 2 Elon: (Fourth appearance, at-large bid, Southern Conference regular-season champion).
Elon (40-16) is constructed similarly to Georgia Tech but without a true ace in the Deck McGuire category. The Phoenix lead the nation in home runs (131) and homers per game (2.34) while stealing 111 bases in 138 tries (80 percent success rate). Expect them to circle the bases plenty more at Russ Chandler Stadium. Seven Phoenix regulars swatted 13 or more homers, and an eighth (Neal Pritchard) has nine long balls. Good luck finding an Elon hitter to key upon, but the most dangerous are senior outfielder Pat Irvine (.414 with 17 homers, 55 RBIs and 18 steals) and junior infielder Chase Austin (.369 with 22 homers, 77 RBIs and 18 steals in 19 tries), the SoCon's co-Players of the Year.
With all Elon's power, it's easy to overlook its speed: The Phoenix rank 15th in the nation with 111 stolen bases. But Elon is going to have to slug its way through this regional, as its 6.01 ERA ranks 163rd in the country.
No. 3 Southern Miss: (10th appearance, at-large bid, fifth place in Conference USA).
Southern Miss (35-23) has had a roller-coaster season, the final one before longtime coach Corky Palmer retires and is replaced by associate head coach Scott Berry. It looked as though the Golden Eagles were doomed when senior shortstop Brian Dozier (who entered the season as the NCAA's active career hits leader) broke his collarbone diving for a ball on April 14, and USM proceeded to lose its next four conference series to finish the season. But the Eagles bounced back in the CUSA tournament on their own field, reaching the title game before falling to Rice.
Southern Miss succeeds because it is well-coached and plays sound, fundamental baseball. The Eagles aren't flashy, but they do have a pair of exciting players in outfielders Bo Davis (.363 with 10 homers and 10 steals, all team highs) and Kameron Brunty (.352 with six homers, 48 RBIs and seven steals). The pitching staff is anchored by sophomore righties Todd McInnis (8-4, 2.76) at the front and Collin Cargill (2.78, nine saves) at the back.
No. 4 Georgia State: (First appearance, automatic bid, Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion).
Georgia State (39-20) has put together its best season in program history, winning a school-record 39 games and reaching regionals for the first time. The Panthers play hard-nosed baseball, and the tone is set by shortstop Bradley Logan (.306 with nine homers, 47 RBIs and 11 stolen bases). The balanced lineup is centered around senior Marc Mimeault (.394 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs, all team bests), one of the top offensive catchers in the nation. Though Georgia State isn't as powerful as Georgia Tech or Elon, the Panthers can hit the long ball and can manufacture runs with their speed.
Georgia State coach Greg Frady regarded the bullpen as a question mark coming into the season, but it has become a strength, thanks largely to freshman closer Justin Malone (1.46 ERA, seven saves), who arrived at Georgia State with more of a reputation as a shortstop than a pitcher. But this will be an offensive regional, and Georgia State has the bats to compete.
Site: UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Austin, Texas. (Host: Texas)
No. 1 Texas: (53rd appearance, automatic bid, Big 12 Conference regular-season and tournament champion, No. 1 national seed).
The Longhorns (41-13-1) had just two bad weekends all season -- losing series to Kansas and Kansas State -- but were remarkably consistent otherwise, winning the Big 12's regular-season and tournament titles. Texas posted a 2.84 team ERA to lead the nation by a wide margin, and no staff in college baseball can match the Longhorns for depth of quality arms. Sophomore righties Chance Ruffin, Cole Green and Brandon Workman have been joined by a pair of lights-out freshmen in Taylor Jungmann and Austin Dicharry; all five posted ERAs below 3.40. And, of course, senior lefty Austin Wood (5-1, 2.58, 14 saves) is still around, back in his best role at the back of the bullpen following a mediocre stint as a starter in 2008.
Texas also has dramatically improved its defense this year (posting a .980 fielding percentage), and much of the credit must go to precocious freshman shortstop Brandon Loy, who has had no trouble settling in with the upperclassmen elsewhere in the infield. Scoring can be a chore for the Longhorns, who lack home run power aside from burly sophomore Cameron Rupp and lanky junior Brandon Belt. Texas averaged just six runs per game, 214th in the nation. But as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Texas is heavily favored to win its regional. The Longhorns played brilliantly down the stretch and have as much momentum as any team in the field of 64.
No. 2 Texas State: (Fourth appearance, at-large bid, Southland Conference regular-season champion).
Texas State (41-15) dominated the Southland from wire to wire, posting a 24-7 conference record and winning the regular-season title by four games before falling in the conference tournament. The Bobcats have a deep, powerful, versatile lineup, led by Southland Player of the Year Paul Goldschmidt (.353 with 17 homers and 85 RBIs), newcomer of the year Keith Prestridge (.370 with seven homers and 49 RBIs) and undersized outfielders Spenser Dennis (.408, 49 RBIs, 15 steals) and Tyler Sibley (.369, 10 homers, 14 steals).
The Bobcats hold their own on the mound as well, ranking third in the Southland with a 4.83 ERA, but they lack power arms on the pitching staff. Texas State has a good chance to win its opener behind Southland Pitcher of the Year Kane Holbrooks (10-1, 3.34), but Disch-Falk Field and Texas' power arms will suppress Texas State's ability to hit home runs, so the Bobcats must rely on their speed to have a chance to win the regional.
No. 3 Boston College: (10th appearance, at-large bid, eighth place in Atlantic Coast Conference).
Boston College (33-24) opened eyes with a series win at Florida State in early March, and though the Eagles lost their last four conference series, they were not swept all year. They showed well in the ACC tournament, going 2-1 with wins against Georgia Tech and Clemson to secure their first trip to regionals since 1967. BC gets strong leadership from perhaps the nation's best catcher in junior Tony Sanchez, a potential first-round pick with outstanding defensive skills and a power bat. There are few easy outs in the lineup around him, and sophomore third baseman Mickey Wiswall (14 homers) is an emerging power threat with an excellent approach.
The Eagles have dealt with some injuries at the shortstop position, but on the whole they're a strong defensive unit. The pitching staff offers a pair of solid right-handed starters in John Leonard and J.B. MacDonald, plus a good lefty starter in Pat Dean and a power southpaw in the bullpen in Mike Belfiore. There's not a lot of depth on this staff, and the Eagles appear ill-suited to make a run through the loser's bracket. Winning their opener against Texas State is critical. The Eagles are very well coached by Mik Aoki and his staff, and they will be able to play small ball with the Horns (they rank fourth in the nation with 67 sacrifice bunts). Getting strong performances from their starting pitchers will be the key.
No. 4 Army: (Fourth appearance, automatic bid, Patriot League regular-season and tournament champion).
Army (34-19), the preseason favorite in the Patriot League, tied Bucknell for the regular-season crown and cruised to the Patriot's automatic bid behind dominant pitching in the championship series against Lafayette. Army was by far the best offensive team in the Patriot League, and its .334 batting average ranks 19th in the country, as six regulars are batting .343 or better, led by sophomore first baseman Kevin McKague (.400/.472/.535). Army also led the Patriot in ERA (4.98), but as good as Matt Fouch and Ben Koenigsfield were against Lafayette, this staff simply isn't as talented as the others in this regional. The Black Knights use the gaps well and might have a chance to steal a win somewhere in this regional, though probably not against Texas.
Site: Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, La. (Host: Louisiana State)
No. 1 LSU: (23rd appearance, automatic, Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament champion, No. 3 national seed).
In three years in Baton Rouge, coach Paul Mainieri has re-established LSU (46-16) as a national superpower. The Tigers entered the season ranked second in the nation and enter the NCAA tournament with the same ranking after capturing the regular-season and tournament titles in the SEC. A deep, powerful, athletic lineup was expected to carry LSU this year -- and the Tigers do have impact bats in D.J. LeMahieu (.335/.406/.458), Blake Dean (.327 with 14 homers and 62 RBIs), Jared Mitchell (.326 with eight homers and 30 stolen bases) and Ryan Schmipf (.324 with 17 homers, 56 RBIs and 17 steals), among others. But Mainieri had to pull the trigger on a major midseason shakeup to get the most out of his team, sliding LeMahieu from shortstop to second, Schmipf from second to the outfield and installing freshman defensive whiz Austin Nola at shortstop. He called on another freshman, freakishly athletic Mikie Mahtook (.336/.395/.537 with six homers and nine steals), to take over in center field, and that move has paid dividends as well.
