What an intriguing 2012 College World Series field of eight we have this season.
There are several great storylines with these clubs. Florida returns to the College World Series hoping to finish what it started last season, while South Carolina hopes to become just the second program in CWS history (USC the other) to earn three-straight national titles.
Then there are programs such as Kent State and Stony Brook making their first CWS appearances. The Flashes finally broke through after falling short in an NCAA Regional title game last season, while the Seawolves are just the second No. 4 seed (Fresno State, 2008, the other) in NCAA postseason history to make it all the way to Omaha.
Also worth noting, UCLA and Arizona have been very consistent Pac-12 teams this season, while Florida State finally has a pitching staff very capable of making a run through the field of eight.
And don't forget about Arkansas. The Hogs might lack some offensive firepower, but their pitching staff definitely stacks up with anyone in the field. Should the Hogs produce some runs in Omaha, they could make a strong run.
CWS APPEARANCES: Four
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Bruins are playing an incredibly consistent brand of baseball entering the College World Series. They made easy work of the Los Angeles Regional with wins over Creighton (twice) and New Mexico, while they did a clean sweep of TCU in the Los Angeles Super Regional, outscoring the Frogs 10-3 in the series, which went two games. UCLA is riding a nine-game winning streak.
WHO TO WATCH: The Bruins have had a solid offensive club the entire season, but their pitching staff really has been a dominant force the past two weekends. UCLA ace right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko has been fantastic and has a 2.56 ERA in 112 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, fellow starting pitchers Nick Vander Tuig (4.35, 103 /13 IP) and Zack Weiss (4.04, 69 IP) also have been solid. From a bullpen standpoint, the Bruins have some big-time arms, and some different varieties. For instance, Scott Griggs, who has recorded 15 saves, is up into the mid 90s with his fastball, while David Berg, who has been unhittable in postseason play, has a 0.94 ERA in 28 2/3 innings … From an offensive standpoint, the Bruins are hitting .309 as a club with versatile outfielder Jeff Gelalich (.385/11/46) leading the charge. Catcher Tyler Heineman (.343/1/27) has been consistent as well, while outfielder Beau Amaral (.313/4/45) is having a season to remember. Keep an eye on Cody Regis (.247/1/25). He struggled during the regular season, but came up with some big hits in last week’s TCU series.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Many will point to Florida State, South Carolina and Florida as favorites to win the national title, the Bruins also have a very good chance to take home the program’s first national title. The Bruins have a very stable pitching staff with a couple of premier arms at the back end of the bullpen. They also have an offense that is very opportunistic. Chances are great the Bruins pitch well in Omaha, their success in Omaha hinging primarily on the success of the offense.
CWS APPEARANCES: First
HOW THEY GOT HERE: What an incredible run the Seawolves put together to get to this point. They entered the NCAA postseason as a No. 4 seed, and obviously weren’t expected to advance to the College World Series. SBU, though, stormed through the Coral Gables Regional with wins over Miami, UCF (twice) and Missouri State to advance to the Baton Rouge Super Regional. There, the Seawolves played a fantastic brand of baseball to take two of three from the Tigers. Stony Brook is just the second No. 4 NCAA Regional seed to advance to Omaha. The last? Fresno State, which won the 2008 national title.
WHO TO WATCH: Stony Brook put together a very solid regular season campaign, but there were some questions whether it could compete against some of the big boys in the NCAA postseason. Well, you got that answer the past two weekends. Stony Brooks is hitting .321 as a team in the postseason with power-hitting third baseman William Carmona leading the way with a .514 average, two homers and 12 RBIs in the postseason. Meanwhile, stud outfielder Travis Jankowski is hitting .487 with a home run and six RBIs, and second baseman Sal Intagliata, the nine-hole hitter, is even hitting .318. Also keep an eye on first baseman Kevin Courtney (.321/1/6) and Kevin Krause (.294/0/5) … Pitching-wise, Tyler Johnson was masterful last weekend against LSU, while Frankie Vanderka (2.81/16 IP) and Brandon McNitt (4.15/13 IP) also are having productive postseasons.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Anyone that watched the Baton Rouge Super Regional knows exactly what this team is capable of accomplishing. The Seawolves played an exceptional brand of baseball last weekend against LSU, making all the great plays in the field, making all the clutch pitches, and of course, getting the big hit at exactly the right times. Stony Brook is riding a big wave of momentum, but it remains to seen if the pitching staff can handled a rigorous CWS schedule.
