Baseball America talked to scouts, coaches and baseball executives about the players and teams previewed.
Arizona State | Cal State Fullerton | Clemson | Louisville | Michigan
Mississippi | Mississippi State | North Carolina | Oklahoma State | Oregon State
Rice | South Carolina Texas A&M | UC Irvine | UCLA | Wichita State
Arizona State (46-13)
Coach (Record at school): Pat Murphy (526-288-1, 13 seasons)
CWS history: 19 trips to Omaha, last in 2005; five championships, last in 1981.
CWS route: Won Tempe regional in three games, beating Nebraska in the final.
"I think they're great. What Arizona State does to you is, one through nine, they do an incredible job. They have speed and power, they don't strike out much, they bunt when they have to -- incredible club. Sogard and Wallace are two high-impact guys, Spencer can beat you, [outfielder/left-hander] Ike Davis can beat you -- all through that lineup they're scary. They're big and physical looking, but yet they play with some toughness, they're not just big-bodied guys who scare you a little but have no substance.
"Their pitching staff is so underrated, it's scary. Everybody's so caught up in their offense, and they play good defense, but they're good on the mound too. Satow is typical left-hander that really knows how to pitch, but Leake's pitched so well, you look at what he's done, he wasn't even a starter in the beginning of the season. Leake's been tremendous--it helps them playing [their first super-regional game] Saturday, it gives the little guy a little more rest--he's 150 pounds soaking wet, you wonder how much he can go. Satow's changeup is his best pitch by far. His fastball is not as soft as you think, he can be 86-89 at times. He does a good job pitching in for a soft guy, aggressive to both sides of the plate. He's a tough cookie, really tough guy. [Left-hander Brian] Flores, he's given them 116 innings, he just competes. Thrown a million complete games in his college career, he's that quality backside guy going on Sundays. They're using Jarvis as a freshman as their guy, he's got 11 saves. He's going to be really good. Now he's just young and inexperienced. He's been hit, but he's a good competitor, not afraid of anything. He's 90-93.
"Spencer actually has the best arm on the staff. They're not going to let you get to that middle relief because they're going to keep those starters in there. They know they're going to score some runs, so if you score three or four runs in the first inning, or even six or seven, they're not going to take those guys out. They know they've still got a chance. Coach Murphy's not going to panic and take those guys out. And they play great defense, fielding .979, Andy Stankiewicz has done an incredible job with that infield. It's just a good club, plays hard, got toughness. Ole Miss has got some power arms, I think that's an incredible matchup.
"Sogard is a great player, what a winning little great player, and his tools are better than people think. He does some stuff defensively, he's dynamite, then the drives ball out of the park now and then. [Shortstop Andrew] Romine, if he played on another club, he's not a bad offensive player, but he gets overshadowed in this lineup. He's playing every day, hitting .303. They're just a disciplined offense, but they're aggressive, and they handle the bat. They steal bases at an 80 percent clip, so when they run, they make it. They're hitting .351 as a club at this time of the season? That's ridiculous. And opponents are hitting .260 against them.
"In the outfield, those big-bodied guys, Spencer, [Tim] Smith and Ike Davis, they're all pretty good athletes for big guys. They don't have a true center field guy who runs down the ball, but they all throw pretty good, not like a weakness out there. They don't have a true center fielder, but they've got Rocky Laguna or the kid from LSU [Jarred Bogany], he comes in and plays some defense. Their outfield defense is not a weakness. Their weakness is actually their bullpen. Spencer, he was inconsistent, and the fact that he's a position player makes it hard to bring him in in the sixth inning in a tight game because it messes your club up. He's a power left-handed arm, for a pro club that's a tough call, left-handed arms are harder to find than bats. Davis [off the mound] has not been close to what I thought he'd be. He can throw some innings, but he's 83-88. I'd always heard he was 88-91, 92, but the day I saw him, touched a 90, but he was 84-87. I don't think he's been throwing bullpens regularly, don't think his arm is in pitching shape. They've only thrown 10 pitchers all season. [Joey] Parigi is a little soft left-hander, sort of like Satow but not close to as effective."
Cal State Fullerton (36-23)
Coach (Record at school): George Horton (488-210-1, 11 seasons)
CWS history: 14 trips to Omaha, last in 2006; four championships, last in 2004
CWS route: Won San Diego regional in three games, beating Fresno State in the final.
"This going to be a real tell-tale for Fullerton's program. If they can get to Omaha with this club when everyone knew they were down and they didn't have a good year, that's really scary. They had a great draw going to San Diego, then the fact that San Diego lost. Riverside and Irvine, the clubs that deserved a better draw, got tougher draws, although Fresno State is probably the toughest four seed you can get. Wes Roemer is an elite All-American guy, though he's obviously lost a lot. His command's not as incredible as it was last year. He's been around so much, they've seen his slider, although he's gained some on his fastball when I've seen him. He's still not a guy you want to face, really competitive guy. He's human, though, he can be beat. This guy's not 15-0 this year, you've got a chance, make him get the ball up.