But LSU's real strength this year has been the one-two pitching punch of sophomore righty Anthony Ranaudo (8-3, 3.29 with 124 strikeouts in 93 innings) and SEC pitcher of the year Louis Coleman (11-2, 2.84 with 111 strikeouts and 19 walks in 98 innings). The emergence of freshman Matty Ott (2.27, 14 saves) in the closer role has allowed Coleman to thrive in the rotation. Pitching depth was a question mark heading into the SEC tournament, but the Tigers got huge performances from righties Daniel Bradshaw and Nolan Cain and lefty Ryan Byrd, giving them plenty of options should they fall into the loser's bracket. There is not a more balanced team in the tournament than LSU, one of the top contenders for the national title.
No. 2 Minnesota: (29th appearance, at-large, second place in Big Ten).
Minnesota (38-17) proved its mettle in nonconference action, notably winning series at TCU and Dallas Baptist, then finished a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten's regular-season standings. The Gophers feature the Big Ten's best all-around player in second baseman Derek McCallum (.404/.482/.737 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs), and the lineup also features quality athletes like two-sport star Eric Decker (.332 with 11 steals) and senior Matt Nohelty (.339 with 25 steals).
But the Gophers really excel at run prevention, leading the Big Ten in ERA (4.68) and fielding percentage (.971). Power-armed sophomore Seth Rosin (7-1, 4.08) and crafty seniors Tom Buske (9-3, 3.36) and Chancy Handran (7-3, 4.30) keep Minnesota in most games, and Scott Matyas (2.49, 14 saves) has good stuff at the back of the bullpen.
No. 3 Baylor: (15th appearance, at-large, eighth place in Big 12 Conference).
Baylor (29-24) stumbled to a controversial at-large bid, dropping 12 of its final 14 regular-season games and being swept in its last three conference series, including a season-ending three-game set at last-place Nebraska. But the Bears went 2-1 in the conference tournament, which was evidently enough to offset their 10-16 conference record and earn them a No. 3 seed in regionals. Certainly, Baylor is talented -- it entered the season ranked No. 8 in the nation and remained in the top 10 until the wheels came off in late April. But Baylor's ballyhooed junior class, which arrived on campus as the nation's No. 1 recruiting class three years ago, has consistently failed to live up to expectations.
Five outstanding arms from that class -- righties Kendal Volz, Shawn Tolleson, Craig Fritsch and Willie Kempf and lefty Aaron Miller -- sport ERAs ranging from 4.50 to 5.81, though all have shown glimmers of promise this year. If a few of those guys can put it together, Baylor is capable of winning even this challenging regional and making a run to Omaha. Frankly, there's no reason to believe that scenario is particularly likely, given the way the Bears have performed in pressure situations over the last three years.
No. 4 Southern: (Eighth appearance, automatic, Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Southern (30-15), the preseason favorite in the SWAC, cruised to the Western Division title by 4½ games and then slugged its way to the conference tournament title. Southern isn't flashy, but the Jaguars are well coached by Roger Cador and find ways to win. Junior outfielder Victor Franklin (.331/.471/.615 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs) leads a Southern offense that led the SWAC with 56 home runs. The Jaguars also ranked second in the league with a 4.68 ERA, led by junior righty Jarrett Maloy (8-2, 3.14). Southern is not a very good defensive team, ranking 267th in the nation in fielding percentage (.947), but the Jaguars must play close to flawlessly in all facets to steal a game in this loaded regional.
Site: Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C. (Host: North Carolina)
No. 1 North Carolina: (24th appearance, at-large bid, second place in Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 4 national seed).
North Carolina (42-16) has played in the past three College World Series, and the Tar Heels have plenty of stars with big-game experience, including ACC Player of the Year Dustin Ackley (.399/.505/.759 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs) and junior right-hander Alex White (7-4, 4.13), both of whom could be drafted in the top 10 overall picks in June. Juniors Kyle Seager (.385/.485/.580 with 24 doubles) and Mark Fleury (.310 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs) also have impact bats, but like Ackley, they're left-handed.
Unlike the past few years, when the UNC lineup featured the likes of Chad Flack, Seth Williams and Tim Federowicz, the Tar Heels lack right-handed threats, making them vulnerable against a lefty who can spin a good breaking ball. That's why UNC is very dependent upon freshman switch-hitter Levi Michael (.293/.387/.556 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs) to break up its left-handed hitters. Of course, the Tar Heels got a fortunate draw, as most of the top pitchers in this regional are righties.
Few teams in the country have better pitching staffs than the Tar Heels, who rank eighth nationally in ERA (3.71) and second in strikeouts per nine innings (10.1). Senior righty Adam Warren (7-2, 3.46) is an often-overlooked rock in the middle of the rotation, and sophomore righty Matt Harvey (6-2, 5.60) has huge stuff and has pitched very well in his last two outings. He might be the key to UNC's hopes of finally capturing that elusive national title.
No. 2 Coastal Carolina: (Ninth appearance, automatic bid, Big South Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Coastal Carolina (46-14) has taken major steps forward as a program in recent years, hosting regionals each of the past two seasons and advancing to its first super regional last year, before falling to North Carolina. The Chanticleers dominated the Big South for the third straight season in 2009, leading the conference and ranking in the top 30 nationally in batting (.333), scoring (8.4 runs per game), doubles (144), homers (81), stolen bases (118), sacrifice bunts (66), ERA (3.85), and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (8.44), among other categories.
This is a balanced club with talented veterans like slugging first baseman David Anderson (.389 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs), third baseman Tyler Bortnick (.374 with 11 homers) and flame-throwing right-hander Nick McCully (7-1, 1.92 with eight saves), who has thrived since moving from closer to Friday starter down the stretch. In sophomore Cody Wheeler (10-0, 3.34), Coastal also has a quality left-handed starter who threw a no-hitter this year against Hawaii, and he could give the Chanticleers an edge in a potential matchup against left-handed-leaning UNC. It should be noted the Chanticleers beat UNC 7-3 in February behind a strong start from redshirt freshman lefty Keith Hessler.
No. 3 Kansas: (Fourth appearance, at-large bid, fifth place in Big 12 Conference).
Don't overlook Kansas (37-22) in this regional. The Jayhawks have played a brutally tough schedule, going 13-12 against top-25 teams this year, including series sweeps against Texas and Oklahoma State and series wins at Oklahoma and against Kansas State. There is no other No. 3 seed in this field of 64 as accomplished as the Jayhawks.
KU's biggest strength is a pitching staff that ranks 32nd in the nation in ERA (4.39). Wily junior left-hander Shaeffer Hall (4-6, 4.63) started the season with a bang, throwing a no-hitter in KU's first game against Air Force. Sophomore righty T.J. Walz (8-2, 4.18) has a power arm, running his fastball up to 94 mph, and freshman Lee Ridenhour (6-3, 4.65) reaches 92 with a very good slider. The scrappy offense is centered around two dangerous sluggers in third baseman Tony Thompson (.374/.430/.730 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs) and catcher Buck Afenir (.340/.388/.537 with nine homers and 60 RBIs).
No. 4 Dartmouth: (Sixth appearance, automatic, Ivy League regular-season and tournament champion).
Dartmouth (27-16) nearly made regionals in 2008, going 15-5 in the regular season before losing a wild championship series at home against upstart Columbia. The Big Green once again dominated the regular season this year, going 16-4, but this year they would not be denied their first Ivy crown since 1987, taking down Cornell in the best-of-three championship series. The title capped a comeback from a rough 1-9 start on their spring trip, which included games against Duke, San Jose State, Santa Clara and Cal Poly.
Led by junior right fielder Nick Santomauro (.365/.445/.603 with eight homers and 40 RBIs), Dartmouth topped the Ivy in batting (.311), scoring (7.9 runs per game) and slugging (.485), among other categories. The pitching staff is not overpowering, but it's brimming with strike-throwers, helping Dartmouth lead the nation in fewest walks per nine innings (2.28). The Big Green will force opponents to beat them, but Dartmouth isn't in the same class as the other teams in this regional and should be thrilled just to be back in the NCAA tournament after a 22-year absence.
Site: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, S.C. (Host: Clemson)
No. 1 Clemson: 34th appearance, at-large bid, third place in Atlantic Coast Conference).
After missing regionals last year for the first time since 1986, Clemson (40-19) rebounded to win 40 games and finish a game out of first place in the ACC. Depth all over the roster -- particularly on the mound -- is Clemson's greatest strength. The lineup features three solid power threats in first baseman Ben Paulsen (.368 with 11 homers), outfielder Jeff Schaus (.329 with 11 homers) and right fielder Kyle Parker (12 homers), but the team's hottest hitters down the stretch have been outfielder Wilson Boyd (.348) and second baseman Mike Freeman (.324). Sophomore DH Chris Epps (.250) has also given the Tigers a boost since taking over in the leadoff spot.
