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June 8, 2006

SCS.comJust sixteen teams in the entire country have survied to this point, and those squads will each take part in one of this weekend's eight Super Regionals across the country. Part I of our two-part preview series takes a look at four of this weekend's matchups, including second-ranked Rice's showdown with Oklahoma. Also previewed is South Carolina's trip to SEC East rival Georgia, Miami's venture to Mississippi, and Stanford's trek to Pac-10 rival Oregon State.

Oklahoma at Rice
South Carolina at Georgia
Miami at Mississippi
Stanford at Oregon State

Oklahoma at Rice

How they advanced – Rice: hosted and beat Prairie View 6-5, Baylor 7-2, Baylor 7-4; Oklahoma: hosted, lost to TCU 6-5, beat Houston 8-6, TCU 15-6, Wichita State 12-7, 7-6

Rice was six outs away from getting shocked by Prairie View, but they took care of business from there on out and easily advanced. Oklahoma lost their opener but stormed back through the loser’s bracket and won four in a row, holding off Wichita State in the championship game to advance.

Stars: Rice has one of the nation’s best pitching staffs, led in the rotation by Red Sox fourth-round pick and regional MVP Eddie Degermann (12-1, 1.67 ERA, 150 Ks, struck out 14 vs. Baylor in 7-2 win) and Craig Crow (8-1, 3.08, 85 Ks) and from the bullpen by Cole St. Clair (5-2, 1.55, 91 Ks, 11 saves). At the plate, the Owls are led by sophomore Brian Friday (.377, 23 2B, 8 homers, 52 RBI) and junior Josh Rodriguez (.346, 20 2B, 9 homers, 58 RBI), along with a couple of other super sophs in Tyler Henley (.339, 23 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 52 RBI, 68 runs), utility man Joe Savery (.336/7/59 & 5-1, 2.76 ERA), and senior Greg Buchanan (.346, 92 hits, 41 RBI, 59 runs). IF Rodriguez was a 2nd round pick of the Indians, and Buchanan was a 9th-round pick by the Astros. Freshman Aaron Luna (.318, 48 RBI) leads the team in homers with 14.

The Sooners are led at the plate by Ryan Rohlinger (.377/12/63), Chuckie Caulfield (.358/9/49), and Kevin Smith (.317/9/65). On the mound, their two ace pitchers are Steven Guerra (11-3, 3.59) and Daniel McCutcheon (9-8, 4.00, 138 Ks in 139.2 IP). Their closer, Will Savage, is 7-2 with 10 saves in 35 appearances.

Coaches: Rice’s Wayne Graham has been here many times before, and he’s one of the nation’s premier coaches. The Sooners’ Sunny Golloway is in his first full year in Norman, after having taken over last season amid controversy. The former Oral Roberts skipper (’96 to ’03) helped guide the Golden Eagles to prominence (335 wins in 8 seasons, 277 in his last six, six straight regional Mid-Continent titles and regional appearances, one regional final appearance in 2002), and he was an assistant on OU’s ’94 CWS-winning team. In his first full year at OU, he’s continued his trend of success and certainly justified his promotion.

Why Rice Will Win: They may well be the best and most complete team in college baseball. Few teams excel at all facets of the game as well as the Owls do.

Why OU Will Win: They’ve beaten Rice before, and it wasn’t pretty. They won’t need to score 15 runs in one game this time around, but they have the bats to produce enough runs to give them a legitimate chance.

Deciding Factor: Home-field advantage, firstly. It’s difficult to take a team as good as Rice at their own park, or any other park for that matter. And there’s that decided advantage in talent to take into consideration too. And while there are a lot of underclassmen on the Owls’ roster, those underclassmen have postseason experience that OU doesn’t have.

