College | Story | 6/6/2019

2019 Super Regional Preview

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney        
Photo: Isaiah Campbell (Arkansas Communications)

Regional Recap
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Below the eight Super Regional matchups are listed, starting with the four sites that will be played Friday through Sunday and followed by the four to be played Saturday through Monday.

Friday through Sunday Super Regionals (National Seed listed in parenthesis):

Los Angeles, Calif.: Michigan at UCLA (1)
Nashville, Tenn.: Duke at Vanderbilt (2)
Louisville, Ky.: East Carolina (10) at Louisville (7)
Lubbock, Texas: Oklahoma State (9) at Texas Tech (8)

Los Angeles Super Regional | Michigan at UCLA (1)

UCLA proved they have the pitching depth to compete with anyone, and compete is exactly what they did to emerge from the losers bracket to win last weekend’s Los Angeles Regional. They get to stay at home and host Michigan, a team they lost to in March as part of the Dodger Stadium Classic. Ryan Garcia has been lights out all season long, but especially since he took over as the team’s ace again after starting the season on the shelf. Jack Ralston has been equally stellar on Saturdays and Jesse Bergin has more than held his own on Sundays. Nick Nastrini’s five innings against LMU on Sunday night might have been the most meaningful performance of any Bruins’ pitcher. Kyle Mora and Holden Powell are frequently turned-to options out of the ‘pen, and they’re not alone.

The offense showed signs of life on Sunday and Monday after scoring just seven combined runs on Friday and Saturday. UCLA needs first baseman Michael Toglia and second baseman Chase Strumpf to deliver big hits, something they did during the final two games of the Regional to clinch.

If Michigan is going to knock off the No. 1 National Seed they’re going to need their three horses to pitch like they did in the Corvallis Regional. Karl Kauffmann, Jeff Criswell and ace Tommy Henry all threw the ball as well as they have all season long, and their performances went a long way in the Wolverines emerging as the Regional champ. They can’t match UCLA’s depth, but they had enough on Monday to outlast Creighton.

And the offense is going to need to be opportunistic and not let scoring opportunities slip away as UCLA is arguably the most air-tight team in the nation when it comes to its pitching and defense profile. Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer returned to the lineup Sunday night after missing the first two games due to a turf toe injury while Jimmy Kerr, Jesse Franklin and Riley Bertram in particular all had big moments over the weekend. Finding a way to take game one from UCLA will be crucial to Michigan’s success.

Nashville Super Regional | Duke at Vanderbilt (2)

Vandy owns the most prolific offense in America and the Commodores’ lineup is long and scary. JJ Bleday was the fourth pick overall (Marlins) and he led the nation in home runs. Austin Martin isn’t yet comfortable at third base but he did win the SEC batting title going away and he projects to be a first rounder in 2020. Seniors Ethan Paul, Stephen Scott and Julian Infante give this team a veteran presence that contributes to the difficulty for opposing arms. Pat DeMarco and Philip Clarke add to the seemingly infinite list of stars here.

While the offense is special, the pitching and defense in Nashville are rather ordinary. Not poor but certainly not elite. Drake Fellows is a solid if not dominant ace and Mason Hickman appears to have beaten out senior Patrick Raby for the back-end of the rotation. Kumar Rocker has stood upright all year and he may be the most consistent strike-thrower among the starters. The bullpen offers tremendous velocity but strike throwing hasn’t been a given outside of closer Tyler Brown.

Duke made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years after having not made a Regional since 1961. The Blue Devils parlayed that into a second consecutive road Regional championship. The most remarkable thing here is that Duke lost six regulars from the 2018 lineup, two-thirds of the rotation, plus 15 saves from the bullpen. As if this season couldn’t have been a bigger long shot, key veterans like Adam Laskey, Graeme Stinson and Joey Loperfido all missed significant time this year. 

