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REGIONAL PREVIEW 2006
June 1, 2006

SCS.comNearly three hundred teams dream about it, but only sixty-four can make it. Yep, it’s regional time again. It’s no longer about who got in, or how they got in, or who got the shaft. All of that is out the window.

What matters is who’s in.

Here’s how the sixteen regionals stack up (at least in my opinion) and a few things you could and should watch for this weekend. There will be surprises, for sure, but that’s what makes this time of year special.

Clemson

1. Clemson (#1 national seed), 2. Elon, 3. Mississippi St., 4. UNC-Asheville

Clemson’s not only the favorite to take this regional, but they’re also the odds-on favorite to win the national title. They boast a talented three-man rotation of Stephen Fairis (8-2, 2.24 ERA), Josh Cribb (9-0, 2.84), and Jason Berken (8-3, 2.76), though they could very well be overlooked by the potent Tiger bats. CU has bashed 69 homers on the year, led by Andy D’Alessio’s 20. But this regional won’t be a cakewalk for the ACC champions, to say the least.

The biggest story in the regional is Mississippi State, who many feel does not deserve to be in the field. Debate their resume, but it’d be silly to write off the Bulldogs. MSU was one of the best hitting teams in the SEC, and they also boast two talented starters in lefties Brooks Dunn and Justin Pigott.

Elon must not be underestimated either. The Phoenix hit .303 with 65 homers, led by two Chris’s (Vasami - 13, and Price - 12), and they also swiped 76 bases. While their rotation of freshman Stephen Hensley (6-3, 4.47 ERA, 95 Ks), Matt Chastain (10-2, 2.61), and Lance Cole (8-3, 4.22) may not stack up to Clemson’s, they get the job done well.

Fayetteville

1. Oklahoma State, 2. Arkansas, 3. Oral Roberts, 4. Princeton

This is the only regional where the host is not the #1 seed, but the Razorbacks are the favorite to advance. You'd have to take the odds that Nick Schmidt won't have a second straight poor start in a row after getting knocked around by Mississippi in Hoover. UA is good, but being able to play in front of 10,000 fans, with no less than 85% of them raucous Razorback rooters, won't hurt.

OSU, somewhat surprisingly, is the #1 seed here. The Cowboys went 0-3 in the Big XII tourney. However, before then, they'd won 21 of 24 to vault into a second-place conference finish. If OSU goes up against Arkansas, even getting one hit would be a small victory, as the Razorbacks no-hit the Cowboys in Mobile back in February. They're a much different team now, and with the way balls can fly out of Baum Stadium, the fact that OSU is one of the top power clubs in the country (76 homers) could cause some worries for the Hogs.

Oral Roberts, at one point, was 10-11. Since then, they're 28-3. The Golden Eagles dominated the Mid-Continent once again (time for a move up?) and won the tourney for the ninth straight year. ORU is solid at the plate from top to bottom, with nine regulars hitting .310 or better. They score over eight runs a game, and have power (55 homers, three players with 10+).

Princeton crashes the southern party and makes their third tournament appearance in four years. In their last appearance in 2004, the Tigers upset Virginia in Charlottesville. So watch out Cowboy fans, and don't look ahead to a meeting with Arkansas yet. If upsets happen, that meeting could be in the loser's bracket.

Darkhorse/Upset Special – Oral Roberts has played both OSU and Arkansas this year. Nick Jones, ORU’s starter vs. Arkansas, threw a no-hitter against Oakland.. All nine of the Golden Eagle starters hit over .300, and they have three players with 10 or more homers.

Atlanta

1. Georgia Tech (#8 national), 2. Vanderbilt, 3. Michigan, 4. Stetson

There's no reason why Georgia Tech shouldn't advance, but when it comes to the Jackets and postseason play, you can’t be certain. Three solid squads are anxious to knock them off, but it will require slowing down those powerful bats, led by Matt Wieters, Steven Blackwood, and Wes Hodges. Tech has one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in the country (one that would be even better with the injured Danny Payne).

Vandy was teetering on the bubble until bashing their way to the SEC tourney final, which they lost to Mississippi, but they may be on enough of a roll to threaten the host. Commodore freshman sensation Pedro Alvarez has been the offensive talisman for VU, and in hitter-friendly Russ Chandler Stadium, he could feast this weekend.