South Carolina at Georgia

How they advanced – Georgia: hosted, beat Sacred Heart 11-0, lost to Florida State 6-4, beat Jacksonville 15-8, beat Florida State 7-1, 3-2; South Carolina: #2 seed in Charlottesville Regional, beat Evansville 4-2, beat Virginia 8-2, lost to Evansville 15-5, beat Evansville 5-1

The Bulldogs won three straight elimination games and knocked off Florida State twice to advance to earn the right to host the super regional. South Carolina had an easy first couple of days, but after getting throttled by a battling Evansville club on Sunday, USC rebounded on Monday to beat the Purple Aces and move one step closer to Omaha.

Stars: Georgia CF Joey Side was the MVP of the Athens Regional, batting 10 for 22 with three homers and 12 RBI. He’s hitting .352/13/49 with an SEC-leading 102 hits. Side is one of the top defensive outfielders in the SEC as well. Josh Morris leads the ‘Dogs with 23 homers and 66 RBI, and freshman shortstop Gordon Beckham (.294, 17 2B, 12 HR, 52 RBI, 60 R) has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Pitcher Brooks Brown (7-4, 111 Ks) was the 34th pick in the draft on Tuesday and will join 6th-round pick Side with the D’Backs farm system. Rip Warren (8-2, 2.84 ERA, 67 Ks in 66 IP) and Josh Fields (3-2, 1.77, 15 saves) are two of the best relievers you’ll find anywhere.

Due to injuries, South Carolina has had to count on a lot of youngsters to get the job done, both at the plate and on the mound. Freshman Phil Disher was the MVP of the Charlottesville Regional. He went only 3 for 14, but all three of his hits were homers, and he drove in 10 runs. Fellow freshman Justin Smoak leads the team with 16 homers and 61 RBI. Another freshman, Mike Cisco (7-4, 3.57 ERA), and sophomore Wynn Pelzer (5-4, 3.63) both recorded complete game victories in the regional.

Coaches: David Perno played on Georgia’s 1990 CWS team, was an assistant under Ron Polk on their 2001 CWS squad, and returned to Omaha in 2004 in only his third season as the Bulldog skipper. Ray Tanner is arguably one of the top three to five head coaches in the country and has averaged well over 40 wins a season in his decade in Columbia.

Why Georgia Will Win: The Bulldogs have had South Carolina’s number this season, winning all four matchups against the Gamecocks, including a sweep in their conference series.

Why South Carolina Will Win: Those freshmen are getting better and better with every weekend. Their pitching finally had a solid weekend (for the most part), and you can expect any Ray Tanner-led ballclub to put out their best product in the postseason, regardless of the previous 60 games.

Deciding Factor: If the Gamecocks can get the same performances from their pitchers this weekend (minus the one against Evansville on Sunday), then they have a good chance of punching their ticket to Omaha. But, with their mix of experience, solid pitching, and timely hitting, it’ll be a tough task to top one of the hottest teams in the country.

Miami at Mississippi

How each advanced – Miami: #2 seed at Lincoln Regional, beat San Francisco 11-2, Manahattan 8-2, 10-4; Mississippi: hosted, beat Bethune-Cookman 3-2, South Alabama 9-7, Tulane 12-4

The Hurricanes made a trip to the heartland and came back to sunny South Florida with a regional title in hand. Nebraska’s early exit cleared the way for the ‘Canes to easily advance and make yet another super regional appearance. Mississippi had to come from behind late in their first two games, but the Rebels routed Tulane in the final to make their second straight super.

Stars: Junior outfielder Jon Jay is Miami’s top hitter (.361). JC transfer Tommy Giles is the leader in homers with 9, and frosh Yonder Alonso (64) and soph Danny Valencia (51) are the leading RBI producers. The ‘Canes have a solid three-man rotation of Scott Maine (11-3), Chris Gutierrez (9-6), and Manny Migueles (8-4), and Danny Gil (3-2, 3.11 ERA, 34 apps.) and closer Chris Perez (3-1, 1.74, 12 saves) are two star relievers.