"They don't execute like they have in the past, they don't execute like they have. I don't know, this isn't a great Fullerton club. Losing the guys they lost -- Blake Davis, Justin Turner -- those are big losses. If they can win with this club, oh my goodness. They weren't playing good baseball coming in, a lot of people thought they wouldn't even be a regional club. If they didn't have 'Fullerton' on their chest they might not have been. Any time you have George Horton running things, that will come into play.
"They're nothing special offensively. Hardman was having a big year, Curtis behind the plate, but they don't run a lot, they don't bunt a lot, it's just that Titan magic. Hardman's their best guy, he's been around forever. Losing him last year killed them, and that was a great club as it was. They only have two 40-RBI guys. Mahin's got nine home runs. [Third baseman Evan] McArthur actually struggled offensively, they just found a way to get it done. They played a good weekend, now they have a chance to do it again. Hitting .279 as a club, only 52 stolen bases -- they're doing it with mirrors. They're only fielding .969, not playing great defense, but their ERA is 3.85, they pitch well. Kaplan's had a heck of a year, got a good breaking ball, 90-91, he's a workhorse, he gets after it. I still like those two guys with their matchup. They had a good dogfight against UCLA last time. Lot of familiarity between those two programs.
"They're not going to go to their bullpen very much. They've put Jorgensen as the stopper, eight saves, strike thrower, he's 84-86 and can throw the breaking ball for strikes. He can throw three or four innings in relief, not just a one-inning stopper. Lot of different roles, started three games, 26 appearances. They're not afraid to go to him. They started using [right-hander Michael] Morrison in the rotation toward the end, but he didn't do real well. They're going to ride Roemer, Kaplan and Jorgensen, those are their key guys. [Righty Bryan] Harris might be that third guy. Roemer's special, Kaplan's very, very solid, and that's it. It's amazing what they've done."
Coach (Record at school): Jack Leggett (649-280, 14 seasons)
CWS history: 11 trips to Omaha, last in 2006.
CWS route: Won Myrtle Beach regional in three games, beating Coastal Carolina in the final.
"I'll tell you this, I think they might have the best pitching remaining of the field. When you look at their ability to go with Moskos on Friday, Kopp on Saturday, and they can match up as they need to on Sunday with [right-hander D.J.] Mitchell or the lefty [Ryan] Hinson, depending on matchup. They have two guys in bullpen who can be lights out. Maybe the only thing they didn't show you is a lefty specialist, but with Hinson in the 'pen, maybe they've addressed that.
"With Chalk in the lineup, Clemson's a different team. He's a run producer, he gets on base, a catalyst, tremendous experience -- a three-year starter, been to Omaha. I think Clemson's a team to be reckoned with. I think any time you lose a shortstop, especially a good one like Stan Widmann, any ballclub in college is going to scramble. College baseball, parity's staring you in the face when you look at these matchups. It makes it much more difficult to overcome injuries. I think you saw them have to adjust and scramble, but in the end, this time of year, pitching wins games. They've got the pitching to win games, especially if D'Alessio and [shortstop Taylor] Harbin and Chalk do what they can do. To me their quiet hero is [catcher Doug] Hogan, if you took him from this team they'd really be in trouble. He's gotten a lot of key hits and he catches games well.
"We saw Moskos, he was good. Reports I've gotten say his fastball has backed up as the season's gone on. We saw him 90-94, with a good slider, good changeup, good curveball. Four good pitches. The fastball and slider can be overpowering. He's a guy. I think they could possibly have the best pitching mix of any team left in the tournament. I think Clemson's arms are better than [North] Carolina's. Their pitching in a three-game series is a strength. Right now they're slugging the bats well, but they're very capable of winning a 3-2 game. I like their team, they play hard, and those two guys at the back of the bullpen, Clyne and [righty Alan] Farina, have plus stuff and aggression. Offensively, having Chalk back is huge, he sets the table, creates pressure on the defense, gives RBI opportunities to D'Alessio, Smith and Harbin. And don't forget about Hogan, the quiet clutch guy, I think he's the leader for them too. Good team, and capable of comeback wins. Late in the year, they believe they can come back and win."
Coach (Record at school): Dan McDonnell (44-21, one season)
CWS history: No trips to Omaha.
CWS route: Won Columbia, Mo., regional, beating Missouri in the final.
"They're definitely a legitimate team to be where they're at. They have a group of guys who are seniors, and they didn't want their careers to end. They run out a couple of bullpen guys who are seniors, but other than that, a freshman and a sophomore on the mound. They've got the experienced guys, the juniors and seniors, and to boot they've got some talent.
"You've got to be really damn good up the middle, and they are. Their catcher, [Derrick] Alfonso, he's pretty good, and Whiting is outstanding out there. To be honest, he's making stuff look a little harder than it should out there, dancing around, but that's his style, but he gets to balls others can't. [Shortstop Chris] Cates is every bit of 5-foot-3, but he might have been one of the best players we've seen this year. You hit it to him, you're out. Johnson's their best offensive player, and he's good around the bag too. They've got guys that will slide in hard, with their spikes up a little, that will frustrate you in other dugout, but it's not that bad.
