Last week, I profiled six of the top mid-majors from across the country. Continuing with that same theme his week, I will profile six more ‘little guys’ who have had successful seasons thus far and hope to be among the field of 64 when that is announced just about six weeks from now. Among those mentioned are Lamar, Louisiana Tech, Elon, Jacksonville, Liberty, and San Francisco. Each of those squads is having a great season, having already compiled at least two dozen wins on the season to this point.
Lamar (27-12, 15-3 Southland, 55 RPI)
Season Overview - Jim Gilligan’s Cardinals have done just fine this season without preseason All-American catcher Michael Ambort. Ambort, who hit 18 homers last year, played only six games this year before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury from the summer that required surgery.
Offense - .314 AVG, 74 doubles, 11 triples, 38 homers, 34-46 SB, 7.1 runs a game
Main Men – Will Henderson (.338 average, 10 homers, 43 RBI), Dan Hernandez (.373, 7 homers, 26 RBI), Erik Kanaby (.349, 21 RBI, team-leading 10 steals), Ryan Baker (.348, 12 RBI), C.J. Ebarb (.313, team-leading 15 doubles, 6 homers, 40 RBI)
The Cardinals can hit the ball well. Period. They have above-average power and decent speed on the basepaths. Previously little-used senior Will Henderson has picked up the slugger reins, and JC transfers Eric Kanady and Ryan Baker have been great additions. C.J. Ebarb has taken over full-time catching duties and has enjoyed a good season at the plate.
Pitching – 3.44 ERA, 342.1 IP, 299 hits, 138 walks, 345 Ks, six shutouts, nine saves
Top Arms – William Delage (8-2, 2.45 ERA, 77 IP, 76-18 K/BB ratio), Steve MacFarland (6-2, 3.23 ERA, 64 IP, 83 Ks), Allen Harrington (2-2, 16 appearances, 2.34 ERA, 4 saves, 50 IP, 47 Ks), Scott Meyer (3-0, 0.88 ERA, 19 apps., 30 2 IP, 21 Ks), Derrick Gordon (3-2, 4.37 ERA, 47.1 IP, 48 Ks),
They have two excellent starters in William Delage and Pace University transfer Steve MacFarland, and former closer Allen Harrington's recent move into the rotation has given them a third quality guy. Derrick Gordon was an all-conference selection as a freshman and has bounced back after a subpar sophomore season. Scott Meyer has been excellent (only three earned runs allowed) out of the bullpen for a relief staff that’s adequate, but with Harrington moving into the rotation, that does take away one of their best arms.
At-Large Possibilities – They have a comfortable lead in the SLC with four series remaining, so the regular season title is theirs to lose. Playing a solid non-conference schedule helps them, but if they get eliminated early in the conference tournament, they could miss out, even if they win the SLC in a runaway.
Possible Destinations – Houston (Rice), Austin, and Tempe
Finish – If Delage and MacFarland can do what they’re capable of and the hitters follow suit, the Cards could pull an upset or two. They’d likely face a pretty good two seed in their opener, and if they could get past them, they have what it takes to at least put a scare into a team like Rice or Texas. Having already played the Owls this season (and they will play them one more time) at Reckling Park could work to their advantage.
Louisiana Tech (24-13, 8-3 WAC, 35 RPI)
The Bulldogs from Ruston have jumped into the Regional picture in the last couple of weeks. They started 3-7 but are 21-6 since. Their biggest win was a miracle comeback against then-#3 Mississippi State at home. Tech scored seven runs in the ninth, all with two outs, to win 13-12. They swept Fresno State last weekend in Ruston to take over the WAC lead by a game and a half.
Offense - .317 AVG, 67 doubles, 7 triples, 39 homers, 37-59 steals, 7.7 runs a game
Main Men – Amos Ramon (.388, 10 2B, 4 homers, 22 RBI, team-leading six steals), Jericho Jones (.379, team-leading 10 homers and 37 RBI), Brian Rike (.327, six homers, 27 RBI), Ryan Hamilton (.324, 12 2B, two homers, 28 RBI)
Tech is a solid hitting club from top to bottom. Eight starters hit .312 or above. With decent power and average speed, they can score runs in bunches.