CWS APPEARANCES: 16
HOW THEY GOT HERE: It should come as absolutely no surprise the Wildcats are in the College World Series. They were consistent for the most part during the regular season, and have been excellent in the NCAA postseason. They swept through the Tucson Regional with wins over Missouri and Louisville (twice) before sweeping a hard-fought two-game set from St. John's to advance to the CWS. Arizona is playing a great brand of baseball at the right time.
WHO TO WATCH: If there's one team capable of putting on quite the offensive clinic in Omaha, it's the Wildcats. Arizona has been ridiculously good offensively in the NCAA postseason. They've scored 61 runs in five postseason games thus far, and enter the CWS with a fabulous .420 team batting average in the postseason. The Wildcats are led at the plate by hot-hitting third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, who's hitting .500 with two doubles and five RBIs, while outfielder Joey Rickard (.500/0/9) and Bobby Brown (.440/0/7) have been insanely hot, and Johnny Field and Alex Mejia are hitting .417 and .409, respectively. Also keep an eye on Robert Refsnyder, who "only" is hitting .300 in the postseason. He could have a big Omaha trip ... From a pitching staff standpoint, the Wildcats haven't had to use a lot of arms in the postseason. However, the ones that have thrown have done a respectable job. James Farris and Konner Wade each had put together solid starts, while right-handed pitcher Kurt Heyer willed his way through a rough start against St. John's last weekend. There's also freshman reliever Mathew Troupe, who has had a good season, but only has one postseason appearance.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: There's no doubt the Wildcats have the offensive firepower to take care of business in Omaha and win a national title. But their success, at least in the long run in Omaha, depends on the pitching staff. For most of the season, Kurt Heyer was the club's only consistent starting pitcher. But now Farris and Wade are throwing well. If those three continues their impressive ways in the CWS, great things could be on the horizon. If not, the Wildcats will have to outhit teams in what is a pitcher friendly TD Ameritrade Park.
CWS APPEARANCES: 21
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Seminoles didn't finish the regular season in impressive fashion, but as expected, really turned on the jets in the NCAA postseason. The Seminoles had some very hard-fought games in the Tallahassee Regional, but still went 3-0 to advance to NCAA Super Regional play. There, the 'Noles put together an extremely impressive performance against Stanford outscoring the Cardinal 35-8 in two games, and against stud pitchers Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham, mind you. The Seminoles are playing with a lot of confidence.
WHO TO WATCH: FSU had issues being consistent from an offensive standpoint throughout the regular season, but sure was impressive last weekend against Stanford. The Seminoles enter the College World Series hitting .273 in the postseason as a club. Outfielders Josh Delph (.438/0/1) and James Ramsey (.389/1/8) have been terrific at the plate, while third baseman Sherman Johnson, who struggled during the regular season, is hitting .412 with two homers and seven RBIs in the postseason. Also keep an eye on first baseman Jayce Boyd, who's hitting .316 with a home run and four RBIs ... Pitching-wise, the Seminoles really have done a nice job in the NCAAs. Freshman left-handed pitcher Brandon Leibrandt has a 0.64 ERA in two starts, while Mike Compton has a 2.70 ERA in two starts. Amazingly, both are true freshmen. Bullpen-wise, closer Robert Benincasa has continued his flawless ways with three scoreless frames and two saves.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The Florida State offense has gone into some lulls at times this season, while the pitching staff, for the most part, has been pretty consistent. If the 'Noles continued where they left off last weekend from a hitting and pitching standpoint, they've got a great chance to play and win a national title. The X-factor here, too, could be FSU's confidence level, which is sky high following that dominant series win over Stanford.