Still, Clemson ranks in the middle of the ACC pack in most offensive categories; its real strength is its versatile pitching staff, which ranks sixth in the nation in ERA (3.68) despite not having a clear-cut ace at the top. Indeed, the only Clemson starter who has consistently worked deep into games down the stretch is lefty Casey Harman (7-3, 3.86), but there are enough quality arms in the bullpen that starters need last only three or four innings without getting shelled. Expect the Tigers to piece together their pitching in the opener against Tennessee Tech and save Harman for Game 2.
No. 2 Alabama: (17th appearance, at-large bid, fourth place in Southeastern Conference).
Alabama (37-19) opened the season with high expectations but slumped out of the gate, losing a series to Southeast Missouri State and dropping two of its first three conference series. But the Crimson Tide righted the ship on the strength of the SEC's best offense, which led the conference in batting (.331), scoring (8.9 runs per game), double (136) and home runs (107, fourth in the nation), among other categories.
Alabama suffered a huge blow in the SEC tournament, losing its emotional leader, third baseman/right-hander Jake Smith (.359 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs; 2.13 ERA with two saves on the mound) for the rest of the season with torn tendons in his ankle. Still, Alabama's lineup features the nation's best slugger in senior outfielder Kent Matthes (28 home runs, tied for the national lead) and significant power threats in infielders Brandon May (.343 with 12 homers and 68 RBIs) and Ross Wilson (.349 with nine homers and 46 RBIs). And the Tide has strong defenders up the middle in second baseman Wilson, shortstop Josh Rutledge, center fielder Alex Kubal and catcher Vin DiFazio. On the mound, Alabama has been up and down, but it has a reliable ace in senior righty Austin Hyatt (8-2, 3.14) and a quality No. 2 starter in freshman Adam Morgan (4-1, 3.61). That duo, along with Alabama's offensive prowess, could carry the Tide through this regional, if the team can recover from the loss of Smith.
No. 3 Oklahoma State: (37th appearance, at-large bid, ninth place in Big 12 Conference).
Oklahoma State (32-22) has struggled to live up to its potential, winning just two of its nine Big 12 series and finishing in ninth place in the conference. Inexplicably, the Cowboys still earned an at-large regional bid on the strength of their stout nonconference schedule, and they'll surely be eager to prove to the abundant naysayers that they belong. Few pitching staffs in the country have three starters with arms as good as left-handers Andrew Oliver (5-6, 5.58) and Tyler Lyons (6-5, 3.75) and righty Tyler Blandford (7-3, 4.83). But all three have struggled this year, as Oliver has been forced to deal with a lawsuit against the NCAA as well as command issues, Blandford has had trouble throwing strikes, and Lyons' velocity has been down. But if those three are on their games, no team will beat Oklahoma State in this regional. The Cowboys also have four power bats in their lineup: multitooled outfielder Neil Medchill (.337 with 14 homers), Tyrone Hambly (.338 with nine homers), Michael Dabbs (.335 with 13 homers) and Doug Kroll (.325 with nine homers).
No. 4 Tennessee Tech: (Fourth appearance, automatic bid, Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion).
Tennessee Tech (30-22-1) finished the regular season with a 10-11-1 record in the Ohio Valley Conference before catching fire to win the OVC tournament as the fifth seed. Sophomore outfielder/right-hander A.J. Kirby-Jones (.344/.466/.747 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs; 3-3, 5.51 with three saves) carried much of the load for the Golden Eagles, going 8-for-16 with three homers and the tournament-clinching RBI to earn MVP honors.
Of course, any team that can shut down Kirby-Jones can largely shut down the Tennessee Tech offense, which ranks 178th in the nation in batting (.293), 208th in scoring (6.2 runs per game) and 231st in doubles (86). The pitching staff has been a little better and has a solid anchor in junior righty Lee Henry (9-2, 2.96). But the Golden Eagles should simply be happy to be in the NCAA tournament; they're likely to be significantly overmatched in this regional full of far more talented teams.
Site: Lupton Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas (Host: TCU)
No. 1 TCU: (Eighth appearance, at-large bid, Mountain West Conference regular-season champion).
TCU (36-16) lost back-to-back games just twice all season despite an aggressive nonconference schedule (which included series against regional teams Cal State Fullerton, Mississippi, Wichita State and Minnesota) and a dramatically improved MWC. The Horned Frogs are a balanced, experienced bunch that finds ways to win close games. TCU lacks consistent front-line pitching but has a bevy of quality arms, led by hard-throwing freshman Kyle Winkler (6-0, 4.33). Junior righty Eric Marshall (1.35 ERA, eight saves) has emerged as a shutdown closer, and TCU should be able to mix and match with its other arms to get to Marshall.
The lineup features upperclassmen all over the field (along with a talented freshman at shortstop in Taylor Featherston), and TCU beats teams with quality at-bats rather than flashiness. The biggest power threat in the offense belongs to all-MWC first baseman Matt Vern (.369 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs).
No. 2 Texas A&M: (25th appearance, at-large bid, sixth place in Big 12 Conference).
Texas A&M (36-22) came into the season ranked No. 1 in the country on the strength of a deep, talented pitching staff. The Aggies have yet to live up to that lofty billing, and they tumbled to sixth place in the Big 12 after going 1-5 against Texas and Oklahoma down the stretch. But the Aggies are still talented enough to make an Omaha run, and this time they won't have to go through Rice, which defeated them in super regionals each of the past two years. The key to any Texas A&M postseason run will be sophomore left-hander/outfielder Brooks Raley, who dominated for about 10 weeks but was hit hard down the stretch. Raley, who also makes the offense go as a speed merchant out of the No. 2 hole, must return to form if the Aggies are going to win this regional. Power arms Ross Hales, Alex Wilson, Kyle Thebeau and Barret Loux are capable of dominating any given outing but have not done so consistently this year. The offense has clicked since second baseman Brodie Greene took over the leadoff spot and center fielder Kyle Colligan moved to cleanup, protecting slugging first baseman Luke Anders.
No. 3 Oregon State: (10th appearance, at-large bid, third place in Pac-10 conference).
Like the Aggies, Oregon State (35-17) entered 2009 with high expectations thanks to a deep stable of power arms. But like the Aggies, OSU has put together a largely disappointing spring. The Beavers needed to beat Stanford on the final day of the season to avoid losing five of their final six conference series. But while more ballyhooed veterans Jorge Reyes (5-2, 4.35), Tanner Robles (1-3, 5.01) and Greg Peavey (4-3, 5.34) have been inconsistent, freshman righty Sam Gaviglio (9-1, 2.84) has quietly emerged as a bona fide ace.
The Beavers are loaded with power arms in the bullpen -- including left-hander Josh Osich and righties Kevin Rhoderick and James Nygren, to name a few -- so they might be the team in this regional best equipped to come through the loser's bracket. OSU lacks offensive punch, with no players on the roster with more than five home runs. But with catcher Ryan Ortiz and shortstop Joey Wong, the Beavers are strong defensively up the middle, just as they were during their two CWS title runs in 2006 and '07.
No. 4 Wright State: (Third appearance, automatic bid, Horizon League tournament champion).
Wright State (33-28) opened the season with a four-game series at Texas A&M followed by four games at Tulane. While the cold-weather Raiders went just 1-7 in those two series against more talented warm-weather opponents, they gained valuable experience in big-time atmospheres, and they won't shy away from the spotlight this weekend. Wright State's strength is an offense that topped the Horizon League in batting (.319) and scoring (seven runs per game), led by Horizon Player of the Year Jeff Mercer (.360/.403/.579 with eight homers, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs) and newcomer of the year Quentin Cate (.353/.425/.581 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs). The Raiders also have an edge in close games thanks to closer Michael Schum (1.68 ERA, 13 saves).
Site: Goodwin Field, Fullerton, Calif. (Host: Cal State Fullerton)
No. 1 Cal State Fullerton: (31st appearance, at-large, second place in Big West Conference, No. 2 national seed).
Despite finishing five games behind UC Irvine in the Big West, Cal State Fullerton (42-14) earned the No. 2 national seed by virtue of its No. 1 ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index. The Titans, who have won six straight regionals, are very heavy favorites this weekend thanks to their experience and overall excellence. Center fielder Josh Fellhauer (.391/.471/.520) and shortstop Christian Colon (.347/.436/.524) lead an athletic lineup filled with players who simply know how to execute. It's no wonder the Titans rank third in the nation in sacrifice bunts (70), second in hit by pitches (115) and 13th in sacrifice flies (35).