Michigan won the Big Ten regular season title on the last weekend of the season and came through the loser's bracket to win the conference tourney in Ann Arbor last week. UM catcher Jeff Kunkel is a finalist for the Johnny Bench award.

Stetson repeated last year's feat by winning the A-Sun tourney to get into the field, and Hatters fans have reason to look to Friday's meeting with GT with a grin. In 2003, Stetson went to Atlanta as a #4 seed and upset the #3 national seed Jackets, setting off a rather unforgettable 0-2 exit for GT that year.

Darkhorse – Vanderbilt. If they pitch #2 starter Matt Buschmann vs. Michigan to save David Price for the winner’s bracket game, and the pieces fall correctly, the ‘Dores could be in the driver’s seat on Sunday.

Lexington

1. Kentucky, 2. College of Charleston, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Ball State

Kentucky hosts a regional for the first time, and the Wildcats are making only their third regional appearance ever. They have quite a draw, with the SoCon champ Cougars, Big East champ Irish, and Mid-American champ Cardinals coming to town. Playing at home gives UK a distinct advantage, as they went 29-4 at Cliff Hagan Stadium this spring. Everyone knows about the Cats' bats, which have produced an astounding 96 homers, with four players accounting for 70 of them. SEC Player of the Year, JC transfer Ryan Strieby, leads the team with 20.

College of Charleston is a small-ball team playing in a gorilla-ball setting. It'll be interesting to see what approach the Cougars take. They have seven double-digit doubles hitters, and some of those doubles can translate into homers in Lexington. Their stellar pitching staff (2.92 ERA) will face the stiffest test. If they have trouble, CofC may be forced to abandon small ball, which could backfire.

Notre Dame, like College of Charleston, is not a power club by any means, but with four quality starters, they haven't needed to be. Two small ball teams playing in a power hitter's dream park makes for a noteworthy opener on Friday.

Ball State makes their second straight regional appearance. The Cardinals took down regular season champ and favorite Kent State to win the MAC tourney. BSU might feel right at home in Lexington. They've scored nine or more runs 18 times this season, including totals of 16 (twice), 17, 19, and 31 (yes, 31).

Darkhorse – Notre Dame.

Tuscaloosa

1. Alabama (#4 national), 2. Troy, 3. Southern Miss, 4. Jacksonville State

SEC regular season co-champ Alabama hosts for the first time since 2002, and the Tide doesn't want a repeat of then, when they lost the opener to Ohio Valley champ Southeast Missouri State and after coming through the loser's bracket, lost the title game to Florida Atlantic. As it happens, 'Bama opens with this year's OVC champ in Jax State, and then may have to deal with a former Atlantic Sun member in Troy.

Troy had its bubble burst last year, but the Trojans made sure there were no doubts this season. They acclimated easily to life in the Sun Belt, winning the regular season title and then going unbeaten through the conference tournament.

Southern Mississippi has become a postseason regular, and with their blend of talented youth and experience, they have what it takes to make a run in Tuscaloosa. Troy and USM know a few things about run-scoring (and giving them up too), so their meeting on Friday might stretch on for a while.

Darkhorse – USM.

Chapel Hill

1. North Carolina, 2. Winthrop, 3. UNC-Wilmington, 4. Maine

North Carolina was likely a national seed before going 0-2 in the ACC tournament, but the Tar Heels, who were #1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll for four weeks, should handle business here. When you have three All-American caliber starters in Andrew Miller, Robert Woodard, and Daniel Bard, you'll win most games. Their pitching might overshadow the fact that the hosts sport a .317 team average, have clobbered 66 homers, while also stealing 83 bases.

Winthrop is similar to North Carolina offensively (.329, 68 homers, 99 steals), and the Eagles have two strikeout kings on the hill in redshirt freshman Alex Wilson (13-2, 3.14 ERA, 141 Ks) and two-way star Heath Rollins (11-4, 133 Ks, 3.43 ERA, and 25-30 steals).

UNC-Wilmington was up and down in CAA play and finished fifth in the league. But the Seahawks made the best of playing at home and beat Virginia Commonwealth for the tourney title. Just like the two higher seeds, Wilmington puts its bats to good use. John Raynor spurned the pros to return for his final year, and check these numbers out: .378, 94 hits, 61 runs, 17 doubles, 11 homers, 64 RBI, 41-45 steals. I don't think there'd be much disagreement that he made the right decision.