CWS APPEARANCES: Eight
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Gators left a little to be desired in the SEC tournament when they went 2-2, but as expected, they turned things on during the NCAA postseason. The Gators left little doubt who was king in the Gainesville Regional before winning a pair of contests against N.C. State to advance to the College World Series. UF, especially after falling just short of a national title last season, is one of those teams that spent the entire regular season just waiting to get to the postseason. Now the Gators have a chance to do something special ... again.
WHO TO WATCH: It's scary to think about, but the Gators finally are putting all the pieces together in postseason play. UF enters the College World Series hitting an impressive .314 as a team. Amazingly, freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon leads the club offensively in the postseason with a .474 average, a home run and six RBIs. Meanwhile, Preston Tucker is hitting .400 with two homers and four RBIs, while Daniel Pigott (.353/1/7) and Mike Zunino (.316/3/9) have recorded some hugs hits in the postseason. Also keep an eye on shortstop Nolan Fontana, who only is hitting .250 in the postseason, but is capable of a breakout two weeks in Omaha ... Pitching-wise, there's not a deeper pitching staff in this field of eight. The Gators have a team earned-run average of .2.74, and feel tremendous about the direction of the staff. UF starting pitchers Hudson Randall (0.71 ERA), Brian Johnson (1.80) and Jonathon Crawford (2.13) have been solid in the postseason, while the bullpen is anchored by stalwarts such as Greg Larson (3.00), Steven Rodriguez (4.15) and even Austin Maddox, who enters the CWS with a 6.75 ERA in the postseason.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The Gators clearly are the most talented team in Omaha with a lot of experience, so they should know what to expect. But when it comes to taking care of business the next two weeks, the Gators must always keep the light switch facing upward. UF, during the regular season, had a tendency to go into lulls at times. Few teams can oust the Gators from this tournament if they're playing a great brand of baseball. My eyes are on Florida's offense this weekend, particularly against South Carolina lefty Michael Roth in the opener.
CWS APPEARANCES: 11
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Gamecocks have played a very good brand of baseball for much of the season, but there's just something about the NCAA postseason that really gets their blood flowing in a good way. The Gamecocks have played very well and clutch in the postseason. They went 3-0 in the Columbia Regional with a win over Manhattan and two wins over rival Clemson before sweeping a rain-soaked two-game series over Oklahoma to advance to the CWS. Oh yeah, the Gamecocks have won 21-straight NCAA postseason games. Will that streak continue?
WHO TO WATCH: South Carolina's offensive numbers in the postseason certainly won't jump out at you, but they're a little deceiving as the Gamecocks have been plenty productive in their five victories. The Gamecocks enter the CWS with a .273 team batting average. Surprisingly, second baseman Chase Vergason leads the club in hitting in the NCAAs, batting .417 with five RBIs. Meanwhile, third baseman LB Dantzler is hitting .389 and Evan Marzilli and Adam Matthews both are hitting .333. It's important to keep an eye on first baseman Christian Walker. Walker only is hitting .190 in the postseason, but is capable of a breakout performance in Omaha ... Pitching-wise, the Gamecocks have been excellent in the postseason. Right-handed starting pitcher Colby Holmes has yet to allow a a run in two starts and 13 innings, while left-hander Michael Roth has a 1.93 ERA in two starts and 14 innings of work. Freshman lefty Jordan Montgomery threw well in the Columbia Regional, but wasn't needed in NCAA Super Regional action, meaning he'd very much rested. Bullpen-wise, righty Matt Price certainly is the ringleader with a 1.42 ERA in 6 1/3 innings in the postseason, while lefty Tyler Webb has been solid as well with a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: When it comes to experience, there's not a team in this field of eight more prepared to compete for the national title than the Gamecocks. Coach Ray Tanner always has these guys ready in Omaha, and that's something to remember as we get closer to Friday's opener against Florida. For the Gamecocks, third starter Jordan Montgomery must be solid, while someone other than Matt Price will need to step up out of the bullpen for this team to reach their goals -- a three-peat. The Gamecocks have the personnel to do it.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: After falling just short of reaching an NCAA Super Regional last season, the Flashes vowed to finish the deal this season. Well, they did that and much more. Kent State went 3-0 in the Gary Regional with wins over Kentucky (twice) and Purdue. But most impressive is the fact it went on the road last weekend and took care of Oregon in a very hard-fought series. Kent coach Scott Stricklin has done a phenomenal job over the years, but now he has a chance to win a national title.