What the Blue Devils do have is the winning attitude that skipper Chris Pollard has created. Senior Kennie Taylor has had his best season in Durham. Ben Gross (Princeton) and Kyle Gallagher (Cornell) continued the transfer pipeline for Duke and sophomore Thomas Girard’s slider is the single best pitch on the staff. Keep an eye on freshman shortstop Ethan Murray who missed the Regional round after having been hit in the face by a pitch during the ACC Tournament.

Louisville Super Regional | East Carolina (10) at Louisville (7)

Louisville survived a hard-fought home Regional and that was a testament to a very competitive Illinois State club. But in the end, Dan McDonnell’s squad showed great moxie in overcoming the ejection of closer Michael McAvene to win three straight elimination games. Freshman star lefthanded hitter Alex Binelas’ walk-off single sent Louisville to its sixth Super Regional in the last seven years.

This is a club that has struggled to find offense at times but the emergence of Binelas has been a season changer. Louisiville posted the best record in the ACC regular season and did that against what was ranked the most difficult slate in a league that uses an unbalanced schedule. Pitching and defense have been the signatures here and Reid Detmers is a potential first round arm for the 2020 draft. Tyler Fitzgerald has emerged as a very good shortstop and first baseman Logan Wyatt drew a remarkable 68 walks.

East Carolina continues to play under the weight of “best college baseball program never to make it to Omaha” and this is the Pirates’ 30th NCAA Tournament appearance. That history seemed to affect Cliff Godwin’s team in their Regional opening loss to Quinnipiac, but ECU showed great toughness in winning four straight elimination games. This squad has star power at the top of its roster with two-way talent Alec Burleson, outfielder Bryant Packard (2018 AAC Player of the Year) and Spencer Brickhouse. Lefthander Jake Agnos has also blossomed into a star at the front of the rotation.

It will be interesting to see if Detmers and Agnos match up in game one of this series since Louisville deployed Nick Bennett in the Monday game versus Illinois State. Two other items to keep an eye on are the suspension of Michael McAvene and the left-on-left matchups here. McAvene will miss games one and two due to his ejection in the Regional round. Meanwhile, ECU’s best hitters are lefthanded and Louisville’s rotation features two lefties (Detmers and Bennett).

Lubbock Super Regional | Oklahoma State (9) at Texas Tech (8)

Texas Tech is a remarkable 19-4 over its last 23 games since Mid-April when they lost a road series to West Virginia, a team they couldn’t figure out all year, and a midweek contest to Duke in Durham. Particularly of interest is that the weekend trio of Micah Dallas, Caleb Kilian and Bryce Bonnin has a collective ERA of 2.75 during that time in almost 100 combined innings, and none of them reached 100 pitches in that stretch, pointing to a fresh, well-managed rotation by Tim Tadlock and his staff. The bullpen has been just as effective, with numerous hard-throwing options the team can turn to, and the team’s top five hitters – Gabe Holt, Dylan Neuse, Brian Klein, Josh Jung and Cameron Warren – are among the best in college baseball.

Kicking off the Texas Tech’s impressive run was a series sweep over Oklahoma State in Lubbock in which the Red Raiders easily handled the Cowboys with a 27-8 run differential. It’s hard envisioning TTU slipping up at this point of the season, at home, given the run they’re on.

If anyone is up for that challenge it’s Oklahoma State, a team that is on a rather impressive run of their own since being swept by Texas Tech in late April. Immediately following that series the Cowboys swept a different OSU team, Oregon State, in Corvallis, winning 14 of their last 17 games, which included the Big 12 Championship and the Oklahoma City Regional.

Ace Jensen Elliott has been on quite the roll lately, winning his last five starts, which includes a pair of complete game efforts, and getting off to an early series lead will be key for Oklahoma State if they hope to advance to Omaha for the second time in four years. Peyton Battenfield is their bullpen ace out of the ‘pen and he made two key appearances in Regional play spanning five innings of scoreless ball. The offense can flat-out mash, with four sluggers – Trevor Boone, Colin Simpson, Christian Funk and Andrew Navigato – with double-digit home runs. However, you can’t get into a slug-fest against Texas Tech so Oklahoma State’s pitching performances will be key.