"I wasn't that impressed with their arms, they won't intimidate you warming up, but most of them field their position and had as much intensity as the hitters. Marks sprayed it a bit and got bailed out, we had pretty big zones here. But he was up there pitching as a freshman. In the bullpen, they've got a couple of lefties, role guys who get it done, in [Gavin] Logsdon and [Skylar] Meade. [Kyle] Hollander who was at Oklahoma State, he was dynamite. Their closer [Magnuson] has a low slot, tall, uses his leverage, so if they have a lead late, I don't see how you're going to score more than a run off that kid. Real tall kid, [fifth-year] senior, 6-foot-7, throws 90 with a slider. Extremely tall, uses that leverage. He may blow a one-run save, but with his stuff and the strikes he throws, I don't see him giving up more than a run. You don't see an arm where you say, holy cow, that guy's got a quick arm. The best pitch is probably Hollander's breaking ball. Magnuson's the one kid who has pro ball stuff. The other guys are just good-looking college pitchers.
"They're a team that can get it done offensively, extremely aggressive. You've got to be willing to budge a little bit. I think you've got to be careful with the attacking philosophy, because the hitting is contagious there, I think you've got to be willing to expand the strike zone, maybe you walk a few guys, but you don't play to their strength, which is stringing hits together. Mix pitches, stretch out the plate, see what the umpire will be willing to give you. Just like any other team, they've got some hitters in there who will make you pay for some mistakes.
"With [third baseman Chris] Dominguez, if you hit your spot it's over, but if you make a bad pitch there's a good chance he's going to hit it out of the park. He's a raw kid, a huge kid. He can look awful on an offspeed pitch, but then if your guy leaves it up, he can hit it out of the park. I think you've just got to be aggressive when you're throwing to that guy, but not be too careful. But he honestly is just a freshman hitter, raw, swings it, can make you pay, but if you go out there and do your job, you can get him out. When he's older, maybe he can be more like [Oklahoma State's Tyler] Mach or [Corey] Brown, where your catcher and pitcher could say, 'We made a great pitch, but he hit it out of the park anyway.' But he's not there yet."
Coach (Record at school): Rich Maloney (191-110, five seasons)
CWS history: Seven trips to Omaha, last in 1984; two championships, last in 1962.
CWS route: Won Nashville regional, beating Vanderbilt in the final.
"They're a really talented, athletic club that seems to be playing good at the right time. They've got some pitching, they've got some depth there. All the way around they're athletic -- athletes at every position. Putnam, who's doing both, the Wilson kid who pitches in the second game, he was really good against us. Wilson is a 6-foot-5 left-hander, good arm, little slider that's like a hard, late cutter, doesn't move a lot, but it's good. He'll give guys fits. All of them, their whole team, they compete. Their second baseman, [Kevin Cislo], hitting down in the eight hole, we couldn't get him out. He's a hard-nosed guy, that guy that's always in the mix somehow. Everybody talks about Putnam and Recknagel, the guys in the middle of their lineup, as they should, but Cislo's always up with guys on base and every time he seems to come through and do it.
"Michigan, it doesn't matter if you throw it 90 or 98, if you leave it over the plate and try to throw it by them, they're going to have a field day against you. At times, they can go to the opposite field, but if you can get up on them a little bit and make them try to catch up with one swing, that's where they get in trouble. You get ahead of them, they start trying to hit two-, three-run jacks and get out of their game. I think that's why Cislo stood out, he took what was given to him.
"I think it's like anybody else, when you go around the country, the thing about those elite clubs that's different from lower-level clubs is they're so athletic they can make a mistake and overcome it, a guy can be in the wrong position and overcome it. Or they can miss a pitch and get it to drop in. Not that Michigan's just an athletic team out on the baseball field, they're quality baseball players who are also very athletic.
"Any time right now at this point in the year, the thing you have to minimize is you can't be giving them five or six outs an inning. Make all the routine plays, make some of the great plays. Like Alan Oaks the other night.
"Putnam was pretty good against us when we faced him. The reports we had on him was that he struggled with his command, and that night he didn't. He's got a live arm, live fastball, had a slider and I believe a splitter, he would get ahead and our guys would chase. If he shows command, everything gets better for him.
"They've got the Powers kid down there in the bullpen, he comes in and is really aggressive, He'll attack guys and get after you, he does a good job. He has a fastball that's 90-91 with a sharp, late slider. Our guys couldn't pick up his slider. To me, their weakest point is if they have to play a lot of games, they need some depth in their bullpen, they need some experience."
Coach (Record at school): Mike Bianco (282-155-1, seven seasons)
CWS History: Four trips to Omaha, last in 1972.
CWS Route: Won Oxford regional in three games, beating Sam Houston State in the final.
"Ole Miss, where they're very good is on the mound. I really like Kline a lot, he's really, really good. I really like Lynn, and I like Satterwhite out of the bullpen -- they can really pitch. Offensively, they're OK, they're not special like they were a couple of years ago, but they're OK.
