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2008 REGIONAL PREVIEW: ATHENS & RALEIGH
May 28, 2008

SCS.com The regionals taking place this weekend in Athens, Georgia and Raleigh, North Carolina will both feature some interesting storylines. The #8 national seed Georgia Bulldogs will play host to their archrivals, one of last year's surprise College World Series teams, and an NCAA tournament first-timer. Meanwhile, in Raleigh, North Carolina State picked a fine time to host its first regional at its home stadium, as their head coach from the late-80s to mid-90s returns and will look to break a lot of hearts as he brings his long-ball bashers into town. But, before those two can face each other, they have to get by two tough opponents who could very well make a run themselves. In the end, we could have a meeting of SEC foes (Georgia vs. South Carolina) in the super regionals, or we could have a meeting of ACC foes (Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina State). It should be an exciting weekend of action in both regionals, which are previewed below.

ATHENS REGIONAL
  vs Raleigh Regional

The Field

(1) Georgia (#8 National Seed)
The Bulldogs (35-21-1) won the SEC regular-season championship with a 20-9-1 record, but lost their final regular-season series and went 0-2 in the SEC tournament.
(2) Georgia Tech
It's been a tough season for the Yellow Jackets, who went through a tragedy in April when pitcher Michael Hutts passed away shortly before the Miami series. However, Georgia Tech rallied and finished strong, winning their last three conference series to finish 16-14 (5th in the ACC) and taking two of three from Coastal Carolina in a weekend series. After going 1-2 in the ACC tournament, the Jackets are 39-19 entering the postseason.
(3) Louisville
One of last year's surprise CWS teams was only 16-13 after a loss to Kentucky on April 8th, but the Cardinals have been on fire since then, winning 25 of their last 31 games. They finished 4th in the Big East at 16-11, but a 4-0 run in the Big East tournament, which culminated in a 6-3 win over #2 seed Cincinnati in the championship game, has Lousville in the postseason with a 41-19 record.
(4) Lipscomb
The Bisons (32-28) are in the NCAA tournament for the first time. They finished 3rd in the Atlantic Sun standings at 19-14, but thanks to Florida Gulf Coast and Kennesaw State being ineligible for postseason play, were the #1 seed in the conference tournament. Lipscomb lost their second game of the tournament, but they rallied for three straight wins, including a dramatic 10-9, 15-inning thriller against Gardner-Webb in the championship game.

The Venue

Georgia has been playing at Foley Field since 1966. The Bulldogs have hosted regionals at Foley Field in 2001, 2004, and 2006, and won all three on the way to advancing to the College World Series. This season, Georgia is 21-10 at home. For music lovers, Athens, Georgia is one of the places to be, as it's home to the likes of R.E.M and the B-52's.

The Best

Starting Pitcher - Justin Marks, Louisville - Last season, Marks was the Big East Freshman of the Year, going 9-2 with a 2.67 ERA, teaming up with Big East Pitcher of the Year Zack Pitts to make a formidable 1-2 punch on the hill. This season, Pitts is 6-5 with a 4.74 ERA, but Marks is having another fine season, as he's 9-1 with a 2.21 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 85.2 innings.
Runner-up: Deck McGuire, Georgia Tech
Relief Pitcher - Joshua Fields, Georgia - Fields had a sub-par season in 2007, which saw him turn down the chance to sign with the Atlanta Braves after being drafted in the second round. That decision to come back has paid off big time, as Fields has returned to being one of the nation's top closers. The senior is 2-2 with a 1.52 ERA and 16 saves in 28 appearances, and has allowed only nine hits in 29.2 innings, while striking out 53 batters.
Runner-up: B.J. Rosenberg, Louisville
Infielder - Gordon Beckham, Georgia - Beckham has had a monster season at the plate, but he's also one of the top fielding shortstops in the country, with a .961 fielding percentage in 155 chances in the field.
Runner-up: Rich Poythress, Georgia
Outfielder - Charlie Blackmon, Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets' starting center fielder is their leading hitter, with a .391 average, and he also has 8 homers, 42 RBI, and 23 steals in 28 attempts. He sets the table at the plate as their leadoff hitter, and in the field, he has done well, with five outfield assists and only two errors in 100 chances.
Runner-up: Allen Bolden, Lipscomb
Homerun Hitter - Beckham - Beckham was the nation's leading power hitter for quite a while, and while he's not #1 entering the postseason, his 23 dingers do rank tied for third in the country.
Runner-up: Chris Dominguez, Louisville
Coach - Danny Hall, Georgia Tech - The former Kent State coach has led the Jackets to a lot of success since taking over prior to the 1994 season. In his first season, Georgia Tech was the CWS runner-up, and that was the first of three CWS appearances in his tenure, which has also seen four 50-win seasons and seven with at least 40 wins, 13 regional appearances (counting this season), four ACC regular-season championships, and well over 600 wins.
Runner-up: David Perno, Georgia

The Forecast

A few interesting historical tidbits could be in play in this regional. Not only is it notable that Georgia Tech took two of the three regular-season meetings between themselves and their hosting archrivals, but the previous two times that Georgia was a national seed (2001, 2006), they've advanced to the College World Series. I'm not done yet! Last season, when Louisville made their surprise run to Omaha, they did it as the #3 seed in the Columbia (Missouri) regional, and look at that, they're a #3 seed again. Enough about history though, what will it come down to on the field? Georgia can't look past Lipscomb in their opener, because the Bisons can put up some runs (52 runs in five A-Sun tournament games), and Georgia has tendencies to either get cold at the plate (three runs total in their two SEC tourney losses) or on the mound (gave up 17 and 16 runs in losses to Alabama on the final weekend). Georgia Tech can bash with the best of them (90 homers), but what about their pitching (4.86 team ERA). They'd love to come into Athens and win on their archrivals' field, but if Louisville's duo of Marks and Pitts can be masterful - most notably Pitts, whose numbers have declined this year, then they could be on their way to another run, and this time around, they won't be sneaking up on anyone.