Fullerton even has more power than usual, with three players in double figures in home runs, plus its characteristic speed and aggressiveness on the basepaths, with five players in double figures in steals. The defense is air-tight, as Colon, Fellhauer, second baseman Joe Scott and catcher Dustin Garneau are all premium defenders up the middle, and Gary Brown is outstanding at third base. The quality pitching staff has a true ace in sophomore righty Daniel Renken (9-2, 2.50), and the bullpen has stabilized around freshman two-way talent Nick Ramirez (2.78 ERA, six saves) and setup men Kyle Mertins (2.39) and Ryan Ackland (3.54). All the pieces are in place for the Titans to return to the College World Series and make a strong run at their first national championship since 2004.
No. 2 Georgia Southern: (12th appearance, automatic, Southern Conference tournament champion).
Georgia Southern (42-15) grabbed a No. 2 seed by finishing second in the SoCon in the regular season, sweeping through the conference tournament and going 2-2 against Georgia Tech this season. One of the nation's most potent offenses, the Eagles rank fifth nationally (but third in their own offense-crazed conference) in scoring at 9.6 runs per game. Senior catcher Griffin Benedict (.401/.522/.627 with 11 homers and 61 RBIs) leads a group of five Eagles with double-digit home runs, but long balls figure to be tough to come by this weekend against quality pitching staffs at Goodwin Field.
Of course, Georgia Southern actually relies considerably less on power than it did a year ago, and more on pitching: Its ERA has dropped from 7.04 in 2008 to 4.95 this year. Junior right-hander Chris Mederos (11-1, 3.66 with 112 strikeouts and 29 walks in 93 innings) transferred from Gordon (Ga.) JC and has emerged as a rock atop the rotation. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Mederos attacks hitters with an 87-91 mph fastball and a good cutter, and he relies on his command, movement and competitiveness. Fellow JC transfer Jake Brown (6-3, 4.54) has a similar repertoire from the left side, and freshman righty Matt Murray (6-3, 4.76) can run his fastball into the low 90s.
No. 3 Gonzaga: (Eighth appearance, automatic, West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Gonzaga (35-16) had its best season in decades, breaking into the top 25 rankings for the first time ever and earning a regional bid for the first time since 1981. Not only were the Zags in control of the WCC from start to finish, but they proved their mettle with four nonconference wins against Missouri and Washington State. Gonzaga stands out most for its quality pitching staff, which led the WCC and ranked 20th nationally with a 4.21 ERA. Senior righty Matt Fields (8-1, 2.86) is a strike-thrower with a good sinker/slider repertoire atop the rotation. Freshman left-hander Ryan Carpenter (6-3, 4.82) has a power arm, and sophomore righty Cody Martin (5-4, 3.31, six saves) has excellent feel for pitching at the back of the bullpen. The patient offense uses the gaps well, led by catcher Tyson Van Winkle (.361/.424/.542) and first baseman Ryan Wiegand (.330/.407/.482). The 19th-ranked Bulldogs must be regarded as one of the most dangerous No. 3 seeds in the field of 64.
No. 4 Utah: (Fourth appearance, automatic, Mountain West Conference tournament champion).
Utah (26-29) is the best Cinderella story in the NCAA tournament, as the lone team in the field with a sub-.500 winning percentage. All year long, coaches who have played the Utes have reported that they're a tough, relentless bunch, and they lost hard-fought series against Texas A&M, TCU, New Mexico, BYU and San Diego State. But Utah finally turned some of its close losses into victories in the MWC tournament, going 5-1 to capture the automatic bid and head to regionals for the first time since 1960. Nothing about Utah stands out statistically, but they're mentally tough and well coached by Bill Kinneberg. In junior right-hander Jordan Whatcott (5-2, 3.59), the Utes have an ace who should keep them in the game against Cal State Fullerton. The offense, led by infielders Nick Kuroczko (.351/.451/.551) and Corey Shimada (.335/.451/.477) relies on doubles more than home runs, a style that should be a good fit for this regional. Don't be surprised if the pesky Utes steal a game at some point this weekend.
Site: McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. (Host: Florida)
No. 1 Florida: (25th appearance, at-large bid, third place in Southeastern Conference, No. 8 national seed).
It was feast or famine for Florida (39-20) early in 2009, as the Gators recorded four series sweeps but also were swept in two other series -- one of which was at home against fellow Gainesville Regional participant Miami. Florida came on strong down the stretch to win the SEC's Eastern Division by two games over South Carolina.
Nothing about the Gators is flashy; they rank near the middle of the SEC pack in most offensive categories and toward the bottom of the league in home runs (61). The athletic Gators were supposed to be a standout defensive team, but they rank last in the SEC with a .965 fielding percentage. The pitching staff is a strength -- Florida's 4.17 ERA ranks 16th in the nation -- but it's far from overpowering (ranking last in the SEC with 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings). Perhaps Florida's most concrete strength is its bullpen, where junior Billy Bullock (2.06, 11 saves) has added velocity and matured into a shutdown closer. The staff also has good depth, but the Gators really need freshmen Alex Panteliodis (6-5, 3.97), Nick Maronde (3-1, 4.29) and Anthony DeSclafani (6-3, 4.60) to come up big in the postseason.
No. 2 Miami (Fla.): (38th appearance, at-large bid, fifth place in Atlantic Coast Conference).
It's been a transition year for Miami (36-20), which lost eight drafted players (six of whom went in the top four rounds) from last year's Omaha team. But the Hurricanes still put together a solid season, highlighted by series wins against Florida, Virginia and Florida State. Miami's biggest strength is its bullpen, which is anchored by the nation's best closer, junior submariner Kyle Bellamy (3-1, 1.04, 16 saves, 60 strikeouts in 20 innings).
The weekend rotation has had its highs and lows, from ace lefty Chris Hernandez (7-4, 4.43) on down. The Hurricanes rank in the middle of the ACC pack in most offensive and defensive categories, but they are very strong up the middle, thanks largely to the nation's premier defensive shortstop, Ryan Jackson. As always, Miami is well coached and confident, and with no juggernaut team in this regional, the Hurricanes could very well scrap their way back to super regionals.
No. 3 Jacksonville: (12th appearance, automatic bid, Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champion).
Jacksonville (36-20) finished third in the A-Sun regular-season standings, but the top two teams -- Florida Gulf Coast and Kennesaw State -- are provisional Division I members who were not eligible for the conference tournament, allowing the Dolphins to sweep through to regionals. Like the other teams in this regional, Jacksonville does not stand out statistically, but it does have a trio of solid power hitters in Jeremy Gillan (.396 with 11 homers), Thomas Myers (.317 with 12 homers) and Alex Martinez (.309 with 11 homers).
Opposing pitchers had better throw strikes to beat the patient, disciplined Dolphins, who lead the A-Sun and rank 20th in the nation in walks (278). Much like Florida and Miami, Jacksonville has simply found ways to win this year, even in the face of injuries to key arms Steve Eagerton (last year's staff leader in innings who was lost for the season early in the spring) and Carson Andrew (a power righty who has pitched through shoulder soreness for much of this year).
No. 4 Bethune-Cookman: (10th appearance, automatic bid, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Few No. 4 seeds are more dangerous than Bethune-Cookman (32-26), which won the MEAC to reach regionals for the 10th time in the past 11 years. No team in this regional will take the Wildcats lightly after they won a series at Miami in May. The fastest team in this regional, BCU stole 92 bases this year and could exploit that advantage this week. The deep lineup is headlined by scrappy leadoff man Mark Brooks (.287 with 16 steals), first baseman Alejandro Jimenez (.318 with eight homers and 21 steals) and sweet-swinging left fielder C.J. Lauriello (.407 with 12 steals).
In senior righty Hiram Burgos (6-3, 3.73) and freshman lefty Ali Simpson (9-2, 2.70), Bethune-Cookman has a one-two punch that stacks up well with any duo in this regional. BCU coach Mervyl Melendez isn't satisfied with just getting to regionals every year; he wants to win one and make a run at Omaha. This just might be the year for the Wildcats to do it, because this is the best they've ever matched up with the other teams in their regional.
Site: Clark-LeClair Stadium, Greenville, N.C. (Host: East Carolina)
No. 1 East Carolina: (24th appearance, at-large bid, Conference USA regular-season champion).