For UM, it’s all about the bats. The Rebs have five hitters with 80+ hits and averages over .330 (C. Coghlan - .349, 87 hits, A. Presley - .343, 82 hits, 60 RBI, C. Ketchum – .340, 85 hits, J. Henry - .335, 85 hits, Z. Cozart – .333, 86 hits, 61 RBI). Coghlan was selected by the Marlins with the 36th overall pick, and Presley was an 8th-round pick of the Pirates. SEC tourney MVP Mark Wright (.301, 14 homers, 72 RBI) is their power man. Closer Garrett White (6th round – Dodgers) has a 2.68 ERA and 10 saves, while freshman starter/reliever Cody Satterwhite leads the team with 11 wins.

Coaches: Jim Morris has been everywhere, and done everything. Mike Bianco is working his way up to that point. He’s one of the top candidates for the job at LSU, his alma mater, so it could very well be the last weekend he patrols the Swayze Field home dugout.

Why Miami Will Win: Their inexperienced 2002 team came within three outs of Omaha, and this year’s inexperienced club is better than that one. And two years in a row without Miami in the CWS doesn’t sound right.

Why Mississippi Will Win: They came close last year with possibly their best team ever, but that loss was to the eventual national champion. This year, they’re not the same team, but they’re on a roll and all the factors point in the right direction for them not falling short again. Their bats are on fire, and their pitching is doing an adequate enough job to complement the offense.

Deciding Factor: A lot of the Rebel players tasted the bitterness of just missing out on Omaha last year, and they’ve had a year to digest it. Mississippi is an Omaha trip away from moving from being just a ‘very good’ program to being in the upper echelon of college baseball programs. About 10,000 fans in Oxford will be behind their boys, and that could be the edge that pushes them on to Rosenblatt.

Stanford at Oregon State

How they advanced – Stanford: #3 seed at Austin Regional, beat N.C. State 7-2, Texas 12-8, N.C. State 17-7; Oregon State: hosted, beat Wright State 5-3, Kansas 11-3, Hawaii 12-3

The ‘real’ Stanford showed up last weekend and breezed through the Austin regional, scoring 36 runs in three games in a brilliant offensive display. The Pac-10 champion Beavers had a tough time with Wright State in their opener, but routed their last two opponents to advance easily.

Stars: Senior Chris Minaker (.363, 11 homers, 68 RBI) is Stanford’s best hitter and was named the MVP of the Austin regional (9 for 14, 3 2B, 4 RBI), and Michael Taylor (.326) had four hits in the championship game win over the Wolfpack. Greg Reynolds, the Cardinal’s ace pitcher, was the second overall pick (Rockies) in Tuesday’s draft.

OSU junior Cole Gillespie (.383, 23 2B, 12 homers, 53 RBI, 73 runs, 15-19 SB) was a third round pick (Brewers) on Tuesday. Dallas Buck (11-2, 3.01 ERA), another third-rounder (D’Backs), and Jonah Nickerson (10-4, 2.67, 105 Ks), a seventh-rounder (Tigers), anchor the pitching staff, with Mike Stutes (7-2, 2.88) a solid third man. Kevin Gunderson (2-2, 2.40, 16 saves), a fifth-round pick (Braves), is one of the best closers in the nation.

Coaches: Stanford’s Mark Marquess has won 1250 games, been to Omaha 13 times, and won two national championships. His teams have been to regionals 14 years in a row and 26 of the last 27 years. OSU’s Pat Casey has built up the Beaver program to be one of the nation’s elite in the past few seasons, and has spent 12 seasons in Corvallis, racking up nearly 400 wins.

Why Stanford Will Win: The way they rolled through the Austin regional, if they could keep it up into this week, it’ll be hard for the Cardinal run to be stopped. They clicked on all cylinders last weekend, and their bats, which had been getting sporadic production throughout the year, woke up in a big way.

Why Oregon State Will Win: The Beavers are 25-4 at home, and they swept Stanford there earlier this season.

Deciding Factor: If there’s a three-man staff that could cool down Stanford’s bats, it’s OSU’s. One of the big questions is 'was last week’s performance by Stanford just a one-week wonder, or can they actually have a run of excellence long enough to carry them to Omaha?'

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