Virginia spent much of the season as the nation’s top-ranked team, but enters the postseason with a little something to prove after a lackluster showing the past couple of weeks. The Cavaliers, though, should be just fine going into the weekend. The Cavaliers have an excellent pitching staff, along with a good rotation that includes lefthanded pitcher Nathan Kirby, who can get up to 94 with his fastball with good overall stuff, while fellow lefty Brandon Waddell is a terrific No. 3 starter with a fastball up to 90-92, along with a good changeup. Meanwhile, Josh Sborz has a power arm with a fastball up to 93-94, but can be erratic at times, while Artie Lewicki has a veteran presence for the Cavaliers. Freshman righthanded pitcher Connor Jones, another power arm with a fastball up to 94 is solid out of the bullpen, while Whit Mayberry occupies key innings, and Nick Howard closes things out. Howard has a terrific arm with a 94-98 fastball along with a wipeout slider … Defensively, the Cavaliers have a very athletic outfielder with Joe McCarthy, Derek Fisher and Brandon Downes leading the way, while first baseman Mike Papi is having another solid campaign with a .289 batting average, 10 homers and 47 RBIs. The Cavaliers are solid defensively, especially on the left side of the infield, where John LaPrise and freshman Daniel Pinero lead the way. Overall, the Cavaliers should be ready to roll this weekend.
Arkansas is a dangerous club to watch in this NCAA Regional. With such a strong showing in the SEC tournament, I thought the Razorbacks might stay closer to home, but that wasn’t the case. Arkansas has an outstanding pitching staff entering the NCAA postseason. Righthanded pitcher Chris Oliver has a fastball 92-95 with a big-time, breaking, curveball, and a 2.45 ERA in 88 1/3 innings, while fellow righty Trey Killian is a quality arm with a 2.18 ERA in 90 2/3 innings, along with a fastball that sits 91-93. The Hogs still won’t have talented lefthanded pitcher Jalen Beeks available to be in the weekend rotation, but hope to use him a few innings this weekend. Meanwhile, power-armed freshman righthanded pitcher Zach Jackson moves into the weekend rotation after a nice audition in the SEC tournament last weekend. Jackson has a 1.80 ERA in 23 appearances (one start) and 40 innings. Jacob Stone (0.99, 36.1 IP) and Michael Gunn (0.84, seven saves, 32.1 IP) are quality arms out of the bullpen … The Razorbacks certainly aren’t greatly offensively, but they’ve shown much improvement over the past few weeks. Second baseman Brian Anderson is the athletic leader of the offense with a .311 average, 14 doubles, six homers and 49 RBIs, while veteran Joe Serrano (.299/0/21) is capable of having a huge weekend. Meanwhile, Eric Fisher (.265/9/43) and Tyler Spoon (.258/3/36) are seasoned hitters, while Clark Eagan (.311/2/11) is a quality contributor.
Liberty is under seeded entering the NCAA postseason. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Flames were right in the thick of the NCAA Regional hosting mix, now they're a three-seed in Charlottesville. Perhaps that'll spark some motivation for coach Jim Toman's club. The Flames suffered a setback about halfway through the season when starting pitcher Carson Herndon went down with a season-ending injury, but some guys have risen to the occasion in his absence. Trey Lambert sits 88-91 with his fastball and has a true four-pitch mix with a curveball, changeup and cutter, while also tallying a 2.10 ERA in 102 2/3 innings, while young righthanded pitcher Parker Bean has a lot of upside to go with a 2.71 ERA in 73 innings. Bean has a fastball up to 93 and a good slider. Meanwhile, Matt Marsh has appeared in 18 games and has a 0.54 ERA in 33 1/3 innings, along with a fastball up to 92, while Shawn Clowers (0.89, 50.2 IP) and Ashton Perritt (1.52, 29.2 IP) are both high quality arms out of the bullpen … Offensively, it doesn't get much better than Ryan Seiz, who hits for power and is consistent, hitting .362 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs, while Alex Close (.324/8/45) and Danny Grauer (.262/7/40) are other power threats, with Perritt, a two-way talent, leading the team in stolen bases with 18. Liberty is a balanced club and could make some serious noise this weekend.
The Bison captured the Patriot League crown and hope to make a statement in Charlottesville this weekend. Bucknell doesn't have a ton of depth on the mound, but does possess some quality arms, such as righthanded pitcher Andrew Andreychik, who has a 3.56 ERA in 60 2/3 innings of work, while lefty Dan Weigel has been terrific this season with a 2.94 ERA in 88 2/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, Xavier Hammond (3.34, four saves, 70 IP), Tom Hrabchak (1.57, 23 IP) and Mike Castellani (1.61, 28 IP) are quality arms to watch … Offensively, the Bison have a good one in Anthony Gingerelli, who has a .312 batting average, five homers and 27 RBIs, while Brett Smith is a very athletic contributor with a .03 average and nine stolen bases. Also keep an eye on Jon Ogren, who leads the offense with a .324 batting average and .415 OBP.
Though the nationally-seeded Cavaliers drew a relatively easy No. 4 seed, the rest of the field is rather difficult. Arkansas is playing a very good brand of baseball and has the pitching to beat anyone, while Liberty is a balanced club who played exceptional baseball much of the season. Virginia will be pushed more than you think, but will win the Charlottesville Regional.