East Carolina (42-17) bashed its way to its first C-USA regular-season title since 2004, feasting on the bottom four teams in the league (going 11-1 against them). The Pirates went just 1-2 in the conference tournament but still earned a home regional. That's no small development, as ECU is 28-7 at Clark-LeClair Stadium and just 11-9 on the road. The Pirates feed off their ravenous fan base, and they also take advantage of their park's hitter-friendly dimensions, bashing a C-USA-best 95 home runs (14th in the nation).
The deep, experienced lineup features power up and down the order, as six Pirates reached double digits in homers, led by seniors Ryan Wood (.387 with 13 homers, 55 RBIs and 14 steals) and Stephen Batts (.368 with 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 18 steals). Offense is certainly ECU's calling card, but the Pirates also have three reliable weekend starters in right-handers Chris Heston (7-0, 3.44), Seth Maness (9-1, 4.15) and Brad Mincey (9-5, 2.99), plus a good closer in Seth Simmons (3-1, 2.65, nine saves). East Carolina has all the parts it needs to win its first regional since 2004.
No. 2 South Carolina: (25th appearance, at-large bid, fifth place in Southeastern Conference).
South Carolina (38-21) probably had a better case to host a regional than East Carolina, as the Gamecocks won three series against regional teams compared to ECU's one, and South Carolina went 18-14 against top 50 RPI teams compared to ECU's 5-6 mark. But the Gamecocks are a perfect fit for hitter haven Clark-LeClair Stadium. Even without departed sluggers Justin Smoak, Reese Havens, James Darnell and Phil Disher, South Carolina still produces 1.67 home runs per game, down just slightly from a year ago (1.74).
Leading the attack are junior college transfers Nick Ebert (.332 with 22 homers and 71 RBIs) and Justin Dalles (.295 with 12 homers), as well as DeAngelo Mack (.366 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs), who is one of the nation's most improved players. Also keep an eye on freshman outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (.338 with nine homers), who has lightning-quick bat speed. As usual, South Carolina relies more on breaking-ball artists with moderate fastball velocity than power arms, with one notable exception. Sophomore right-hander Sam Dyson (8-4, 5.31) can be untouchable when he's on, with a fastball that reaches 98 mph and a good curveball. The Gamecocks can beat any team in the nation when he's on.
No. 3 George Mason: (Sixth appearance, at-large bid, Colonial Athletic Association regular-season champion).
George Mason (42-12) dominated the CAA this year, winning the regular-season title by 5½ games over eventual tournament champion Georgia State. George Mason's best-known players are CAA co-Players of the Year Scott Krieger (.378) and Chris Henderson (.416) along with hulking first baseman Justin Bour (.336), a trio that combined to hit 51 of the team's 81 home runs. But pitching and defense truly carried the Patriots to the CAA regular-season crown. George Mason led the conference and ranked in the top 25 nationally in ERA (4.24) and fielding percentage (.972). The staff is led by workhorses Kevin Crum (8-3, 4.19) and Mike Modica (11-1, 4.17). Mason has the power hitters to compete in what figures to be a homer-happy regional, but it also won't give away many runs.
No. 4 Binghamton: (First appearance, automatic bid, America East Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Binghamton (29-20) won the America East regular-season title each of the past two years but was upset in the conference tournament both times. This year the Bearcats would not be denied, scoring in double digits in three straight games to sweep through the tourney and earn their first-ever regional bid. The Bearcats were the league's preseason favorite thanks to their balance and experience, and they ranked second in the AEC in batting (.318) and ERA (4.88).
The offense is led by sophomore outfielder Corey Taylor, who tied for the league lead in home runs (15) and finished second in RBIs (51). But Binghamton's biggest strength is pitching. Right-hander Murphy Smith (7-2, 2.41) and lefty Jeff Dennis (5-5, 4.71) give the Bearcats a pair of hard-throwing workhorses, and senior righty Greg Lane (5-2, 4.85, six saves) is a dependable anchor in the bullpen.
Site: Reckling Park, Houston (Host: Rice)
No. 1 Rice: (15th appearance, automatic, Conference USA tournament champion).
Rice (39-15) lost its final weekend series at Alabama-Birmingham to finish with eight conference losses, eclipsing its total from its first three C-USA seasons combined, when it lost just seven regular-season contests. The Owls failed to claim at least a share of their regular-season conference title for the first time since 1996, but they reasserted their C-USA hegemony by sweeping through the conference tournament.
The Owls have a balanced offense led by national freshman of the year candidate Anthony Rendon (.375/.451/.704 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs); they have an athletic defense that fields at a .970 clip; and they have a pair of front-line starters capable of dominating when healthy in righties Ryan Berry (7-0, 1.89) and Mike Ojala (4-0, 1.79). Both missed significant time with arm woes this year, but the Owls must be encouraged by their showing in the conference tournament. Berry allowed just one run in a complete-game win against UAB, then worked a scoreless inning for the save three days later in the title game against Southern Miss. Ojala allowed just two runs over 5 2/3 innings against Houston. If that duo can stay healthy, Rice is a bona fide national championship contender.
No. 2 Kansas State: (First appearance, at-large, fourth place in Big 12 Conference).
Kansas State (41-16-1) has put together the best season in program history, winning a school-record 41 games, breaking into the top 25 rankings for the first time and reaching its first-ever regional. The Wildcats have a premier ace in junior right-hander A.J. Morris (13-1, 1.84), whose impeccable command of an 88-92 mph fastball and a quality slider make him a likely top-two-rounds pick in the upcoming draft. The Wildcats have their best chance to win this regional if they start command-and-control lefty Lance Hoge (5-4, 4.36) against Xavier and hold Morris for a potential matchup against Rice. Like Morris, shortstop Drew Biery (.335/.412/.571 with nine homers and 44 RBIs) has matured into a leader this year, playing a major role in K-State's success. The Wildcats play an aggressive, up-tempo offensive style, and their team speed puts abundant pressure on opposing defenses. Six Wildcats have stolen 14 or more bases this year, and they have stolen 146 as a team, third-most in the nation.
No. 3 Xavier: (First appearance, automatic, Atlantic 10 Conference tournament champion).
Xavier (38-19) finished third in the regular-season A-10 standings and lost its second game in the conference tournament to Rhode Island before ripping off four straight wins, including back-to-back wins against the Rams in the finals to reach regionals for the first time ever. The Musketeers rank in the middle of the Atlantic 10 in most offensive and pitching categories, and they have little power beyond sophomore two-way standout Ben Thomas (.355/.434/.699 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs). But Xavier excels at manufacturing runs with its speed (105 stolen bases, 21st in the nation) and small ball (47 sacrifice bunts, 28th nationally). The pitching staff is anchored by power lefty Danny Rosenbaum (5-5, 5.49) and senior closer Jordan Conley (1-1, 2.39 with 13 saves). The Musketeers are a well-coached bunch, but they must be considered one of the most vulnerable No. 3 seeds in the field of 64.
No. 4 Sam Houston State: (Sixth appearance, automatic, Southland Conference tournament champion).
Sam Houston State (36-22) won the Southland tournament as an underdog for the third straight season. The Bearkats won it as the No. 4 seed each of the last two years but pulled it off as the seventh seed this year. Senior Nick Zaleski (.425/.514/.632 with nine homers and 57 RBIs) leads a Sam Houston offense that ranks 26th in the nation in batting. The Bearkats are also a fundamentally strong team that seldom beats itself, and it ranks 28th with a .972 fielding percentage. The pitching staff really solidified after freshman right-hander Sean Weatherford (8-5, 3.62) slid from the closer role to the Friday starter job. Weatherford has the best arm on the staff, with an 88-91 mph fastball that reaches 93 and a hard slider that he uses as an out pitch. He'll have his work cut out for him against Rice's potent offense in SHSU's opener, but it's worth noting that the Bearkats did split the two-game season series with the Owls.
Site: Anteater Ballpark, Irvine, Calif. (Host: UC Irvine)
No. 1 UC Irvine: (Fifth appearance, automatic, Big West Conference champion, No. 6 national seed).
UC Irvine (43-13) had a regular season for the ages, going 12-0 in weekend series and 22-2 in the Big West to win the conference title by five games over rival Cal State Fullerton. The Anteaters have sat atop the rankings for six straight weeks, yet they earned the No. 6 national seed (four spots behind Fullerton) because of a nonconference schedule the committee regarded lightly, despite two quality tournaments in Texas and two solid series against regional contenders Hawaii and Tulane.