"Kline has three pitches, his fastball is 90-92 mph, his changeup is really good, the breaking ball is good, and it's late action on all his pitches. I would think he's going to be a pretty good draft pick. The Saturday starter Lynn is a classic power right-hander with a really nice hammer curveball, he comes at you with the fastball and has a good hammer to go with it. Kline has a pretty doggone good three-pitch mix. Satterwhite, that's special stuff out of the bullpen. I wouldn't say high 90s consistently, probably 93, but he throws strikes.
"The two Henrys at the top of the lineup, you've got to keep them off base, because they're not a team that scares you offensively. They're both left-handed hitters that can run. They've got good solid players, Cozart's a solid player. [Third baseman Cody] Overbeck's a solid guy with some pop, but they have nobody that puts fear into you."
Mississippi State (36-20)
Coach (Record at school): Ron Polk (1,114-555-2, 28 seasons)
CWS history: Seven trips to Omaha, last in 1998.
CWS route: Won Tallahassee regional in three games, beating Florida State in final.
"They're really veteran, Ron [Polk] redshirts a lot of guys their freshman year, he ends up having a lot of guys who are there five years. They've got a lot of seniors, guys who seem like they've been there forever. Even the redshirt freshmen have been there. It's a veteran club, and they play well together. Their pitchers, there's no dominant guy on the mound, not like there's a guy that's just a dominant guy. Just a very average pitching staff. If you're swinging it well you can hit them. They throw strikes.
"Jeffrey Rea seems like he's been there forever at second base. I think they were last in the SEC in pitching this year. Just a lot of veteran guys that played and have been around. There's not a superstar guy that really jumps out at you. Probably the most talented guy is Easley, the catcher. They're just a solid club. I was not surprised that they won in Tallahassee at all, because they're a veteran club that's well put together. It's not a team that's like a Vanderbilt or Arkansas.
"Crosswhite is not [Mississippi's] Lance Lynn. He's not one of those guys. Their pitching numbers were terrible for most of the year. But to their credit, those guys got better and better as the year went on. Crosswhite is an 89-92, slurve guy. [left-hander Justin] Pigott is low 80s, 82-85 with a plus-plus changeup. They're just dudes, just guys. Josh Johnson's got a good arm, just kind of a guy. Just a 90 guy. Weatherford, he's their hardest thrower. He's been their go-to guy. He's legit 90-92, bumped 93 against us, with a slider, their hardest thrower. But they pound the zone, look at their walks to strikeouts, that's the key.
"They're not aggressive offensively. There's nothing really that special. They're solid, they just play. The thing about Mississippi State is it just depends when you catch them. They have the ability to go into Tallahassee and roll off three Ws. They're not going to steal bases, there's never been a Ron Polk team that steals bases. That's not their M.O. They just pretty much sit back and play station to station. Rea can run and Goforth can run, but look at their numbers, they don't steal a lot of bases. That's not their style, they play station to station, base to base. If they're hitting, they're going to win. Clemson with their pitching, I don't think it's a tall task to stop them from hitting.
"It's not hard to play there at all. They have big crowds, but they're older. It's not a hard place to play. Not a very vicious crowd. It's a big crowd, but not vicious."
North Carolina (51-12)
Coach (Record at school): Mike Fox (392-172-1, nine seasons)
CWS history: Five trips to Omaha, last in 2006.
CWS route: Won Chapel Hill regional in three games, beating Western Carolina in the final.
"I think North Carolina's very good -- probably the best team in the ACC. They've got tremendous experience. They've got a leader they believe in in Woodard, who's going to go out and pitch a great game against anyone he faces, that's just who he is. He has strong makeup, he's going to pitch his game, locate -- he gives [UNC] a lot of confidence in Game One. And Carignan at the back of the bullpen gives them a lot of confidence if they're ahead. Horton's a clutch player, and even though [third baseman Chad] Flack's numbers are down this year, he's a clutch player -- how many kids can say they've hit a walk-off home run to go to the World Series. I think Ackley's the best young hitter I've seen in years. He's exceptional -- you're not going to find a lot of guys who can hit like that. He can flat hit, he's really good, and he can really run up the line.
"The guys behind Woodard are talented. Alex White's talented, he has a big league arm, like a young Jake Peavy. [right-hander] Luke Putkonen has great stuff, and he's pitched some big games late, very good in the ACC tournament. Their rotation is solid, and they've got some guys in the middle who are good too. Experience, just a solid club. There's no major weakness on Carolina, they're really good, maybe the most complete team in the ACC.
"The pitching staff is solid from top to bottom. They've got a great No. 1 starter who's been through the battles, two guys behind him with great stuff -- their pitchability is not to his level, but they're talented. They have a very, very dependable closer who can strike people out. Reid Fronk has really come on, he's hit the ball on the nose for the last month, and he's a power threat. They have excellent left-handed hitters. I would say a great lefty might be a tough matchup for them, but vulnerable wouldn't be the word -- I don't think you could say a lefty could beat them. They do hit lefties well. If I had to go beat them, and I had a guy with a great left-handed breaking ball, I'd feel like I had a chance. I think if you've got a right-hander without great stuff who just mixes things around, you could be in trouble. They're great hitters, they adjust, they're not just one-spot hitters. They have a group of kids who played for the national title last year, and I think there's great value in that, I really do."
