Only sixteen teams in the entire country are still playing Division I baseball, and they'll all hit the field this weekend with a trip to Omaha and the College World Series on the line. Part II of our preview series includes a look at top-ranked Clemson's matchup with Oral Roberts. Also included are previews of College of Charleston's trip to Georgia Tech, Cal State-Fullerton's battle with Missouri, and North Carolina's showdown with Alabama.
The Matchup: Seeded number one nationally, the Tigers of Clemson come into this weekend's Super Regional after having blown through last week's Regional in the minimum number of games. CU took down UNC-Asheville in game one and then dismissed both Elon and Mississippi State to capture the title. Oral Roberts, meanwhile, came through the Fayetteville Regional as the number three seed. The Golden Eagles, who struggled in conference play this spring, picked up the pace last weekend, downing home-standing Arkansas in the first game before knocking off top-seeded Oklahoma State twice to advance.
The Stars: The ORU offense is led by catcher Adam Bouchie, a .377 hitter with a dozen homeruns and 53 RBI who was selected in the 7th round of this week's MLB Draft. Chad Rothford, last week's Regional MVP, also has a dozen homers and bats for a .337 average. Tim Torres, another MLB Draft pick, is the only other Eagle with double-digit homeruns. On the mound, Sean Jarrett, also a MLB pick, leads the way with a 7-1 record and 1.98 ERA. In 59 innings, he has struck out 70 hitters. Chris Ashman is 10-1 with a 2.02 ERA, while fellow starters Daniel Greenwalt and Nick Jones are solid as well. Chance Chapman (5-1, 1.55) and Erik Crichton (5-0, 4.17) are usually the first two up in the pen.
Clemson's attack is led by MLB first round selection Tyler Colvin, a .359 hitter who has smacked a dozen homeruns and driven in 65 this year. Brad Chalk's .358 average is not far behind. Andy D'Alessio leads the squad with 22 homeruns, while Chalk, Taylor Harbin, and Stan Widmann are all nearly perfect on stolen base attempts this season. Starters Stephen Faris (2.34 ERA, 9-2, 12th round MLB selection), Jason Berken (2.72, 9-3, 6th round MLB pick), and Josh Cribb (3.09, 9-0, 8th round MLB) are all extremely solid, while closer Daniel Moskos (2.19, 10 saves) is tough to scratch out of the bullpen.
The Coaches: ORU's Rob Walton is in his third season on campus and has continued the Eagles' streak of nine straight Mid-Continent Conference championships. He's also led the team to NCAA play in three straight years, been named the Mid-Con's coach of the year, and led the team to annual national rankings. Clemson's Jack Leggett has led the Tigers to more than 555 wins in a dozen seasons (an average of more than 46 per year). During that time, CU has been to NCAA play a dozen times and ventured to Omaha on four occassions.
Why Oral Roberts Will Win: The Golden Eagles have postseason experience and seem to have finally found their groove after last week's Regional win in Fayetteville. The talent is there to get the job done, and if they can handle the pressure of playing three straight games in front of a rowdy crowd, their chances to make it to Omaha are pretty good.
Why Clemson Will Win: The Tigers' pitching staff is one of the best in the country, their three starters combining for a 27-5 record. The lineup is solid throughout, and when you consider the homefield advantage, it's hard not to see these guys, seeded number one nationally, making a trip to Omaha.
The Deciding Factors: The home field is always huge, but if the Eagles can get to the Tiger starters early, they could take advantage of CU's less-stellar bullpen. But if they can't do that, the starting pitching and shut-down ability of Moskos will move the Tigers forward.
The Matchup: The Cougars went into Lexington as the two seed and knocked off Notre Dame on day one before quieting upset-minded Ball State's hopes on Saturday. A championship win over home-standing Kentucky punched CofC's ticket to this weekend's Super Regional in Atlanta. The Jackets had little trouble with their own Regional last week, marching past Stetson in round one before dismissing second-seeded Vanderbilt twice to move on.