The Predictions

Eddie Jason Jimmy Jonathan
Georgia Tech Georgia Georgia Georgia

RALEIGH REGIONAL
  vs Athens Regional

The Field

(1) North Carolina State
While North Carolina State is making its sixth straight postseason appearance and 18th in the last 23 seasons, it's the first time they're hosting a regional at their home field (they hosted a regional in 2003 in Wilson, N.C.). The Wolfpack (38-20) finished second in the ACC's Atlantic Division behind #4 national seed Florida State with an 18-11 record, and went 1-2 in the ACC tournament.
(2) South Carolina
The Gamecocks (38-21) were 15-15 in the SEC (7th place) and went 1-2 in the SEC tournament, but they make their ninth straight postseason appearance and 10th in 12 seasons under Ray Tanner.
(3) Charlotte
The 49ers make their second straight apperance in the postseason, off of the heels of tying for first atop the Atlantic 10 standings and sweeping through the conference tournament, where they clinched the automatic bid with a 4-3, 11-inning win over #1 seed Xavier. Charlotte (43-14) was 19-8 in the A-10 in the regular season.
(4) James Madison
The Dukes (38-17) finished second behind UNC-Wilmington in the CAA with a 20-9 record, but the conference tournament belonged to JMU, who went 4-0 and clinched the title with a 6-1 win over Towson. This year's postseason berth is the 7th in school history and first since 2002 for a school who went to the College World Series in 1983.

The Venue

Doak Field has been home to N.C. State baseball since 1966. The dimensions are 320 feet down the left-field line, 330 down the right-field line, and 400 to straightaway center. For the geography buffs, I'm sure you know that Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina. This year, Forbes Magazine named the city #1 out of the 'Top 200 Places for Business and Careers.'

The Best

Starting Pitcher - Clayton Shunick, North Carolina St. - Shunick is 7-5 this season with a 2.12 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 89.1 innings. He has allowed only 69 hits and walked 21 batters in his 14 appearances (12 starts).
Runner-up: Nick Godwin, South Carolina
Relief Pitcher - Jimmy Gilhenny, N.C. State - Gillheeney has been excellent out of the pen this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.12 ERA and 10 saves in 21 appearances, with 42 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Runner-up: Name, School
Infielder - Reese Havens, South Carolina - Havens is having a career season at the plate, with a .363 average, 16 homers, and 53 RBI, but he's also putting together a nice season in the field with a .961 fielding percentage in 258 chances.
Runner-up: Justin Smoak, South Carolina
Outfielder - Marcus Jones, N.C. State - Jones is having a solid season at the plate (.329, 7 homers, 47 RBI, 12 steals), and has been flawless in the field as the Wolfpack's starting center fielder, with five assists and no errors in 118 chances.
Runner-up: Brad McElroy, Charlotte
Homerun Hitter - Justin Smoak, South Carolina - South Carolina has a quartet of big-time power hitters (Phil Disher with 19 homers, James Darnell with 18, and Havens with 16), but Smoak leads the way with 21 homers, and has 60 homers and 201 RBI in three seasons in Columbia. He should be a high first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Runner-up: Steven Caceres, James Madison
Coach - Name, School - Tanner has had an extremely successful career in two decades as a head coach, and this year marks his 17th regional appearance in 21 seasons as a head coach (7 at N.C. State, 10 at South Carolina). South Carolina has been one of the decade's most successful programs, with three 50-win seasons, seven Super Regional appearances, and three trips to the College World Series from 2000-08.
Runner-up: Elliott Avent, N.C. State

The Forecast

There's no doubt that this will be an emotional weekend for Ray Tanner, who played at N.C. State from 1977-80, and spent the next decade and a half as an assistant coach and then head coach (1988-96), leading the Wolfpack to seven NCAA tournament appearances before departing for South Carolina following the 1996 season. But, all emotions aside, is this where we see South Carolina overcome their regular-season inconsistencies again and make a postseason run? They've had a penchant for doing that over the last few seasons, and there's no questioning that they have the talent to make it happen again. We know what the bats can do, and along with producing like they're capable, the pitching needs to show up as well. N.C. State doesn't have the big-hitting bats that the other teams do, but their pitching is what can lead them to a regional victory at home. However, they need to be on upset alert against a James Madison team that has some talented hitters, led by Caceres (.349, 21 homers, 68 RBI) and Brett Sellers (.414/16/52). The same must be said for South Carolina, who'd be foolish to look past a Charlotte team that beat them 11-2 earlier this season, and also has postseason experience against them (runner-up to USC in the Columbia, SC regional last year). Speaking of last season's regional in Columbia, Charlotte beat N.C. State twice (6-3 and 12-10) on their way to finishing runner-up, so those two are also familiar with one another. If there's a darkhorse, it's the 49ers - Charlotte has some good bats (Rob Lyerly - .367, 14 homers, 73 RBI, Chris Taylor - .343/19/69), and while their starting pitching isn't as strong as it was last season, but if they get a lead and hand it over to the bullpen (Kelly McLain - 7-0, 1.98 ERA, Bryan Hamilton - 6-2, 2.60 ERA, and Sam Pierce - 4-0, 3.08 ERA).

The Predictions

Eddie Jason Jimmy Jonathan
South Carolina Charlotte South Carolina South Carolina

Read more from Eddie throughout the week at
www.NCAABaseballReport.com

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