Main Arms – Matt Lacy (5-2, 2.95 ERA, 58 IP, 46 Ks, two complete games), Luke Burnett (3-3. 3.33 ERA, 46 IP, 38 Ks), Jericho Jones (5-1, 7.21 ERA, 43.2 IP, 34 Ks), Andrew Alsup (2-0, 2.97 ERA, 13 apps., 4 saves, 33.1 IP, 17 Ks)
The Bulldogs have pitched much better as of late. Matt Lacy is the best arm on the staff. They’ve pitched a lot of guys in relief, but success has been spotty.
Season Outlook – If they can keep up their winning ways, the WAC regular season title and accompanying automatic bid should be theirs. Their toughest remaining series is in Ruston against Hawaii, who they took both games against in their first conference series.
At-Large Possibilities – Wins over Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Baylor, and the aforementioned Lamar, along with their relatively strong RPI, gives Tech a good at-large case, if they don’t take the automatic bid.
Possible Destinations – They could end up in Houston with former WAC juggernaut Rice. Fayetteville, Baton Rouge, or Starkville are also possibilities, if those places host. They’ll be a three seed wherever they end up.
Finish – Being familiar with Rice from previous years, and having experience against Arkansas and MSU from this season, could help Tech out come postseason time. Their hitting is solid enough to keep them in it if they get into a slugfest (just ask Mississippi State), but their lack of quality pitching could be their ultimate obstacle.
Elon (29-11, 12-3 Southern, 18 RPI)
With College of Charleston being the prohibitive favorite in the SoCon, it’d be easy to forget about Elon. But the Phoenix are currently tied with the Cougars for the top spot, a half-game ahead of Furman.
Offense - .296 AVG, 78 doubles, 9 triples, 45 homers, 57-73 steals, 7.7 runs a game
Main Men – Chris Vasami (.349, 8 homers, 28 RBI), Chris Price (.333, 9 doubles, 9 homers, 46 RBI), Adam Weaver (.316, 9 doubles, 2 homers, 26 RBI), Ryan Addison (.306, 5 doubles, 7 homers, 33 RBI, 16-16 steals), Donny Jobe (.278, 19 RBI, 16-20 SB)
The Phoenix have six starters hitting above .300. They have a solid mix of good hitting, power, and speed. Chris Price carries the biggest stick, and he helps make sure guys like Ryan Addison and Donny Jobe get across the plate regularly.
Chastain and Cole make the Phoenix hard to beat on the weekends. Tilley does a fine job as the closer. After those guys though, the rest of the staff is iffy.
Season Outlook – They’re right in the thick of things for the SoCon crown, but CofC has the advantage due to an earlier 2-1 series win. Elon will give the Cougars a run for their money though, along with the Paladins.
At-Large Possibilities – I look for the SoCon to get one more bid after Charleston, and right now, the Phoenix look like the best bet for it. They own a series win against Auburn, and they also defeated South Carolina and Wake Forest. They swept Mid-American leader Kent State as well, who took two of three from likely Regional participant Winthrop.
Possible Destinations – Chapel Hill is at the top of the list. Clemson and Columbia are also possible destinations. With a good finish to the season, the Phoenix could end up being a two seed.
Finish – They’ve played all three of the above schools, so once again, familiarity can help. Chastain and Cole will have to be on top of their game, because if they aren’t, Elon may be done quickly. Their lack of reliable arms is just too much for me to overlook.
Jacksonville (28-12, 10-5 Atlantic Sun, 53 RPI)
Season Outlook – Terry Alexander’s club is having its best season since 2003, and the Dolphins have a great shot at making their first Regional since 2001.
