Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Preview: NCAA Baseball Austin Regional

It's time again for another race to Rosenblatt for the best 64 baseball teams in the land. The Texas Longhorns start their question to be 'Back Home in Omaha' this weekend at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas. The 3 other teams that will vie for a trip to the Super Regional are the UC-Irvine Anteaters, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Brown Bears (Not literally Brown Bears, but the Bears from Brown University, though their mascot is a Brown Bear. So you figure that one.) Anyway, here is a small preview of each team and their chances in the regional:

Brown Bears 24-18 (14-6 Ivy League, Roulfe Division):

The Bear finished the year in 1st place of the Roulfe Divison in the Ivy League. However, they are the lowest seed in the bracket and are not expected to make much of a splash this weekend. Brown will look to play the role of upset team against the likes of Texas and UC Irvine.

On offense, Ryan Murphy, Devin Thomas, Matt Nuzzo and Jeff Dietz are all batting above .333 on the year with Thomas providing 16 HR and 64 RBI to lead the team. The Bears can put some runs on the board. Thirteen times the have put up over 10 runs and four batters on their team have double digit extra base hits on the year. However, you must view these offensive numbers along with the somewhat week competition they have faced. When playing against South Carolina (their most difficult opponent of the year) the Bears were swept 13-1, 11-2 and 9-4.

The Bears only have 2 pitchers with over 10 starts made. Jeff Dietz (who I might add is the same Jeff Dietz batting .337 on the year) is the leading starter, going9-3 on the year with a 2.53 ERA and 7 complete games. James Cramphin is the other regular starter at 6-3 with a 5.12 ERA. Dietz is the only pitcher on the roster with an ERA under 3.00, meaning the Bears will struggle to compete this weekend.

Prediction: The Bears will be 2 and out. They start facing Texas and then the loser of the UC-I v. Wake game. It's been a nice year for Brown, which will come to an end by Saturday.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons 33-27 (14-16 ACC, Atlantic):

While Wake Forest did not finish with winning record in ACC pla, the tough competition in the league will prove helpful this weekend as they try to pull off the upsets to advance in the tournament. Five teams in the ACC are currently ranked in the top 25, but Wake only went 6-13 against those 5.

At the plate, the Deacons only have 2 players hitting over .300 on the year, but 4 players who have banged 7 or more homers. Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lenny as far as I can tell) leads Wake batting .316 with 18 HR. Brett Linnenkohl follows, batting .294 with 7 HR. Nobody else seems to stand out on offense. It looks as if there are several good, but not great, hitters on the team, but there doesn't seem to be a glaring weakness in the lineup. Wake will have to have more offensive production to contend.

Similarly, Wake Forest has a deep pitching staff (six player with at least 7 starts) but a lack of greatness by any one starter (one pitcher under 3.00 ERA). Josh Ellis has a 2.74 ERA, but sports only a 5-3 record (oh yeah, Zero starts and 8 saves). Wake starters are but a mere 24-22 on the year. It seems though that the starts have lack of decision when they take the mound. Garrett Bullock and Brad Kledzik have made a combined 28 starts but have only a collective 8-6 record on the year.

Prediction: It seems Wake Forest has some holes in both its hitting and pitching rotations. A lack of batting average mixed with a lack of consistent pitching could make for a short stay in Round Rock this weekend. Don't look for the Demon Deacons to go out without a fight as its tough schedule has prepared the team for hard fought competition.

UC-Irvine Anteaters 40-15-1 (16-6 Big West):

UC-Irvine is just flat out good. The Anteaters are ranked in the Top 10 in many national polls and could easily be hosting a regional themselves. And its not like UC-I has racked up wins against a bunch of low rated teams. UCI is 7-3 against Pac 10 teams and 6-5 against all ranked teams. The Anteaters will pose the biggest threat to the advancement of the Longhorns.

On offense, UCI has 10 players that are batting .300 or above. Cody Cipriano leads the way batting .342 with 12 HR and 52 RBI. UCI is solid from top to bottom on offense and there is no dip in hitting prowess throughout the lineup. Ollie Linton has the highest batting average at .372 and Bryan Petersen has the 'worst' average of a starter at .308. The Anteaters not only hit for average, but also pack a bit of power at the plate. The teams has totaled 91 doubles and 28 triples this year. This lineup is going to be a test for any pitcher and teams will need a solid rotation to tame their bats this weekend. If the Anteater bats get hot for a weekend, it might be hard to stop the offense.

A solid pitching staff follows on the heels of the potent offense. Wes Etheridge and Scott Gorgen are the top two starters for UCI. They have combined for a 21-6 record in their 30 starts and have posted a 2.88 and 3.06 ERA respectively. Cody Hamilton will most likely see the 3rd start this weekend as he has started 5 games, going 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Blair Erickson will close and has the only 13 saves of the year and has posted a 2.57 ERA in 24 appearances. The rotation can be deep as six pitchers who have seen over 10 appearances have under a 4.00 ERA.

Prediction: The Anteaters are very much like the Longhorns, with a hard hitting offense and solid pitching. UCI will give Texas all they want and will challenge them to represent the Region in the Super Regional. I see UCI putting up a fight and possibly taking Texas to the brink, but I do not see them winning the Region. Texas is too experienced and too seasoned for the UCI Anteaters to win a weekend series. Do not think for a minute, though, that UCI will not challenge the Horns to take the Regional title.

Texas Longhorns 44-15 (21-6 Big 12):

We are all pretty familiar with the Horns this year. After winning the Big 12 regular season title, Texas failed to advance to the Big 12 tournament championship with an untimely loss to Texas A&M. Despite the loss, Texas is playing as well as any team in the country, is the favorite in the Rregional and expected to advance to the Super Regional. Texas won't has an easy time, however, with UC-Irvine being placed in the same bracket.

On offense, Texas is lead by All-American Kyle Russell who batted .341 on the year and lead the NCAA with 27 HR on the year. Texas offense packs a powerful punch with Russell, Chance Wheeless, Bradley Suttle, Jordan Danks, Nick Peoples and Travis Tucker all batting over .300. It seems as though Texas will not have to worry much about producing runs this weekend, but with their shaky pitching of late, the Horns' bats may be counted on to out score a few teams in the Regional.

Adrian Alaniz is the gem of a Texas rotation that is solid, but small. Other than Alaniz only Austin Wood and James Russell have made more than 6 starts on the year. Russell has been shaky of late going 6 innings and giving up 6 runs on 7 hits in his last start against A&M. Texas is going to count on these three starters to carry them through the entire playoffs with Joseph Krebs available to make a start in a pinch. Randy Boone has made the majority of relief appearances with 37. He has 13 saves, but no other Horn as recorded even 1 save. Boone is the only legitimate closer with Kyle Shinaberry and Hunter Harris receiving a few appearances in relief. Overall, the pitching staff has been solid despite giving up 10 runs to K-State and 7 to A&M in the conference tourney. Depth is the key issue, so if Texas has to play a 4th game this weekend, it might be a committee effort or an appearance on short rest for the game 1 starter.

Prediction: Texas will advance to the Super Regional. This is not an easy bracket, but the Texas bats, along with a few good starting pitching performances should propel the Horns to Corpus Christi to play for a trip to Omaha. UCI will be be the toughest competitor, but the Horns are seasoned and experienced and are looking forward to erasing the memory of last years early exit from the Region tournament. Texas looks to make it to the College World Series this year, and this weekend will be the first step in that journey.

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