Darkhorse – Winthrop.

Fullerton

1. CS-Fullerton (#5 national), 2. Fresno State, 3. San Diego, 4. St. Louis

CSF won the Big West by six games and has been steady in the top four in the polls for most of ‘06. With three starters who have 11 or more wins and ERA's under 3.00, the Titans should breeze into the next round. Wes Roemer (11-1, 2.01 ERA, 113/4 K/BB), Lauren Gagnier (12-4, 2.67), and Dustin Miller (11-1, 2.87) are good, and they might need to be even better now. With all-star closer Vinnie Pestano (0.97 ERA, 13 saves) out for the season, the bullpen doesn't have its go-to guy. But it's hard to bet against them advancing with that trio of starters.

Fresno State won both the WAC regular season and tourney crowns, and comes into Fullerton on a 15-game win streak. The Bulldogs' top slugger, Beau Mills, was recently suspended for the remainder of the season (academics), but his absence hasn't shown yet, as FSU has scored 69 runs in seven games since his suspension.

San Diego was a bubble selection due to their low 50s RPI, up-and-down season, and third-place conference finish in the WCC. But they earned their berth due to several quality non-conference wins.

St. Louis toiled in the lower reaches of C-USA for several years before making the move to the Atlantic 10 this year. After finishing fifth in the A-10 standings, the Billikens upset top seeds Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure on the way to capturing the automatic bid.

Darkhorse – San Diego.

Malibu

1. Pepperdine, 2. UCLA, 3. UC-Irvine, 4. Missouri

A lot of quality arms will be on display in Malibu. West Coast champ Pepperdine, who’s won 19 of 23, has two premier pitchers in sophomore stud Barry Enright (12-1, 22-2 overall) and 2005 WCC Pitcher of the Year Paul Coleman (7-5, 2.78, 94 Ks).

Whether or not UCLA's 32-23 record merits a #2 seed is iffy, but the Bruins aren't a shabby squad. They, like the Waves, have three quality starters, led by junior Dave Huff who will face his former school (Irvine) if he pitches on Friday.

Missouri isn't your typical #4 seed, especially with ace Max Scherzer healthy. The Tigers toiled in mediocrity until the past few weeks, when a sweep of Texas (bubble barometer – beating Texas, apparently) and going 2-1 in the Big XII tourney with wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State propelled the Tigers into the field.

Darkhorse – Missouri.

Houston

1. Rice (#2 national), 2. Arizona State, 3. Baylor, 4. Prairie View

Rice is #1 in the polls but is the #2 national seed, but numbers are just that. Either way, the Owls are one of the nation's best. They rolled through the Conference USA schedule and tournament with little trouble in their first year in the new league. There are no holes in this team. They can hit (.320, 144 doubles, 67 homers, six starters hitting .318 and above). They have a four-deep rotation and stud relievers. They’ve stolen 70 bases. And, to boot, they field at a .972 clip. The scary part is that most of their key guys are just freshmen or sophomores.

Arizona State faces a familiar opponent in Baylor. The Sun Devils lost three of their last five Pac-10 series, but a sweep of Cal to finish the season may give them a little momentum. The Bears have endured an up-and-down season, but did just enough to get into the field.

Darkhorse – Baylor. Just as San Diego has been a bit of an enigma, so have the Bears. Sweeps against Oklahoma State and Nebraska show what they’re capable of, but several questionable losses have you raising an eyebrow.

Norman

1. Oklahoma, 2. Houston, 3. Wichita State, 4. TCU

Oklahoma last hosted in 2004, but this is their first regional in Norman since 1977. Playing at home gives the Sooners an edge, but they are not a clear-cut favorite. Keep in mind, though, that the last time OU was a #1, they won the CWS (1994).

Houston finished runner-up to Rice in the C-USA standings and in the tournament. Junior Brad Lincoln leads the Cougars on the hill, and he isn't half-bad at the plate either. With an arm clocked in the high 90s, there's no wonder why Lincoln is a likely first-round pick. He handed Rice’s Eddie Degermann his only loss of the season three weeks ago. At the plate, he's accounted for 13 homers and 52 RBIs.