The Anteaters landed a very difficult draw, with a regional that features a red-hot Virginia team fresh off the ACC title and defending national champion Fresno State. Still, Irvine has the best one-two pitching punch in this group with junior left-hander Daniel Bibona (11-1, 2.65) and righty Christian Bergman (9-2, 3.33), and No. 3 starter Crosby Slaught (7-0, 4.56) has had a breakout year. The 'Eaters also have a proven closer in sinkerballer Eric Pettis (5-2, 3.79 with 16 saves), but the staff doesn't have a ton of depth, so it's critical for UCI to stay out of the loser's bracket. Irvine doesn't have much power, but it is constructed perfectly to take advantage of its pitcher-friendly home park. The Anteaters are loaded with skillful players who put the ball in play and move runners, starting with their leader, senior shortstop Ben Orloff (.359/.428/.409 with 17 stolen bases). Orloff is also the best defender on a team that ranks eighth nationally with a .977 fielding percentage.
No. 2 Virginia: (Ninth appearance, automatic, Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion).
Virginia (43-12-1) was sent out West to the nation's toughest regional despite ranking sixth in the RPI and posting a dominating 4-0 week in the ACC tournament. The Cavaliers were punished for their extremely soft nonconference schedule, but they proved their mettle in ACC play. UVa. coach Brian O'Connor has said repeatedly that this is his best offensive team in his six years at the helm in Charlottesville. Virginia led the ACC in batting (.333, 21st nationally) while adding a new dimension of power: the Cavaliers have more than doubled their 25 home runs from 2008, belting 53 so far in '09. Virginia's most fearsome hitter is sophomore center fielder Jarrett Parker (.375/.471/.723 with 16 homers, 60 RBIs and 19 steals), the best of Virginia's host of talented underclassmen.
There's more experience in the pitching staff, where senior righty Andrew Carraway (6-1, 4.58) and junior lefty Matt Packer (3-4, 4.30) give the Cavs poised veterans with excellent feel for pitching. But the ace of the staff is freshman two-way star Danny Hultzen (8-1, 2.21). The Cavaliers have really taken off down the stretch as the bullpen has solidified around closer Kevin Arico (2.22 ERA, 10 saves) and setup man Tyler Wilson (8-3, 2.96).
No. 3 San Diego State: (Ninth appearance, at-large, fourth place in Mountain West Conference).
San Diego State (40-21) seemed on the brink of getting back to regionals each of the last two years before second-half swoons sunk its postseason hopes. This year, the Aztecs gelled down the stretch, winning 12 of their final 16 games but dropping back-to-back games in the MWC tournament finals to Utah. Still, SDSU did enough to get back to regionals for the first time since 1991. San Diego State has an advantage over every team in the country on Friday nights, as junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24, 180 strikeouts and 19 walks in 102 innings) has been nearly untouchable, putting together one of the greatest seasons in college baseball history. The Aztecs also have one of the nation's most dominating closers in sophomore righty Addison Reed (0.68 ERA, 19 saves, 36-7 K-BB ratio in 26 innings), who can run his fastball into the mid-90s to go along with a wipeout slider. It's easy to overlook San Diego State's solid No. 2 starter, junior righty Tyler Lavigne (7-2, 3.32). Offensively, the Aztecs are streaky, and their greatest asset is their athleticism, headlined by sophomore outfielder Cory Vaughn (.329/.403/.560 with 10 homers, 51 RBIs and 15 stolen bases).
No. 4 Fresno State: (Sixth appearance, automatic, Southland Conference tournament champion).
Defending national champion Fresno State (32-28) was in danger of being the lone team left out of the six-team WAC tournament before sweeping a four-game series at Sacramento State to close the regular season. In shades of 2008, the Bulldogs then lost their conference tournament opener to New Mexico State before winning four straight elimination games to win the tourney, capped by a dramatic doubleheader sweep of the Aggies in the title round. Now Fresno heads to the nation's toughest regional for the second straight year. Fresno's pitching staff was ravaged by graduation and the draft, but its offense still features familiar faces Tom Mendonca (.345/.453/.739 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs), Danny Muno (375/.526/.532 with 13 steals) and Alan Ahmady (.326/.453/.739 with eight homers and 53 RBIs). For the Bulldogs to make another improbable postseason run, offense and mojo will have to carry them.
Site: Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Ky. (Host: Louisville)
No. 1 Louisville: (Fourth appearance, automatic, Big East Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Louisville (44-15) has cemented its status as the Big East's marquee program in the three years since Dan McDonnell took over as head coach. The Cardinals made it all the way to Omaha as a No. 3 seed in 2007, and they took another major step this year, hosting their first regional after winning the Big East's regular-season and tournament titles. The Cardinals actually trailed South Florida for most of the season before sweeping the Bulls in the final weekend of the season to steal the crown.
Louisville is an offensive club, and the key to its success this season has been its No. 2 through No. 6 hitters: second baseman Adam Duvall (.343 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs), first baseman Andrew Clark (.362 with nine homers and 54 RBIs), superstar third baseman Chris Dominguez (.359 with 23 homers, 79 RBIs and 18 steals), outfielder/DH Phil Wunderlich (.369 with 18 homers and 74 RBIs) and outfielder Ryan Wright (.343 with 62 RBIs). The all-lefty rotation is anchored by Omaha veteran and Big East pitcher of the year Justin Marks (10-2, 3.50 with 116 strikeouts in 93 innings). The bullpen is plenty deep and has an emerging star in hard-throwing righty Tony Zych (5-2, 3.29, two saves).
No. 2 Middle Tennessee: (12th appearance, automatic, Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament champion).
Middle Tennessee (43-16) endured a trying 2008, as its stadium was renovated even while the team was on the field playing games and coach Steve Peterson endured quintuple bypass surgery in the fall. But the Blue Raiders emerged into the light this spring, winning the Sun Belt's regular-season and tournament titles to get back to regionals for the first time since 2004. MTSU is led by the nation's best two-way player, sophomore outfielder/right-hander Bryce Brentz (.486/.555/.981 with 28 home runs and 71 RBIs; 5-3, 4.78 in 81 innings off the mound), who is tied for the national lead in homers.
Rawley Bishop (.408/.507/.667 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs) and Nathan Hines (.362 with 11 homers and 72 RBIs) help Brentz carry the load in an offense that ranks among the nation's top dozen in batting (.346), scoring (9.1 runs per game), doubles (161, most in the nation), triples (25), homers (99) and slugging (.578), among other categories. And MTSU's pitching staff actually posted the second-best ERA (5.20) in the offense-crazed Sun Belt. Closer Coty Woods (4-2, 1.63, 13 saves) gives the Blue Raiders confidence in close games.
No. 3 Vanderbilt: (Eighth appearance, at-large, eighth place in Southeastern Conference).
It was a rollercoaster season for Vanderbilt (34-25), which had six winning streaks of four games or more but also four losing streaks of three games or more. The Commodores entered the SEC tournament on the bubble before beating LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas en route to the championship game, where they lost a rematch to LSU. Vandy's strength is its deep pitching staff, which is anchored by preseason All-American left-hander Mike Minor (6-4, 3.64). Sophomore righty Caleb Cotham (6-5, 4.63) is a steady No. 2 starter, and flame-throwing freshman righty Sonny Gray (4-1, 5.14) has given the rotation a major boost down the stretch. Missing bats will be crucial in this regional filled with powerful offenses, and the Commodores rank fourth nationally with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Vandy relies on a slew of first-year starters offensively, but redshirt freshman Aaron Westlake (.377 with eight homers and 53 RBIs) and sophomores Steven Liddle (.354 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs) and Curt Casali (.341 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs) have emerged as impact players.
No. 4 Indiana: (Second appearance, automatic, Big Ten Conference tournament champion).
Indiana (32-25), the preseason favorite in the Big Ten, wandered in the wilderness for the first half of the season, but the Hoosiers finished the regular season 21-10 after starting the season 7-15. Indiana demolished the field in the Big Ten tournament, winning four straight games by a combined score of 47-9. Few teams in the nation have a starting rotation as gifted as Eric Arnett (12-1, 2.58), Matt Bashore (7-4, 3.57) and Blake Monar (5-3, 4.64); Arnett is a likely first-round pick this year, and Bashore won't last past the second. More importantly, both have dominated down the stretch -- the duo combined to allow just six hits while striking out 19 over 14 shutout innings in the Big Ten tourney. Indiana also has a red-hot offense, led by the nation's best offensive catcher in Josh Phegley (.352/.465/.653 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs) and a likely freshman All-American in Alex Dickerson (.379/.434/.634 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs).
Site: L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla. (Host: Oklahoma)
No. 1 Oklahoma: (31st appearance, at-large, second place in Big 12 Conference, No. 7 national seed).