WHO TO WATCH: The Flashes have been involved in some very close and hard-fought contests during their NCAA postseason. As a result, they only enter the College World Series with a .255 batting average in the postseason. However, there's no doubt this team has the ability to put up some runs. Shortstop Jimmy Rider was Mr. Clutch in the Eugene Super Regional last weekend, and enters the CWS hitting .387 with three doubles and the seven RBIs. Meanwhile, George Roberts is hitting .367 with seven RBIs and TJ Sutton is hitting .304 with two RBIs. David Lyon (.200/0/1) and Derek Toadvine (.259/0/0) are two other guys capable of putting together some big-time production in Omaha ... Pitching-wise, Scott Stricklin is very confident about this club going into Omaha. The Flashes have a 3.00 ERA in the postseason, with young starting pitcher Tyler Skulina (1.42, 12 2/3 IP) and fellow starters Ryan Bores (3.5, 15 1/3) and David Starn (5.84, 12 1/3 IP) leading the way. In the bullpen, Michael Clark and Ryan Mace have yet to allow a run, while Casey Wilson, Josh Pierce and Brian Clark have thrown well.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The Flashes have been very balanced all-season long, but if they want to win a national title, they'll have to be a little better from an offensive standpoint. The Flashes have a good starting rotation and some legitimately solid depth in the bullpen. But again, their success in Omaha hinges on the offense's ability to increase production. This team definitely has a chance to make a magical run.
CWS APPEARANCES: Seven
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The fact the Razorbacks has gotten this far in the NCAA postseason with limited offensive production shows just how stout their pitching staff can be. The Hogs swept through the Houston Regional by allowing just five runs in three games against Rice and Sam Houston State. Meanwhile, they buckled down and got some clutch hits over the weekend after losing the series opener to Baylor in the Waco Super Regional. But again, the pitching staff is the reason the Hogs are in Omaha.
WHO TO WATCH: The Hogs must be exponentially better offensively the next two weeks to win the national title. To say the least, Arkansas has been offensively challenged the past few weeks. The Hogs enter the weekend hitting just .211 as a club in the postseason, with only third baseman Matt Reynolds hitting over .300 amongst everyday starting position player. Reynolds is hitting .318 with two RBIs. Joe Serrano (.500/0/1) stepped up in the Waco Super Regional, while Brian Anderson (.200/0/0) also had some key hits in Waco ... Pitching-wise, this is a very exciting unit to watch. The Hogs have a 2.00 ERA in the postseason and are led on the mound by Ryne Stanek (1.64, 11 IP) and DJ Baxendale (4.50, 10 IP), while Randall Fant has been a pleasant surprise, having yet to allow a run in 8 1/3 postseason innings. Meanwhile, Brandon Moore (3.14), Barrett Astin (0.00), Nolan Sanburn (0.00), Colby Suggs (0.00) and Trent Daniel (2.45) lead what is the top bullpen in the field outside of Florida.
THEY CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: It's pretty simple what Arkansas must do to win the national title -- it must hit with consistency. The Hogs enter the CWS with an excellent pitching staff, but the offensive lineup has left something to be desired. With Todd Butler running the show, look for the Hogs to try to put pressure on opposing pitchers in Omaha. Arkansas has a lot of potential in this tournament if it hits.