Saturday through Monday Super Regionals (National Seed listed in parenthesis):

Fayetteville, Ark..: Ole Miss (12) at Arkansas (5)
Starkville, Miss.: Stanford (11) at Mississippi State (6)
Baton Rouge, La.: Florida State at LSU (13)
Chapel Hill, N.C.: Auburn at North Carolina (14)

Fayetteville Super Regional: Ole Miss (12) at Arkansas (5)

The script for Arkansas sounds eerily familiar to a year ago, when they went 3-0 as the No. 5 National Seed at their home Regional, moving onto the Super Regional round to host a fellow SEC opponent. Last year it was South Carolina, who they handled in three games to advance to Omaha. This year Ole Miss comes to town, a team that has handed Arkansas some of their more notable losses of the year as the Rebels were the only visiting team to win a series in Fayetteville this year, and they also knocked Arkansas out of the SEC Tournament. For as good as both offenses are, there weren’t a ton of run scored in any of those five games.

The Hogs are comfortable in close contests, and they didn’t use the same pitcher twice in their 3-0 Regional performance. Isaiah Campbell continue to act like an ace, out-dueling TCU’s Nick Lodolo on Saturday, while freshmen Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander seem to be getting better as the season wears on. And while Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Dominic Fletcher are the name-brand stars in the lineup, it has been Trevor Ezell, Matt Goodheart and Jack Kenley that have served as the glue, providing numerous key hits down the stretch.

Looking at Ole Miss’ lineup it looks like the players got lost on their way to football practice as Thomas Dillard, Tyler Keenan, Cole Zabowski in particular stand out, and they can easily put up a crooked number against any opponent, as they did in two games against Jacksonville State. Grae Kessinger, Ryan Olenek and Cooper Johnson provide valuable defensive, and leadership, contributions, up the middle.

However, don’t look past the team’s pitching. Their top two starters, Will Ethridge and Doug Nikhazy, each have ERAs below 3.00 with completely different approaches. Ethridge is more of a sinker-slider type with the ability to miss bats while Nikhazy carves up opposing lineups like few freshmen can. These two in particular will need to be on point for Ole Miss to advance past Arkansas in Fayetteville twice in one season.

Starkville Super Regional: Stanford (11) at Mississippi State (6)

The Bulldogs handled their home Regional with relative ease but there were definitely areas of concern during the course of the weekend. Jake Magnum was immersed in a 0-for-16 skid before breaking out with three knocks in the Regional final. More concerning was the fact that freshman sensation J.T. Ginn did not complete his warmup pitches for the fourth inning of his start versus Southern and his availability is unknown for this weekend.

Regardless of Ginn’s status, the strengths of this team are Ethan Small’s incredible season, a ferocious offense and a suddenly deep bullpen. Chris Lemonis’ club seemingly has weaknesses in the areas of infield defense and rotation depth yet neither item has cost them in any significant way. The Bulldogs play with a striking intensity and their home field advantage at the newly renovated Dudy Noble Field cannot be overstated.

Stanford had lost two consecutive home Regionals (both to Cal State Fullerton) coming into 2019 but this team showed great poise in winning three straight elimination games last weekend. Fresno State proved to be a formidable opponent, making this championship even more impressive. The Cardinal bullpen found another gear in this Regional and closer Jack Little seemed to get stronger as the weekend progressed.

The Stanford lineup is athletic, physical, and very experienced. Catcher Maverick Handley is a catalyst and he wills this team to victory at times. The Cardinal are among the nation’s leaders with 87 home runs and this group should be a fascinating matchup with Ethan Small and the Mississippi State bullpen. Veterans like Andrew Daschbach, Duke Kinnamon, Kyle Stowers, and Brandon Wulff could be difference makers, but two-way junior Will Matthiessen might be the key to the whole series. The Stanford rotation is a strike-throwing group that misses the barrel more that it misses the bat. That should make for an interesting matchup with the explosive Mississippi State lineup. One other item: Stanford lost just one weekend series in 2019 and that was to UCLA.