Oklahoma State (41-19)
Coach (Record at school): Frank Anderson (154-88, four seasons)
CWS history: 19 trips to Omaha, last in 1999; one championship in 1959.
CWS route: Won Fayetteville regional in three games, beating Arkansas in the final.
"They're just big boppers. You get a team like that, all you've got to do is focus on executing some pitches, and you're OK. Their front six guys, they'll run out Wright and [outfielder Keanon] Simon, Brown and Mock, Mangini, [first baseman Rebel] Ridling, those six guys are a handful, they are tough to deal with. The bottom part isn't as dangerous, they'll run out [shortstop] Jordy Mercer, [catcher Ryan] Flavell, the bottom three isn't as much of a concern, but the front three can do so much damage. You'll blink and look up and they can put three or four runs up on you. It's absolutely critical that you can't give those guys anything, you can't walk guys or hit guys, because a walk can lead to a two-run homer. It's a very imposing lineup, and I can't imagine there are going to be a lot of lineups in super-regionals that will have that kind of offensive firepower.
"On the flipside, though, they're very vulnerable on the mound. They don't really run anybody out there that's a knock-out, shut-'em-down guy. If they get to Omaha, I think their pitching's going to let them down. If they get into a slugfest, they're going to win the majority of the time. If they run into a front-line guy that can neutralize the offense, I don't see them winning a lot of 2-1 games. I think that staff is going to let them down. Odle's a competitor, his stuff wasn't overwhelming by any stretch, his velocity wasn't overwhelming. They're going to rely heavily on just trying to outscore people. Their bullpen's OK, they'll have a couple of guys, but they brought their ace guy [Friend] out against us, he was OK.
"It all comes down to if they are going to hit, and they usually hit. I saw Mach against this lefty, he took a fastball down and away at the knees on the black, drove it dead center for a grand slam. Man, you don't see college hitters do that. That was pretty impressive. They've got the kind of offensive club, if they get hot, they're hard to deal with. To be honest with you, we went into it thinking we had to do a lot of offspeed stuff. I think if you can execute some pitches, like anything else, you'll have a chance to manage it. But they will make you pay for mistakes. The ball's going to find its way out of the park, that's just the way it is."
Oregon State (42-18)
Coach (Record at school): Pat Casey (433-276-4, 13 seasons)
CWS history: Three trips to Omaha, last in 2006; one championship in 2006.
CWS route: Won Charlottesville regional, beating Virginia in the final.
"Obviously they played some really good baseball early in the year, I didn't think they were playing great teams, but they went 23-3. Their rotation was good, Stutes is a good one. Any time you have Barney and Canham, that's pretty good leadership. I think they're good, and they're experienced. Stutes won some big games for them last year. I think he matches up very good on the Friday night. I saw him and [Arizona's Preston] Guilmet against each other, I think they're very comparable. I like their club, I think any time you've got a battle-tested, experienced club, it's an advantage.
"Offensively they've been Jekyll and Hyde. I just think with their pitching and defense, they play really good defense, especially up the middle with Barney at shortstop and [Joey] Wong at second base. [Center fielder Chris] Hopkins is a good player with some speed. You've got to like their club. You've got to believe in what they've been through, they've had some ups and downs. They know how to execute, they bunt, they run, do those little things to help them win the close games."
Coach (Record at school): Wayne Graham (736-282, 16 seasons).
CWS history: Five trips to Omaha, last in 2006; one championship in 2003.
CWS route: Won Houston regional in three games, beating Texas Christian in the final.
"I really believe there's an intangible there that they expect to win, and it doesn't matter who they play. They've had different guys step up for them at different times in the season. Savery, we haven't seen his best stuff yet. We talk about how [Texas A&M's Kyle] Nicholson competes; well, Savery's about as fierce a competitor as you'll find. Those guys expect to win and expect to be there, I don't think Wayne's done anything differently since he's been at San Jacinto [JC], they expect to win. They expect to win.
"It was not a very pleasant series against TCU, these fans are screaming at each other, and screaming at the umpires, not nice stuff. But the higher the pressure, the bigger the stakes, the better they play. [Center fielder Tyler] Henley got his swing back. He struggled for the first half of the season, his game's gotten better. Diego [Seastrunk] has gotten to be an offensive player at third base, done a nice job getting some quality at-bats. Friday's Friday -- if you hit it to short it's going to be an out. He's got gap-to-gap power, he can hit it out, similar to [Texas A&M's Brandon] Hicks. Luna, he's got the ability to be a real big bat -- if he has a hot series, he can be a difference maker. Luna's so short and compact to the ball, he's got so much strength in his swing. When he gets hot, look out. The thing with Joe Savery, whenever they need an RBI in the big part of the game, he's able to get it done. That's something you can't coach or teach.
"[Catcher Danny] Lehmann will be a key part of this series, just for being able to shut down that running game and the pitchers doing a good job keeping the guys close to the base. I think [Tacker's health] will really be a key for those guys. The roles he filled for that team, as a starter, closer, setup guy, he can be a difference maker. If he is back, and he's healthy, that will be huge. He's 91-93, good curveball and power changeup. He's got tools that make him a prospect.