Offense - .309 AVG, 81 doubles, six triples, 28 homers, 64-83 steals, 7.5 runs a game
Main Men – Gordie Gronkowski (.361, 11 doubles, 6 homers, 30 RBI), Thomas LePage (.361, 9 doubles, 29 RBI), Pete Clifford (.342, 15 doubles, 4 homers, 26 RBI, 17-18 SB), Daniel Murphy (.358, 8 doubles, 4 homers, 38 RBI, 10-16 SB), Mike MacCallister (.293, 7 homers, 38 RBI)
They have four regulars at .342 and above, and freshman Anthony Bernazard has recently taken over leadoff duties and has hit .340 in 23 games (11 starts). With occasional pop and good speed, they’ve put up some big run totals this year in the A-Sun.
Pitching – 3.53 ERA, 364.2 IP, 353 hits, 147 walks, 239 strikeouts, two shutouts, ten saves
Main Arms – Matt Dobbins (8-1, 2.12 ERA), Tim Brown (3-2, 4.03 ERA, 15 apps., 5 starts, 44.2 IP), D.J. Ashley (3-3, 4.93 ERA, 16 apps., 8 starts, 69.1 IP), Aaron Parvey (4-1, 1.33, 18 apps., 40.1 IP), Justin Young (2-2, 0.84, 13 apps., 21.1 IP)
Matt Dobbins has been by far the best arm on the staff. D.J. Ashley has split time in both starting and relief duty. Dobbins is a great pitcher, and so are Justin Young and Aaron Parvey out of the pen, but there’s not very much depth and consistency behind those guys, unfortunately.
Season Outlook – They currently trail Mercer (25-17, 12-6) by a half game in the A-Sun, but they have one more series to play than the Bears. The fact that the teams play in Jacksonville should swing the advantage for the regular season crown to the Dolphins. Three of their final five series are on the road, but all three are against teams with below .500 records in conference. A-Sun preseason favorite Florida Atlantic, which currently sits next-to-last at 6-9, could play spoiler when the teams play in Boca Raton in two weekends.
At-Large Possibilities – The Dolphins need to at least finish a close second in the standings and then make a deep run into the conference tourney to be in the conversation for an at-large bid. It’d be in their best interest to win the regular season title and make it to at least the semis of the conference tourney. However, a lackluster non-conference schedule outside of four games with local ‘rival’ Florida State makes things difficult even in that scenario.
Liberty (28-9, 8-4 Big South, 88 RPI)
Liberty won a school-record 36 games last year, but the Flames have had an even more impressive season thus far in 2006. Two nine-game winning streaks have helped produce their gaudy record. Outside of a 1-5 stretch in mid-March, the Flames have been excellent. They currently sit third in the Big South, one game behind leader Winthrop and a half-game behind second-place Birmingham Southern.
Offense - .309 AVG, 79 doubles, 19 triples, 33 homers, 72-87 steals, 7.6 runs a game
Main Men – Phillip Laurent (.368, 14 doubles, six homers, 43 RBI), Phil John (.383, 5 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 7-7 SB), Michael Just (.349, 14 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, team-leading 40 runs scored), Chad Miller (.322, 8 2B, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 14-16 SB), Aaron Grivalja (.321, 9 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 16-16 steals), Patrick Gaillard (.307, 6 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 13-14 SB)
They have several solid hitters, and when they get runners on base, they’re dangerous. The Flames don’t hit for very much power, but when you have several guys who can run, your chances to score runs will be plentiful.
Main Arms - Michael Solbach (6-2, 3.62, 72.1 IP, 63-18 K/BB ratio), Philip Thompson (6-3, 4.26 ERA, 15 apps., 7 starts, four saves, 61.1 IP, 53 Ks), Ryan Page (6-1, 2.91 ERA), Tim John (3-1, 2.97, 16 apps.)
They have three solid, experienced starters. Tim John is the best arm out of a thin bullpen.
Season Outlook – They got swept by Winthrop earlier in the season, and they face BSC in two weeks. They’ll be right up there near the top of the standings when it’s all said and done, but it’ll be hard to pass the Eagles. Second or third will be a solid finish, but every spot in the right direction would help their case for a bid that much more.
At-Large Possibilities – Their current RPI of 88 raises a bit of a flag on the Flames, since they haven’t played any top-drawer, big-conference opponents. However, if they finish with more than 40 wins, it’d very hard to turn them down.