Wichita State is in despite finishing third in the Missouri Valley and then going 1-2 in the league tourney. Impressive non-conference wins, plus bookend hot streaks, were enough. They've fared well even without injured utility star Damon Sublett.

And TCU is in once again, this time representing a new conference, after having rolled through the Mountain West in their first year in the league.

Darkhorse – TCU. Horned Frogs’ ace Brad Furnish is very, very high on MLB draft boards, and #2 and #3 starters Jake Arrieta and Sam Demel complete a rotation that could lead to some upsets this weekend.

Athens

1. Georgia (#7 national), 2. Florida State, 3. Jacksonville, 4. Sacred Heart

Just as in 2004, Georgia stormed through the second half of the season. That 2004 team made it to Omaha, and if the Bulldogs keep hitting the ball as they have lately, a Rosenblatt return might be on the cards. But as they showed in Hoover, giving up runs could be a problem. If they use up their pitching, they have the hitters to make up for it, but it can carry them only so far. If it gets to the late innings, closer Josh Fields can come in and shut ‘em down with the best of ‘em, and that’s what Bulldog fans can hope for.

The Seminoles aren’t used to having to travel for regionals. This is the first time they haven’t hosted since 1994. Struggles down the stretch saw to that. But with starters Bryan Henry and Tyler Chambliss and a hot-hitting lineup led at the top by All-American Shane Robinson, FSU has a great chance at leaving Athens with a regional win.

Jacksonville won 41 games in the regular season and won the Atlantic Sun by three games, but went 1-2 in the conference tourney, so they had to sweat it out on Monday. The fact that the Dolphins have no impressive wins raises questions about their inclusion, but excellence in the slate they played merits a bid. FSU has already beaten JU four times this season. Could the fifth time be the charm? FSU hasn't dealt with Dolphin ace Matt Dobbins (13-0) yet, but on the flip side, JU hasn’t dealt with FSU's main hurlers either.

Sacred Heart opened 0-11, but turned things around, and they take a seven-game win streak to Athens. The Pioneers took down regular season champ Central Connecticut State twice to win the NEC crown. Don't think they're in it just for the vacation. Sacred Heart's Jay Monti could give Georgia fits.

Darkhorse – Florida State.

Charlottesville

1. Virginia, 2. South Carolina, 3. Evansville, 4. Lehigh

The Cavaliers gave North Carolina a run in the ACC's Atlantic Division, finishing only one game behind UNC. UVa could have arguably the nation's best rotation, with Sean Doolittle, Mike Ballard, and Jacob Thompson rivaling the UNC trio. Playing at home + amazing pitching + beatable competition = advancement.

South Carolina rose to #1 in April, but the Gamecocks have since come crashing down to earth. Injuries to key players, along with overall inconsistency, have played a major part in their struggles. However, even through struggles, the newcomers who've been pushed into duty have stepped up, led by SEC Freshman of the Year Justin Smoak.

Evansville quietly rose to the top of the Missouri Valley, winning both the regular season and conference titles and accumulating 40 wins. Wichita State and Creighton were the favorites coming in, but the Purple Aces went past both.

Darkhorse – Evansville. They aren’t a great hitting team, but the 3.33 ERA makes up for it. Just as they quietly won the MVC, they could very well do the same with this regional. Davenport Field is more suited to pitchers, so all the Aces might need to do is eek out a few runs to do the job.

Austin

1. Texas (#3 national), 2. NC State, 3. Stanford, 4. Texas-Arlington

It's that time of the year again for the Longhorns. They know how to show up when it's the postseason. Giving them the #3 national seed might be a little lofty, considering they were swept in the final regular season weekend and also didn't make the Big XII tourney final. But, the Big XII regular season title counts for plenty.

UT got a favorable draw, and the defending champs would seem to have a fairly clear road to Omaha. NC State made the ACC tourney final, but they have to play even better in order to stand a chance. And which Cardinal team will show? The one that swept Cal-State Fullerton to open the season and then made a late-season run to merit consideration, or the team that lost to teams like UC-Davis? The potential of facing Texas, who they beat two of three in Palo Alto in February, could give an extra motivational boost.

Texas-Arlington has an overall losing record, but they own a winning record against the Longhorns this season, having beaten UT 6-3 in Austin on April 11. Seconds, perhaps?