"The strikeouts haven't been there for Savery. He went into the eighth inning [in regionals], his last three pitches were 90, 91, 91. We've been watching Joe Savery all year -- he'll come out in the first inning 91-93 every time, from midseason on. You might get a walk, a cheap hit, but he'll sink his fastball and get a double play. He had two or three double plays in the game against TCU. St.Clair came in and pitched pretty well in that closer's role, and that's another key guy. Last year when he pitched for the national team, he was overpowering and unhittable. If he pitches this week like last week, that's a tough guy, if you're down a run or two. His velocity was 89-91, his curveball had pretty good depth and teeth on it, 76-78, travels a long distance. Berry's very efficient when he's on the mound, around the strike zone. [Righty Chris] Kelley's got the ability to be pretty effective, a three-pitch mix guy. You know who's been huge for Rice in that 'pen? [Lefty Bobby] Bramhall, look at his numbers [5-2, 1.94, 72-27 K-BB, 56 IP]. He's 87-89 with a plus changeup. His numbers are loud. With Bramhall and St.Clair, and if Tacker is available, I don't know if A&M has arms like that available late in the game.
"[Outfielder Jared] Gayhart last year as a freshman at San Jac, he was hitting in the nine hole. He couldn't hit, but he's athletic, a former quarterback at a good football program, Katy High School. He had some big hits in that series against TCU, a big home run. He's another guy in the outfield. They always find guys who find a different level the higher the stakes.
"They have a little more balance this year, and they've got some guys that are coming into this thing on more of a high; last year those guys might not have been on the peak they're on now. Both teams are very competitive, two very highly competitive teams going after each other, and it should be a great series. History would say I'd go with Rice. Wayne's been there, the players have been there."
South Carolina (45-18)
Coach (Record with school): Ray Tanner (499-218, 11 seasons)
CWS history: Eight trips to Omaha, last in 2004.
CWS route: Won Columbia, S.C., regional in three games, beating Charlotte in the final.
"I think offensively, they're a different team at home than when they get out on the raod. They thrive on the home run in that little teeny tiny ballpark at home. Honeycutt's a strike thrower, upper 80s. He's got a decent changeup, but it's not special. He knows how to pitch. Hempy can be pretty special at times, depends what day it is; he has really good stuff. Smoak's their best hitter, he's special, and I really like Jones and Darnell. When you're talking about South Carolina, at the plate, they're extremely aggressive. Top to bottom, early in the count, they're a very aggressive team. They're not going to let a fastball go by without swinging at it.
"They all play real, real hard. They are going to get after it. Ray Tanner's teams do that year after year after year. That's one thing Ray's teams do, whether they have talent or not. They're very aggressive at the plate, they're going to swing it. They're not worried about pitch counts, they're going to swing the bat aggressively. Bottom line is you've got to be able to mix your pitches and you can't fall into patterns and you can't double up a lot [on your pitch selection]. If you fall into a pattern, they'll end up hammering it. When I say they're not going to let a fastball go by, they're not, but that doesn't mean you can't beat their bats with good stuff. They are an aggressive team from how they get after it at the plate.
"When [Wynn] Pelzer's right, he can be unhittable. When it's mid-90s, he's got his split going, he's pretty tough to hit. We saw [Mike] Cisco, he's a lot like [North Carolina's Robert] Woodard, he can really pitch, a three-pitch mix guy. He's 85-88 with the fastball, good feel for a breaking ball, just knows how to pitch -- good feel, good command."
Texas A&M (48-17)
Coach (Record at school): Rob Childress (73-47-1, two seasons)
CWS history: Four trips to Omaha, last in 1999
CWS route: Won College Station regional, beating Louisiana-Lafayette in the final
"They're doing things in unconventional ways to find ways to beat you -- squeezes, double squeezes. They've got some guys who can run in Feltner and Hicks, Stouffer's an average runner. If there's a guy on second, and there's a ground ball through the hole, [third base coach Matt] Deggs is sending them home.
"[On a squeeze with runners on second and third], when the guy picks up the ball, that third baseman's got to know that this guy's wheeling right behind him. They push the action on the bases -- if the guy behind the plate is shaky, that guy's going to be exploited. Rice has a quality guy in [Danny] Lehmann -- when it comes to taking control of the game, running the staff, he's as talented as I've seen.
"If you make mistakes, those guys will hit it far. I think Hicks is a guy that can hit a mistake, Stouffer can do that, he's been hot. Stinson's been on fire, he came up with some big knocks, and he's using the whole field to hit right now. These are two teams that are hot going into the series.
"I'd seen [Nicholson] early, it's tough to get by the body type, but you can't argue with the numbers. He's got some kind of intangible inside of him, he's a bulldog, he competes, he's going to give his team a chance to compete. All-out stuff, I'm going to take [Rice's Ryan] Berry. Nicholson, it's a heavy sinking fastball, 87-90, might bump a 91, he's a groundball guy. Throws a three-quarters-slot slurve in the high 70s. His change is OK. He's an intense competitor, that's the biggest thing. Newmann, he's a tough one. Nothing he does is real easy, throws a heavy ball, curveball and slider are pretty decent, real stiff delivery guy. Some guys have stepped up for them, Rob [Childress] has done a great job for those guys. Campfield hadn't done too much in the beginning of the season, now he's stepped up, running that thing up to 92-93 with a low slot. Rob's got them playing their best at the right time.