The Stars: Alex Garabedian leads the Cougs with a .364 average and has also driven in 50 runs this season. Larry Cobb hits .361, led the team in homeruns with 7 this year, and was one of three players off his team taken in this week's MLB Draft. Jess Easterling hits .352, while Joey Friddle bats .341 and has stolen 17 of 23 bases in '06. Not to be out-done, Philip Coker has swiped 35 of 36 bases this spring while hitting .333. Oliver Marmol is also excellent on the bases, having stolen 25 of his own. Starter Nick Chigges has been stellar, putting together a 1.32 ERA and 11-1 record this spring. Other starters include Jef Beliveau (3.21, 6-3), Danny Messaros (3.22, 9-2), and Graham Godfrey (3.34, 8-2, 34th round MLB pick). Out of the pen, CofC is most likely to bring out either Josh McLaughlin (1.27, 15 saves, 20th round MLB selection) or Quinn Monsma (2.53, 7-2, 4 saves).
Whit Robbins, a 4th round MLB selection, leads Tech with a .358 average and has slammed a dozen homeruns this spring. Matt Wieters hits .354 with a team-leading 13 homers, while Jeff Kindel, a 14th round pick, and Wes Hodges, a 2nd round selection, both hit .337 with 11 homeruns. Starters Lee Hyde (3.15 ERA, 5-0) and Blake Wood (5.01, 10-4) were both taken in the top four rounds of the draft. David Duncan (5.50, 7-2) has been solid this season as well. Out of the pen, Brad Rulon (2.40, 5-0), Wieters (2.67, 7 saves), and Tim Gustafson (3.94, 2-0, 9th round) get the most work.
The Coaches: The Cougars are led by coach John Pawlowski, a name you may have heard in connection with a number of job openings around the country. This is his seventh season on campus in Charleston, and he has averaged nearly 40 wins per year so far. His 95 wins in the past two years are the most in both school and Southern Conference history for a two-year span. Tech's Danny Hall is the school's all-time winningest coach with well over 500 victories. He has led GT to NCAA play 11 times and is the only coach in school history to ever take the squad to Omaha.
Why College of Charleston Will Win: The Cougars proved they could beat a highly-ranked squad on their home field last weekend in Kentucky. Winning game one with their ace Chigges will be key, and if they can get that done, they could be well on their way to a trip to Omaha.
Why Georgia Tech Will Win: Postseason play has not gone well for Tech in recent years, but they're trying to reverse their fortune in 2006. Playing at home is always key, and the lineup is stacked with great hitters.
The Deciding Factors: Who wins game one with Chigges on the hill will be key. If the Jackets can get past him with a win, it will be hard to stop them from winning this Super. If the Cougs pick up that win, however, look for this one to be a battle right down to the finish.
The Matchup: The Tigers, after barely making this year's field, came out of nowhere to win the Malibu Regional. After losing the opener to home-standing Pepperdine, Mizzou roared back to win four in a row, one over UC-Irvine, another over UCLA, and two straight over the Waves. Cal State-Fullerton, meanwhile, had little trouble with their bracket. The Titans, who are seeded number five nationally, took down St. Louis in game one and then knocked off Fresno State twice to advance.
The Stars: At the plate, Brock Bond leads the Tigers with a .345 average, while Evan Frey and Zane Taylor each hit .335. Ryan Lollis hits at a .327 clip, while Jacob Priday leads the squad with 11 homeruns. Hunter Mense hits just .259 but has stolen 16 of 21 bases and was a 17th round MLB selection this past week. On the mound, you'll find star pitcher Max Scherzer, the 11th overall selection in the draft. He has put together a 1.95 ERA and 7-2 record on the hill this year, striking out 72 in 73 innings pitched. Rounding out the starting rotation are Nathan Culp (3.29, 11-5), a 4th round MLB selection, and Rick Zagone (3.28, 6-3). Parker Taylor (3.19, 5 saves) and Travis Wendte (1.53, 2 saves) are most likely to see action out of the pen.
For CSF, shortstop Blake Davis leads the way. He was a 4th round MLB selection after hitting .372 this season. Seventh round selection Justin Turner hits .354, while Danny Dorn (.331) is the only other Titan hitting above .330. Brandon Tripp leads the squad with 9 homeruns this season. Wes Roemer has put together a 2.02 ERA and 12-1 record this year to lead the Fullerton pitching staff. Dustin Miller (2.95, 12-1) and Lauren Gagnier (2.51, 13-4, 10th round) have been stellar as well. Out of the pen, Ryan Paul (1.26, 2-1, 10th round) has been huge for CSF, as has closer Vinnie Pestano (0.97, 2-1, 13 saves, 20th round).
