The Gators were our preseason pick to win the title and that hasn’t changed, so needless to say UF is our choice in this region. Mike Zunino is batting out of his gourd and the Gator pitchers have been impressive, most impressive. I only feel bad for the guy who suits up in the mascot costume as he made the trip to Omaha last year and it had to be a bizzilion degrees in there. If any team is going to take a game from the Gators it will be Miami. The Canes are a strong number two seed and have an excellent staff as well. Had Harold Martinez put up the power number he was projected to post, maybe I could be swayed to choose the “U”. The last time Manhattan was in the Regionals they pulled out a win over Joba Chamberlain in Lincoln.
I can’t see anyone other that host Georgia Tech taking this region. The Yellow Jackets have a balanced ballclub which dominates at the plate and on the mound. Matt Skole has an awesome power stroke and Mark Pope and Buck Farmer combined for 21 wins with only seven losses. The Golden Eagles went to Omaha two years ago via Atlanta, but two of their best players have been suspended for academic reasons. Additionally, their leading hitter is questionable due to a hamstring injury. Mississippi State is good but not great and Austin Peay is fun to root for, “Let’s go Peay!”, but neither should contend for the region crown.
Arkansas is steamin’ mad they didn’t get to host a regional and were shipped across two time zones to play in Tempe. It also took some time to see if the Hogs’ games were going to able to be seen on the Internet so their fans have been pretty riled up as well. If Arkansas gets past Charlotte (who is a pickle of a three seed), DJ Baxendale will likely take to the mound against in hopes of propelling UA to the next round. Personally, I kept waiting to hear that Arizona State wasn’t going to be eligible to play this season, but considering they’re hosting, the Sun Devils obviously received a stay of execution. Arkansas has been the popular ‘dark horse’ pick to advance, and ASU always dominates at home. As such, I’m gonna go with Charlotte. 49ers pitchers have 11 shutouts this season and a pair of aces with sub 2.00 ERA in Andrew Smith and Tyler Barnette. This has been the year of the pitcher and the A-10 Champs know how to hurl.
Texas received a nice draw for their region. Texas State and Kent State are exceptional mid-major programs, but don’t have the experience of playing weekly games against competition at the level of the Longhorns. There are some exceptional players on the Bobcats and Flashes, namely Casey Kalenkosky and Carson Smith for TSU and a three headed beast of a rotation in Andrew Chafin, Kyle Hallock and David Starn for KSU. As good as they are, they can’t compare to the top talent on the Horns. Taylor Jungmann has a 0.95 ERA and a perfect 13-0 record with five complete games. UT other two weekend starters each had a least a strikeout per inning and combined for 12 more wins. Add closer Kendal Carrillo and his 16 saves and forget about it. UT rolls in Austin.
Vanderbilt has been close to making the trip to Omaha and this should be their year. Sonny Gray is an incredible pitcher and hard to root against. He’ll be joining his fellow Commodore David Price in the majors soon. The ‘Dores can hit with the best of them too. Jason Esposito is the team’s most prolific hitter and leads and offense that batted an SEC leading .318. Oklahoma State’s Zach Johnson has been one of the Big XII’s best hitters, but he and Dan Phillips are the only Cowboys who batted over .300 for the season (playing Texas didn’t help). Troy IMHO should be the second seed in this region as the Sun Belt is slowly becoming a power conference. The Trojans won the conference regular season title and Adam Bryant and Tyler Ray won the SBC’s Player and Pitcher of the Year awards. Belmont does have an advantage over OSU and Troy since they’ll be playing in their hometown of Nashville.
Interestingly, the team with the highest batting average in the region is Georgia with an unimpressive .277 average. This gives the club with the best pitching an advantage. Of all the teams in the tournament I one I’ve seen the most this season has been Creighton as the Jays play down the street from my house and I can tell you that Jonas Dufek is the real deal. Grab the kids and huddle around the TV or computer when he takes to the hill. Hopefully he’ll throw against Oregon State’s Sam Gaviglo in a second round matchup that could last just over two hours as the two toss zeroes on the linescore. Georgia is esy to overlook considering they are a single game over .500, but the Bulldogs will be playing spirited ball in honor of their teammate Jonathan Taylor who broke his neck during a collision earlier in the season. I’m probably biased in saying this, but I think Creighton will take this region. I give CU the advantage largely in part to Trever Adams who was the Missouri Valley’s most dangerous hitter.
The Titans should win this conference without much problem. CSF is making their 20th consecutive NCAA postseason appearance and has hosted a regional in half of those appearances. This year the Titans are lead by Nick and Noe Ramirez (no relation, but they may be blood brothers). I saw Nick last year when Team USA and thought he was the most impressive player in person I saw all season (you know who else looked good Bethune Cookman’s Peter O’Brien). Nick lead the team in homeruns with nine when no other CSF player had more than two, and had 16 saves as a utility player. Stanford played a tough schedule, but being battle tested doesn’t make them good. The Cardinal should be more of a threat to the Titans in the west next year. Kansas State knows how to create runs and I can see them sneaking in an upset win somewhere. Nevertheless, neither Stanford, KSU or Big 10 Champion Illinois should be able to upset Fullerton. Illinois BTW has to be the best four seed in sometime. They won the conference’s regular season and tournament titles and won 16 of their last 20 games.
CHAPEL HILL REGIONAL
I didn’t expect much from UNC this season, but man was I wrong. The Heels finished 45-14 and were 20-10 in the ACC. For their effort they earned themselves the number three national seed (which, despite the wins seems a bit of a stretch). The Heels weren’t particularly dominating at the plate or on the mound, but they won nonetheless. Levi Mitchell is a top pro prospect and Colin Moran led the team in hitting as a freshman. Patrick Johnson, who has won of the most boring names in baseball, has one of the most exciting arms. He went 11-1 with 102 K’s. UNC’s challengers will be Florida International and James Madison. FIU was in the spotlight when Garrett Wittels attempted to break Robin Ventura’s hit streak to start the season. The Panthers had five regular players bat over .330, but can’t boast an equally stunning pitching staff. Something similar could be said for James Madison. The Diamond Dukes punished the ball as the top scoring team in the nation with over nine runs per game and a nation leading .527 slugging percentage. However JMU’s pitching staff had a robust 5.77 ERA for the season. Some of that is inflated because they play in the hitter friendly Colonial Athletic Association, but much of it is because they’re simply not that great on the hill. Want to know something surprising. Fourth seeded Maine has been to the CWS seven times. That’s the same as Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech and Texas A&M combined. This year won’t be their eighth. UNC will advance, but no team would be a shocker – a surprise, but not a shock.