Possible Destinations – Clemson, South Carolina, and Chapel Hill are the main three.
Finish – The Flames haven’t had the opportunity to go up against the best of the best this year, so they’ll be one to watch if they do make it to the Regionals. The experienced arms of Michael Solbach, Philip Thompson, and Ryan Page will play a big role in determining how much of a chance they have of advancing past the first couple of days. The less the bullpen has to work, the better.
San Francisco (24-15, 6-3 West Coast)
After a 5-11 start, the Dons have gone 19-4. They’ve won their first three conference series and are tied atop the WCC standings with a 6-3 record.
Offense - .285 AVG, 63 doubles, 7 triples, 23 homers, 58-78 steals
Main Men – Joey Bailey (.377, 9 doubles, 19 RBI, 11-15 steals), Stefan Gartrell (.338, 11 doubles, 3 homers, 37 RBI, 6-6 SB), Scott Cousins (.319, 5 doubles, two triples, 3 homers, 25 RBI, 16-19 SB)
The offense has had its moments this season for the Dons, but hitting is definitely not the strongest part of this team. There’s been a lot of lineup shuffling this season, but the above three guys have been the mainstays in the order.
Pitching – 3.53 ERA, 335 IP, 359 hits, 86 walks, 227 strikeouts, six complete games, four shutouts
Main Arms – Patrick McGuigan (9-1, 2.44 ERA, 77.1 IP, 53-11 K/BB ratio), Aaron Poreda (3-4, 2.50 ERA, 68.1 IP, 52-15 K/BB ratio), Cole Stipovich (1-1, 1.64 ERA, 12 apps.), John Quine (2-2, 2.40 ERA, 15 apps., 30 IP, three saves), Cousins (3-1, 3.40, six starts, 42.1 IP), Brian Anderson (4-0, 3.89, 15 apps., five starts, 37 IP)
McGuigan is the star, and Poreda has been good at times. Cousins has had success on the mound as well, and he might have to come up big if they make it into the Regionals. Cole Stipovich, John Quine, and Brian Anderson are the best out of the bullpen. The pitching depth is certainly not what it could and needs to be though.
Season Outlook – The Dons have already won a series at fellow WCC contender Pepperdine, and if they can go at least 4-2 in their next two series (at 5-4 Gonzaga and at home against San Diego), that will put them in good shape for the stretch run. They’ve been tough to beat for the last month, and I look for them to keep it going as the season winds down. If they don’t win the WCC, they’ll certainly come pretty close to doing so.
At-Large Possibilities – USF has recorded a number of impressive wins thus far (at Cal, at Stanford, vs Oregon State, the two at Pepperdine, three vs Mid-Continent powerhouse Oral Roberts, and two at New Mexico). If they can have a strong conference finish and pile up 35 to 37 wins, they’ll be in the running for an at-large bid. Winning the automatic bid is the goal, of course, but if they can pick up the right wins, it won’t be a necessity.
Possible Destinations – Cal State-Fullerton and Tempe (Arizona State) look good, and if the Pac-10 has more than one host, they could end up there. A two seed would be nice, but there wouldn’t be much difference between it and a three.
Finish – Having a quality starter like Patrick McGuigan affords them the opportunity to possibly rest him until the second game and hope that someone else (likely Aaron Poreda) could give them enough to win game one. If it works, that’d give them the chance to pitch their ace in a winner’s bracket game. Or they could just use McGuigan in the first game and Poreda in the second. Either way, if those plans backfire, they’ll probably be in store for an early trip home. Their bats do need to step up, however, to maximize their chances of advancing to Sunday or Monday.
Other teams who I strongly considered were Furman, Mercer, Kent State, Cal Poly, Hawaii, Oral Roberts, James Madison, North Carolina-Wilmington, and Creighton.
Teams like Long Beach State, Pepperdine, and Wichita State were not eligible for the list, and neither were Notre Dame and Purdue, who definitely deserve recognition, but since they’re both big schools and members of ‘BCS’ conferences, I had to leave them out.