The Coaches: Missoui's Tim Jamieson has been on campus for 12 years and has now won more than 400 games. He is a native of Columbia and a UM graduate who has won at least 30 games in nine of the past ten seasons. This is the Tigers' fourth straight NCAA appearance. Fullerton's George Horton has now been the Titans' head man for a decade, and this season he's trying to take the squad back to Omaha for the sixth time since he took over. CSF won the Big West title for the fourth straight time this spring.
Why Missouri Will Win: No one expected the Tigers to win last week's Regional, but they did anyway so who really expects them to make a trip to Omaha? If Scherzer can take down Fullerton in game one, then Mizzou could have a shot to pull off the upset and venture to the CWS.
Why Cal State-Fullerton Will Win: While the bats don't look all that impressive on the stat sheet, the pitching is what really carries this team anyway. With the home field plus what is supposed to be a much-inferior opponent, the Titans should advance without much of a problem, especially if they win the opener.
The Deciding Factors: It's going to come down to which lineup can hit the other team's good pitching. Expect the games to be low-scoring, so whoever can scratch early and often should take home the wins.
The Matchup: The Tar Heels blew through their own Regional last week, knocking off Maine on day one before taking down Winthrop twice to take home the title. Alabama, meanwhile, took down Jacksonville State in game one, and the Tide then knocked off in-state rival Troy a couple of times to win their Regional. This may be the most evenly-matched Super Regional matchup on the schedule.
The Stars: The Tar Heel bats are led by Josh Horton and his .409 average. Jay Cox is batting .386 with a co-team-leading 13 homeruns, while Chad Flack hits .377 and has 11 dingers himself. Benji Johnson is the only other Tar Heel with double-digit homeruns (13). While those numbers at the plate are impressive, it's the pitching that catches your eye when looking at UNC. The top two starters, Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, were both first round MLB selections this week. Miller is 12-2 with a 2.26 ERA on the season, while Bard is 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA. Fellow starter Robert Woodard (6-1, 3.48) has had a fine season as well. And if you can't hit those guys, don't expect to have much luck with closer Andrew Carignan either. He has appeared in 28 games this spring, earning 13 saves while compiling a 3.03 ERA.
Emeel Salem, a 10th round MLB selection, leads the way for Bama with a .364 average. He's also a threat on the basepaths, converting on 36 of his 46 steal attempts. Catcher Kody Valverde, also a 10th round pick, hits .346 and leads the team with a dozen homeruns. Spencer Pennington and Matt Downs are the only other UA players hitting above the .300 mark. The pitching staff is led by ace Wade LeBlanc, a 2nd round MLB selection. He has an 11-0 record and 2.62 ERA this spring and has struck out 124 batters in 123 innings pitched. Fellow starter Tommy Hunter (3.10, 10-3) has been stellar as well. Out of the pen, the Tide turns to David Robertson to close things down. He has 10 saves and a 2.60 ERA this season. Jordan Davis (4.89) and Jake McCarter (2.32, 6-1) have also pitched a good deal for UA in 2006.
The Coaches: UNC's Mike Fox is in his eighth season in Chapel Hill and has taken the Heels to NCAA play in 7 of those seasons. He's won nearly 75% of his games while at North Carolina and has led the team to five straight 40-win seasons. Bama's Jim Wells is in his tenth year on campus in Tuscaloosa, and he has won well over 400 games during that time. In terms of winning percentage, Wells is the SEC's active leader.
Why North Carolina Will Win: Few teams have starting pitching as good as UNC, and combine that with the fact that Bama's bats aren't all that great and it looks like the Heels have a great shot to pull the upset in Tuscaloosa.
Why Alabama Will Win: The games are at home, and if Wade LeBlanc continues his domination, the Tide should get off on the right foot in game one.
The Deciding Factors: Who wins game one will be huge. Both teams will have what many expect to be two future major leaguers on the mound. If a game three is forced, the pitching edge certainly goes to the Heels.