"The key guys are Stouffer [and] Feltner; [he's] got some intangibles, he can create some havoc with his speed. He's going to drag, push, slap, go like heck, and he's a 70 runner [on the 20-80 scouting scale]. He can create some things, so shutting him down will be a big part of it. Some guys have emerged from the 'pen, quality efforts. Parker Dalton's been a great success story for them. At third base, [Brian] Ruggiano or [Diego] Seastrunk, I'll take Diego. Hicks or Friday, it's a tossup -- if you like big, physical guys take Hicks, if you like guys who do it easy, Friday. Stouffer's more gap to gap, I'd say, but he's got the strength to drive it out. He runs, 22 for 31. Dalton is 18 for 22. They're pushing the action on the bases, that's a game."
UC Irvine (43-15-1)
Coach (Record with school): Dave Serrano (110-64-1, three seasons)
CWS history: No trips to Omaha.
CWS route: Won Round Rock regional, beating Texas in the final.
"They're great. I think this is the best coaching job in America, what they've done with that club. I don't want to sell those kids short, they've got some great players, but what they've done is incredible. They're playing a great schedule, playing everybody. I'm surprised by what they did at Texas, but yet I'm not. Gorgen has just been awesome, him and Etheridge. If you look at Gorgen's numbers in his last five or six starts, it's incredible. They're really durable, they've pitched a ton of innings, and Serrano's done a great job not overstretching them through the year. Gorgen, he throws strikes and competes, he's 88-92 with his fastball, and he's gotten better as the year's progressed for some reason. He's got a great changeup with a solid breaking ball. Just a competitor, not a pure strikeout guy. His change and fastball are both plus pitches, and the breaking ball is solid. His fastball has some movement, he's not a prototypical pro guy because of his body, but about 5-foot-11, strong.
"Etheridge, he doesn't throw many sliders, his ball sinks so much with that sinker and change, people think he throws a lot of breaking balls, but the truth is he throws no more than four or five breaking balls a game, just his fastball has so much sink. He's one of those guys that the more he pitches, the more his ball sinks. He doesn't get tired. He throws low strikes, and they play defense behind him.
"They're just well-schooled. Dave [Serrano] runs a great game, there's a lot to be said for a coach that really understands and can run a great game. He's been there before with Fullerton, nothing overwhelms him. Defensively, they're not quite as good as Arizona State, but they didn't make an error in Texas. Those two teams are the best defensive clubs I liked all year. Arizona State's phenomenal, and Irvine's really good. (Ben) Orloff has been a great divider at shortstop, and when they put [Taylor] Holiday at first base, it gave them an athletic guy there with some bounce in his step. Cipriano's good, Tayler Vaughn's as good a third baseman as there is. They've got a great mix, [guys] who believe, who think they can beat the world.
"Those starters are going to get you really deep, and [right-hander Dylan] Axelrod will be the other guy they use. Erickson, they pick his spots. He came in after the rain delay in the championship game [of the Round Rock regional], and he couldn't finish the inning. You look at his numbers, they're great, but he is pitching on ice every time. He'll be in there with the bases loaded, two outs, and punch the last guy out. His stuff is electric, the fastball and slider are two plus pitches. You would think as long as he's been around, he'd have ice water in his veins, but he really doesn't. We saw him 90-93, but he's been 95, he's done that.
"[Right-hander Eric] Pettis is your typical third guy that just throws strikes and competes. He's really found his niche lately. Petersen's pitched a little more lately, but it will probably be tough this weekend with him playing the outfield. Petersen's a great athlete. I think because his velocity's been so good the last few weeks, people like him on the mound now, but he's a left-handed hitter who can run, good power, good baseball player.
"They bunt a ton, they execute. They've always bunted a ton, but now they've got some power, not just a bunt club. They've got 109 sacrifice bunts, 133 stolen bases, look how much pressure they put on you offensively. They handle the bat offensively, nonstop pressure, and they're hitting .323, so it's not like they have to do that. Constant pressure, and 35 homers now -- they play at a huge park. They've got it going, they know how to play baseball. They're the best baseball team in America, just flat-out playing baseball. Arizona State does a great job too, but this team, their numbers show it, and the fact they've won 42 games. They went to Texas, a team we know plays good baseball, and they beat them at their own game. When you're playing against them, you're on your toes every second. Cipriano, Petersen, Taylor Holiday's been outstanding, and little Ollie Linton gets that club going, a little speed guy. Orloff bunts guys into position, but he's still hitting .348. He sets the table for those big guys in the middle, with Cipriano, [outfielder Matt] Morris and Petersen. They do whatever it takes to beat you. But they're going to stay within their game, like Augie Garrido's done for years.