Oklahoma (41-18) was one of the most consistent teams in the Big 12 this year, losing just two series and winning sets against fellow regional teams Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Missouri and Kansas State. The Sooners have also played the three other teams in this regional, going 4-3 against them. The most offensive team in a Big 12 dominated by pitching, the Sooners led the league in batting (.322), scoring (8.3 runs per game), doubles (122) and homers (87), among other categories.
Leading the attack are Big 12 player of the year J.T. Wise (.374/.428/.703 with 17 homers and 61 RBIs), shortstop Bryant Hernandez (.357 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs) and outfielder Jamie Johnson (.351 with 12 homers and 18 steals). Oklahoma's offense is deep, powerful, athletic and patient. The pitching staff has a number of quality arms but is anchored by ace righty Andrew Doyle (8-4, 3.89) and closer Ryan Duke (3-1, 2.78, 15 saves). The rest of the staff has been up and down, but Oklahoma could make a very deep postseason run if flame-throwing righty Garrett Richards (8-4, 6.55) can harness his electric stuff over the next month.
No. 2 Arkansas: (22nd appearance, at-large, seventh place in Southeastern Conference).
Arkansas (34-22) peaked in early April, sweeping a two-game midweek series against Arizona State to improve to 23-7 overall. Since then, the Razorbacks have lost five of six weekend series to plummet to seventh place in the SEC. Early in the season, Arkansas' veteran lineup found ways to win close games, but since the ASU series the Hogs are 3-7 in one-run contests.
The offense is the primary culprit, as Arkansas ranks 274th in the nation in batting (.267) and 217th in scoring (six runs per game). The pitching staff has a solid veteran lefty in Dallas Keuchel (7-3, 4.14), an electric but still somewhat raw righty in Brett Eibner (4-4, 3.90), and a pair of reliable relievers in Stephen Richards (5-1, 1.11 with nine saves) and Mike Bolsinger (4-4, 3.35). The defense is solid up the middle, with slick-fielding veterans Scott Lyons and Ben Tschipikow forming a sound double-play tandem. The pieces are still in place for the Hogs to make a run if they can just get their bats going again.
No. 3 Washington State: (15th appearance, at-large, second place in Pacific-10 Conference).
Washington State (31-23) took advantage of a weak Pac-10 to finish second in the conference and earn its first trip to regionals since 1990. The Cougars tested themselves early, dropping a tight three-game series at Arkansas to open the year before splitting four games at home against Oklahoma. Washington State's best asset is its veteran leadership. It's three best players are all seniors: ace left-hander Matt Way (8-4, 2.49), outfielder/right-hander Jared Prince (.350/.432/.558) and catcher Greg Lagreid (.344/.403/.487). And Wazzu's rock-solid closer, Jeremy Johnson (6-1, 2.83, nine saves), is a fourth-year junior. In a regional where the top three seeds are all older, gritty teams that have played each other in 2009, Washington State knows it belongs.
No. 4 Wichita State: (27th appearance, automatic, Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion).
Wichita State (30-25) relies more heavily on young players than the other teams in this regional. The Shockers lost their entire weekend rotation, top two relievers and seven starting position players from last year's super regional team, and not surprisingly they endured their worst season in years, finishing the regular season in fourth place in the Missouri Valley Conference. But Wichita's young pitching carried it to the MVC tournament title. Freshman right-hander Jordan Cooper (805, 2.73) and freshman lefty Charlie Lowell (6-2, 2.95) have matured quickly behind sophomore ace righty Tim Kelley (5-3, 2.64), giving the Shockers the best weekend rotation in this regional. But injuries have ravaged the bullpen, and the lineup lacks punch, though the Shockers are aggressive on the basepaths as usual, with 92 stolen bases. Wichita will go as far this year as its young pitching staff carries it.
Site: Oxford University Stadium/Swayze Field, Oxford, Miss. (Host: Mississippi)
No. 1 Mississippi: (15th appearance, at-large, Southeastern Conference regular-season co-champion).
Mississippi (40-17) opened the season ranked sixth in the nation and eyeing its first trip to the College World Series since 1972. The Rebels largely lived up to expectations in the regular season, tying Louisiana State for the conference crown and hosting a regional for the fifth time in the last six years.
Ole Miss senior righty Scott Bittle, who earned first-team All-America honors last year as a dominant closer, had a seamless transition to a starting role this year, going 5-2, 2.17 with 68 strikeouts in 46 innings before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. Bittle's status is very much in question going forward, but the Rebels just might have enough pitching to win a regional without him. Sophomore lefty Drew Pomeranz (6-4, 4.16) has electric stuff atop the rotation, and veterans Phillip Irwin (7-3, 3.82), Brett Bukvich (9-3, 4.61) and Nathan Baker (4-1, 3.60) are all able starters. The bullpen has found a capable anchor in sophomore righty Jake Morgan (2.31 ERA, eight saves). Offensively, the Rebels don't have a single hitter with double-digit home runs, but the lineup is deep, experienced and athletic. Leadoff man Jordan Henry (.347/.477/.401 with 34 stolen bases) sets the tone.
No. 2 Missouri: (21st appearance, at-large, third place in Big 12 Conference).
Missouri (34-25) opened the year ranked 10th before getting off to a rough 1-7 start on its swing through Arizona. It took a while for the Tigers to get going in Big 12 play as well, as they dropped four of their first five conference series before closing the season by winning their last four. The Tigers have a deep pitching staff, but ace right-hander Kyle Gibson (10-3, 3.47) has been their only consistent starter from the start of the year to the end. Sophomore righty Nick Tepesch (6-4, 5.81) has electric stuff but spotty command, and seniors Ian Berger (3-3, 5.50) and Scooter Hicks (5-3, 4.06) rely on savvy and deception more than stuff. At times, Mizzou has had great success with a pitcher-by-committee approach, using up to nine pitchers for an inning apiece. Offensively, the Tigers are an older, gritty unit without much firepower beyond undersized junior Greg Folgia (.330 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs).
No. 3 Western Kentucky: (Fourth appearance, at-large, Sun Belt Conference regular-season co-champion).
Western Kentucky (39-18) was the preseason favorite in the Sun Belt and led the conference for most of the season before dropping both games of a rain-shortened series to Middle Tennessee in the final weekend, causing the teams to tie for the title. The Blue Raiders got the better of the Hilltoppers again in the SBC tournament finals.
Offense is WKU's calling card, and it has a good one, with power, speed, patience and maturity. Few lineups anywhere have a murderer's row that compares with Western Kentucky's quartet of Matt Hightower (.312 with 11 homers, 51 RBIs and 23 steals), Wade Gaynor (.374 with 22 homers, 70 RBIs and 19 steals), Chad Cregar (.316 with 17 homers, 56 RBIs and 17 steals) and Matt Rice (.393 with eight homers and 66 RBIs). With that kind of firepower, it's easy to overlook the Hilltopppers' exceptional defense, which ranks fourth nationally with a .979 fielding percentage. The pitching staff lacks big arms, but it's good enough to keep Western Kentucky in games long enough for the offense to do the heavy lifting. WKU is the most offensive team in this regional by far, and it's easy to envision the 'Toppers bashing their way to super regionals.
No. 4 Monmouth: (Fourth appearance, automatic, Northeast Conference tournament champion).
Monmouth (32-23), the preseason favorite in the NEC, slipped to fourth in the regular-season standings in the final weekend, then bounced back in the conference tournament. Monmouth rode hot bats to its second tournament title in three years, but its arms are its best chance to pull off an upset or two this week. Potential top-two-rounds pick Ryan Buch (7-4, 4.11) has a low-90s fastball and an above-average curveball. Junior righty Brett Brach (7-2, 4.61), the younger brother of former Monmouth ace Brad Brach, pounds the strike zone with a solid sinker-slider repertoire. The Hawks also have the ability to cause problems for other teams in this regional using their speed: They rank 26th in the nation with 97 stolen bases, and five different starters have double-digit steals.
Site: Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla. (Host: Florida State)
No. 1 Florida State: (47th appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion).
Florida State (42-16) suffered significant losses from its 2008 College World Series team -- including national Player of the Year Buster Posey and its entire weekend rotation -- but still won the ACC's regular-season title by feasting on the bottom third of the league. The Seminoles went just 7-9 in the regular season against teams that made the ACC tournament, but they went 12-0 against the four teams that did not qualify for the conference tourney. As usual, FSU was a much better club at Dick Howser Stadium (going 30-6) than on the road (9-8), so it was huge for the 'Noles to earn a home regional.