Darkhorse – Stanford. Is the postseason when they finally decide to show what they’re capable of? Miami in 2002 went 30-26 in the regular season, but came within three outs of reaching the College World Series.

Corvallis

1. Oregon State, 2. Kansas, 3. Hawaii, 4. Wright State

Pac-10 champ Oregon State hosts for the second straight year, and holds the flag as the only host from that league. Last year, the Beavers had a comparatively easier road to the Supers and Omaha. Two 40-win teams in the Jayhawks and Warriors will do their best to make this year's journey rocky.

The Jayhawks have been an improving team the past few years, and now they are in the field for the first time since 1994. They did finish below .500 in the Big XII, but won 38 regular season games and capped off an unbeaten conference tourney run with a 9-7 win over Nebraska for the title. That momentum could carry them into a potential Super Regional meeting with Big XII rival Texas.

Hawaii hasn't been to a regional since 1993, but 40 wins and runner-up finishes to Fresno State in both the WAC standings and tournament put the Warriors solidly into the field of 64.

Darkhorse – Kansas. They’re the best hitting team in the regional, but it will come down to the pitching. If their starters can put in solid innings, the Jayhawks have one of the nation’s best stoppers in Don Czyz (6-0, 1.62 ERA, 18 saves) to turn to late in the game.

Lincoln

1. Nebraska, 2. Miami, 3. San Francisco, 4. Manhattan

Different year, same story. Nebraska's primed to make another run down the highway to Omaha. The Huskers did have a little slide towards the end of the regular season this year, though.

Miami is making a postseason trip to Lincoln for the second year in a row, having gone to Nebraska for a Super Regional last summer. The 'Canes certainly hope for better luck this time around after being quietly and quickly bounced by NU in '05. Both teams lost stars (Nebraska - Alex Gordon, Miami - Ryan Braun) and both have had big contributions from newcomers (NU - Luke Gorsett, UM - Yonder Alonso).

But, with all this talk about football powers, you can't forget about San Francisco. The Dons finished second in the West Coast and were one of the hottest teams in the country from April onward.

MAAC champ Manhattan rose above the conference's usual suspects, LeMoyne and Marist, to get into the field. The Jaspers shut out Tulane earlier this year, so don’t count them out against the host Huskers.

Darkhorse – San Francisco. The Dons have three good starting arms in Scott Cousins, Aaron Poreda, and Patrick McGuigan. Their offense improvement, though, has played a great role in their second-half success. The pitching did get knocked around by Pepperdine last weekend, and for the Dons to have their best chance and to not have to rely on the bats too much, those arms will have to be back to optimal form.

Oxford

1. Mississippi, 2. Tulane, 3. South Alabama, 4. Bethune-Cookman

Mississippi used a second-half surge and a run to the SEC tournament championship to earn a regional host for the third straight year. After coming up a game short of the CWS in ‘05, it was expected to be a rebuilding year, as they lost their entire starting rotation, plus All-Americans Stephen Head and Brian Pettway. The Rebels' youthful pitching staff has matured, and that has made things easier for their talented hitters. There isn't a Head or Pettway, but there are six hitters who are batting over .300.

Tulane overcame numerous losses from last year's CWS club, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and in-season injuries to win 40 games and finish third in C-USA behind Rice and Houston.

South Alabama finished third in the Sun Belt and went 1-2 in the conference tournament, but got into the field ahead of second-placed Louisiana-Lafayette. A 15-2 run down the stretch, a good non-conference slate, and a top 35 RPI gave them an edge.

Bethune-Cookman returns to the NCAA field for the seventh time in eight seasons after the Wildcats went unbeaten in the MEAC (15-0 in conference play and undefeated in the MEAC tourney).

Darkhorse – Tulane. The Green Wave went to Oxford two years ago and won a regional, and they could do the same this year. They have not come close to being the same team offensively or on the mound as they were last year, but you can’t count them out. They don’t have a ton of veterans, but they’ll need them this weekend. Mark Hamilton is the offensive star (.338, 18 homers, 64 RBI), but they’ll need guys like Nathan Southard and Brad Emaus to step up. Their three main starters all have postseason experience, and that will definitely come in handy, and so will having a closer like Daniel Latham (5-3, 14 saves).

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