"The one thing Irvine doesn't have is a left-hander. But Gorgen's best pitch is his changeup, so that's what you do to left-handers. Etheridge being a sinker guy, he handles left-handers well, because everything sinks away from those guys. So if you're going to have right-handed pitchers against Wichita State, those are the two guys you want. [Catcher Aaron] Lowenstein does a great job back there, they're going to be around 40 to 50 percent throwing out guys out. They've only allowed 24 stolen bases in 53 attempts. Those pitchers do such a great job holding runners, that's a big part of it."
Coach (Record at school): John Savage (81-92, three seasons)
CWS history: Two trips to Omaha, last in 1997.
CWS route: Won Long Beach regional in three games, beating Long Beach State in the final.
"I saw them early in the year and they were atrocious, I was thinking, 'If we don't beat these guys, we're really bad.' Then they went on that incredible run. The thing that changed their season was Jermaine Curtis coming back. He gets all the big hits, he makes them go, he runs their club. He's a special player, what I call a winning player, Jermaine turned that club around. He is just a special player, fun to watch, although you hate having him go against you. He inspires a ballclub, wow.
"Brooks has pitched well, Brummett has pitched well--Brummett, Brooks and Murphy, they only threw three pitchers in the tournament. I thought Murphy was a one-pitch guy when we saw him, 92-93, wasn't throwing the breaking ball. But I saw the Arizona State game, he had great command, struck out 14, which I would have told you couldn't be done. That breaking ball is getting better every day. You have two left-handers, then you have Brummett, who besides [Arizona's Preston] Guilmet might be the best in the conference. I worry about their bullpen, and obviously they're worried about it too, that's why they didn't use their bullpen last weekend. Brummett's going to give you nine innings that first game almost for sure. [Righty Charles] Brewer, they were so down on their bullpen, they had to use him in the biggest inning on back-to-back nights against Arizona state. They've lost all confidence in [right-handed reliever Brant] Rustich, they're not even going to him.
"They've got some thunder in [outfielder Gabe] Cohen and Decker, [catcher Ryan] Babineaux. Crawford is a primetime player, great defender, great offensive guy, does everything for you. Babineaux behind the plate is an anchor, runs the game for them. All good clubs have one elite guy, and that's Crawford. I would think he's going to be a first-rounder next year. With them, it's the streakiness. When they've gotten it going, I think they're ready to go. Right now they're pitching it really well, Curtis is hot, they've played a tough schedule and been through a lot.
"They're a funny club. Obviously you try to get to their bullpen and get their pitch totals up. They're not a club that's only going to go 110 pitches, they're going to go wherever. You've got a chance to really wear them out and get their subpar stuff. They've shown they're going to keep those guys in, I'm not worried about the health factor, I just don't think you can be as effective after that 110th pitch."
Wichita State (53-20)
Coach (Record at school): Gene Stephenson (1,605-531-3, 30 seasons)
CWS history: Seven trips to Omaha, last in 1996; one championship in 1989.
CWS route: Won Wichita regional, beating Arizona in the final.
"They're a very athletic team. They have really, really good team speed, and that makes them difficult to deal with because they can take extra bases, get themselves in scoring position without necessarily having to give up the outs with sac bunts. On that turf, it's even more of a challenge when they're running out [outfielder Andy] Dirks and Sublett and Schermerhorn, a lot of guys who can get down the line and put a lot of pressure on defense. I'll give their left-handed hitters credit, some of them are very good at hitting to the opposite field. [Third baseman Conor] Gillaspie and Dirks are real good at using the whole field. They're a handful from the offensive side. Put a guy like Weber in there who's got some pop in his bat, and a guy like [DH/first baseman Danny] Jackson, if he gets going, that makes them more dangerous. It's a good mix of speed, some power, a lot of athleticism.
"You attack them with left-handed pitching, that's what you've got to do. You've got to attack them with left-handed pitching. If you can do that you have a chance. If all you're going to run at them are right-handers, you leave yourself vulnerable to what they want to do. They're going to run six lefties at you, you've got to have lefties to neutralize that. That helps control the running game to have those left-handed pitchers, keep those guys from running all over you, that's where teams can keep them under control. To neutralize Wichita's offense, you've got to have some guys who can go out there and spin the ball. But I think [UC Irvine's lack of lefties] is an advantage for Wichita.
"You can't mix in a lot of free stuff against Wichita. If you get involved with a lot of walks and hit by pitches, with some of those runners, a walk turns into a double. They're hard to double up, a lot of the guys they have can run, and on turf they hit some of those chopper balls and run down the line. It puts a lot of pressure on your defense and your pitching staff hitter to hitter.
"I think obviously for Shafer to compete in a super-regional, he's going to have to get that good fastball back. They brought Banwart back Monday, I don't know if they'll bring him back [in Game 1] or go with Shafer or [left-hander Rob] Musgrave. Shafer on any given day can be as good as anybody in country, then they have a couple of solid lefties with [Anthony] Capra and Musgrave, real deep rotation. They've already got some lefties in bullpen with Krol and [Noah] Booth. Then you bump one of those guys [Capra or Musgrave] into the bullpen, it gives you even more options. I think Irvine's got their hands full."
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