Florida State's lineup features five very dangerous hitters in outfielders Tyler Holt (.388/.515/.556 with 32 stolen bases) and Mike McGee (.376/.484/.751 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs) plus infielders Stephen Cardullo (.362/.481/.604 with 10 homers and 18 steals), Jason Stidham (.351/.459/.629 with 11 homers and 63 RBIs) and Stuart Tapley (.301/.434/.580). Defense was FSU's Achilles' heel last year, but the defense has solidified this year since the steady Cardullo assumed starting shortstop duties. Florida State lacks power arms and experience on the mound, but freshman lefties Sean Gilmartin (11-3, 3.64) and Brian Busch (6-2, 4.28) are good competitors who will keep the Seminoles in most games.
No. 2 Georgia: (Ninth appearance, at-large, sixth place in Southeastern Conference).
Georgia (37-22) lost two All-Americans from its 2008 national runner-up squad, and the Bulldogs surely missed the leadership and talent of Gordon Beckham and Joshua Fields down the stretch this year. Georgia reached No. 8 in the BA rankings after winning a series against Arkansas in mid-April, but the Bulldogs proceeded to lose their next four series to finish the regular season in sixth place. The biggest reason for the slide is pitching: senior right-hander Trevor Holder (7-4, 4.34) and junior lefty Alex McRee (4-4, 6.34) both struggled down the stretch, and the bullpen had trouble closing out wins.
Georgia still has more power arms on its staff than almost any team in the nation, which makes it hard to reconcile its 4.79 team ERA. But if those arms get hot in the postseason, the Bulldogs are capable of making another deep run. The offense has had its own issues, producing two or fewer runs in six Georgia losses down the stretch, but it is capable of breaking out any time if sluggers Rich Poythress (.370 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs) and Bryce Massanari (.321 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs) can return to midseason form.
No. 3 Ohio State: (10th appearance, at-large, Big Ten Conference regular-season champion).
Ohio State (40-17) is the anti-Georgia: while the Bulldogs have gone to Omaha in 2002, '04, '06 and '08 but struggled in the odd years, OSU has made regionals in every odd year since 1991 (with a few trips in even years sprinkled in). The Buckeyes won a hotly contested Big Ten regular-season crown by sweeping Iowa in the final weekend, but a 1-2 performance in the conference tournament and a soft nonconference schedule caused them to land a No. 3 seed in regionals.
Ohio State's biggest assets are the bookends of its pitching staff: sophomore right-hander Alex Wimmer (9-1, 2.68) at the front and senior closer Jake Hale (1.12 ERA, 16 saves) at the back. Wimmers has a win against Miami and a no-hitter on his 2009 resume, and he could carve up Georgia with his three-pitch mix in the opener. Ohio State lacks offensive star power, but it has solid college hitters up and down the lineup, led by catcher Dan Burkhart (.362/.436/.612 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs).
No. 4 Marist: (Sixth appearance, automatic, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champion).
Marist (31-26) finished the MAAC regular season in third place but stunned the league's two powers in the conference tournament, beating preseason favorite Canisius twice and top-seeded Manhattan once. The Red Foxes aren't in the same class as the other teams in this regional from a talent perspective, but they feature a scrappy leadoff man in shortstop Richard Curylo (.333/.403/.437), a solid No. 3 hitter in third baseman Ricky Pacione (.321/.411/.531 with eight homers and 51 RBIs), and a reliable closer in senior right-hander Jacob Wiley (9-1, 2.65 with six saves). It would be a major surprise for Marist to win a game this weekend.
Site: Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz. (Host: Arizona State)
No. 1 Arizona State: (33rd appearance, automatic bid, Pacific-10 Conference champion, No. 5 national seed).
Arizona State (44-12) lost 13 drafted players off last year's super regional team, including All-Americans Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, but the Sun Devils reloaded with the nation's best recruiting class, and they dominated the Pac-10 despite their inexperience. The biggest reason for ASU's success is the nation's best one-two punch on the mound: junior right-hander Mike Leake (14-1, 1.24) and junior lefty Josh Spence (8-1, 2.35).
Spence, an undersized, soft-tossing junior college transfer, is as crafty as they come. He is the key to ASU's title hopes: He missed time down the stretch with a middle finger injury, but he pitched four solid innings last week against UCLA and is expected to be available in regionals. Of course, this staff is considerably deeper than it was a year ago, and sophomores Seth Blair (6-2, 3.42) and Matt Newman (2-1, 4.59) as well as senior Jason Franzblau (3-2, 2.51) all performed well after Spence went down.
The bullpen has a pair of standout freshmen in lefty Mitchell Lambson (8-3, 2.93) and righty Jordan Swagerty (3-1, 4.38). ASU's offense isn't nearly as powerful as it was a year ago, but it still drives opponents crazy with its patience (327 walks, fourth in the nation). And it still has two serious threats in the middle of the order in outfielder Jason Kipnis (.380/.496/.720 with 14 homers, 65 RBIs and 21 stolen bases) and catcher Carlos Ramirez (.347/.450/.693 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs).
No. 2 Oral Roberts: (21st appearance, automatic bid, Summit League regular-season and tournament champion).
Oral Roberts (31-13), which ranks 39th in the NCAA's latest Ratings Percentage Index, was the field's most surprising No. 2 seed. The Golden Eagles did dominate the Summit League as usual, winning 16 of their 18 regular-season conference games and sweeping through the conference tournament for the 12th consecutive year. ORU's offense led the Summit in scoring (8.9 runs per game, 16th in the nation) and home runs (72), while its pitching staff led in ERA (3.66, fifth in the nation) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.8, best in the nation).
The Golden Eagles have three starters capable of dominating in right-handers Mark Serrano (9-0, 2.42 with 119 strikeouts in 78 innings), Jerry Sullivan (7-3, 3.07 with 107 strikeouts in 91 innings) and Andre Lamontagne (5-2, 3.23 with 71 strikeouts in 70 innings). Missing bats is very useful at Packard Stadium, where the ball tends to fly out of the park, and no team misses bats better than Oral Roberts. And the Golden Eagles' ability to hit the long ball also makes them a good fit for this regional; veterans Juan Martinez and Seth Furmanek combined to hit 29 homers this year, and five other ORU regulars hit five or more.
No. 3 Cal Poly: (First appearance, at-large bid, third place in Big West Conference).
Cal Poly (37-19) has gotten close to earning a regional bid several times in the last 15 years since joining Division I, but the Mustangs finally broke through for the first time in 2009. Poly was hit hard by injuries this year, most notably losing projected ace Steven Fischback before the season even began and losing freshman sensation Matt Jensen (the team's leader in home runs, double and RBIs) to a broken clavicle in early May. But the Mustangs have persevered, thanks largely to a potent offense that averages 8.4 runs per game (best in the Big West and 30th in the nation). Without Jensen, the lineup's biggest threat is junior infielder Adam Buschini (.414/.438/.713 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs), who has missed time to injury himself this year.
The versatile lineup also features a catalyst atop the order in outfielder Ryan Lee (.328 with 25 steals). The Mustangs have some pop and some speed, but their biggest strength is their ability to execute: They rank eighth in the nation with 61 sacrifice bunts. But expect the big bats in this regional to feast on Poly's pitching, which ranks 146th in the nation with a 5.80 ERA. Poly's arms must keep the ball in the park for the Mustangs to have a chance.
No. 4 Kent State: (Ninth appearance, automatic bid, Mid-American Conference tournament champion).
Don't sleep on fourth-seeded Kent State (42-15), which opened the year ranked in the Top 25 on the strength of its power arms and power bats. The Golden Flashes struggled down the stretch as power-armed righties Brad Stillings and Kyle Smith took their lumps, but Kent State rebounded to sweep through the MAC tournament to get back to regionals for the fifth time this decade. Stillings and Smith might be Kent's best-known players, but this team's biggest strength is its offense, which averages 9.1 runs per game (14th in the nation).
The Flashes are stocked with physical, patient hitters like Greg Rohan (.339 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs), Anthony Gallas (.328 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs) and Jason Patton (.312 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs). The lineup is deep and experienced, and Kent's athleticism plays well in the field, where it has a .973 fielding percentage, 22nd in the nation. Like Oral Roberts, Kent State's pitching staff misses plenty of bats (8.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 21st in the country), which is an asset in Tempe.
But rather than Stillings or Smith, the best pitchers on the staff have been left-handed relievers Andrew Chafin (4-1, 1.26 with eight saves) and Jon Pokorny (5-2, 2.29 with five saves). Expect to see a healthy dose of both this weekend. This team is capable of winning a regional, but its chances increase considerably if Stillings can throw strikes and if Smith has recovered from the elbow soreness that has plagued him this spring; he did throw three hitless innings in the MAC tournament last week, an encouraging sign.
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