Baton Rouge Super Regional: Florida State at LSU (13)

Florida State did LSU a favor by beating Georgia in Athens, giving the Tigers the opportunity to play at home for the second straight weekend. LSU is 30-8 at Alex Box Stadium this season and there certainly have been no shortage of memorable postseason moments for this storied program.

LSU got exactly what they needed from their pitching staff in that freshmen Landon Marceaux and Cole Henry went deep into the team’s first two games while Eric Walker pitched well enough on Sunday. The most important development of that is it kept numerous, hard-throwing bullpen arms in their best roles, most notably closer Zack Hess, Todd Peterson and Devin Fontenot, and only one pitcher, Trent Vietmeier, made more than one appearance in those three games. Keeping the games close for their dynamic offense to do what they do best is LSU’s recipe for success, as shortstop Josh Smith, outfielders Antoine Duplantis and Zach Watson and catcher Saul Garza appear to be especially dialed in right now.

Coming to town is Florida State and Mike Martin, the all-time leader in wins who is taking one last crack at an elusive national championship. For the entire season leading up to their dominant Regional performance in which they upset Georgia, the Seminoles had beaten pretty much everyone they should have but lost their three most challenging ACC series (Louisville, Miami and NC State) and couldn’t beat Florida in any of their three midweek matchups.

The offense came alive in Athens, scoring 35 runs in three games, and they can out-score LSU in a slug-fest if it comes to that, as they hit 10 homers last weekend and senior shortstop Mike Salvatore  went 9-for-14 with a pair of walks and eight runs scored out of the leadoff spot. CJ Van Eyk and Conor Grady each delivered quality starts in wins over the host Bulldogs. If ace Drew Parrish, who has struggled with inconsistencies this season, can do the same on Friday against LSU this FSU squad has a good chance to give ‘11’ a fighting chance in Omaha.

Chapel Hill Super Regional | Auburn at North Carolina (14)

The Tar Heels’ 2019 season was originally scheduled to center around an all-junior rotation of Luca Dalatri, Tyler Baum, and Austin Bergner. Well, that projection never quite blossomed yet Mike Fox’s program still found its way to yet another Super Regional. And things really looked dicey as UNC lost their final two weekend series (Pitt and NC State) in rather unimpressive fashion. This team seemed to find its mojo in the ACC Tournament and that momentum hasn’t stopped yet.

The real story here has been the emergence of freshmen Aaron Sabato and Danny Serretti. These two have been star-caliber players and both hit right in the middle of the order. While Serretti also plays shortstop, Sabato’s bat may be the single loudest tool on this club. With UNC on its proverbial heels (pardon the bad pun) versus UNCW in its first Regional game, Sabato hit the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth way out of the stadium to tie the game. Sabato very well may be the best freshman hitter in the country.

Auburn literally limped into the postseason and this may be Butch Thompson’s best all-time coaching job. The entire projected rotation missed significant time with Davis Daniel missing the entire season. Steven Williams and Will Holland struggled mightily despite coming off All-American caliber 2018 seasons. And Edouard Julien eventually succumbed to the challenges of a rigorous SEC schedule.

But this club never gave in and Steven Williams’ three-run walk-off home run versus Georgia Tech in the winners’ bracket final rescued what could have been a very respectable but short postseason run. And thus the Tigers’ won an improbable Regional in which neither Tanner Burns nor Jack Owens threw their best. Auburn was walked-off in game three of the Gainesville Super Regional a year ago and that team, at least on paper, was significantly better than this club. Yet we know this: sometimes Omaha happens when you least expect it. This could be a very interesting Super Regional.

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