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College : : Story
Eight for Omaha: Looking at 2012
Kendall Rogers        
Published: Wednesday, July 06, 2011

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Could South Carolina actually pull off a three-peat in 2012?

The Gamecocks certainly have some tough holes to fill at the plate between now and next season, but are expected to welcome back all three weekend starters in Michael Roth, Colby Holmes and Forrest Koumas. In other words, they’re expected to be back in Omaha next spring, but winning a third-straight national title will be a difficult chore.

Plenty of teams will be aiming for the Gamecocks.

Teams that reached the College World Series this past season and are expected to return next spring include Florida, Texas A&M and North Carolina.

The Gators welcome back several key components from a team that was a series win over South Carolina away from a national title. The Aggies will have one of the nation’s best one-two punches on the weekend with pitchers Ross Stripling and Michael Wacha leading the way, while the Tar Heels will welcome back several key ingredients to their success in ’11.

We look into our crystal ball and predict the eight teams in Omaha in ’12.

Florida

What they did in 2011: The Gators entered the past season with incredibly high expectations and didn’t disappoint. They stormed their way to an impressive regular season before performing at a high level throughout the postseason and reaching the national title series of the College World Series against South Carolina.
Why 2012 looks good:
The Gators know they’ll be without second baseman Josh Adams -- a senior last season -- moving forward. There’s also a good chance the Gators will be without pitcher Nick Maronde, who was a third-round pick to the L.A. Angels in the MLB draft. Otherwise, UF’s situation looks pretty good. At the plate, it welcomes back catcher Mike Zunino, first baseman Vickash Ramjit, shortstop Nolan Fontana, third baseman Cody Dent, two-way stars Austin Maddox and Brian Johnson and outfielder Daniel Pigott. There’s also a good chance the Gators welcome back Preston Tucker, who surprisingly was a 16th-round pick to the Rockies. The pitching staff is in even better shape. UF welcomes back all three weekend starters in Hudson Randall, Karsten Whitson and Brian Johnson, while Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Panteliodis, Tommy Toledo and Greg Larson will have MLB overtures to turn down. Meanwhile, stud reliever Steven Rodriguez will be back and Daniel Gibson and Keenan Kish look to increase their roles. There’s no reason why the Gators shouldn’t be right back in Omaha next summer.

LSU

What they did in 2011: The Tigers would rather not talk about what happened in the past year. They entered the season with incredibly high expectations and failed miserably. LSU was unable to establish consistency, finished near the bottom of the SEC and failed to reach the NCAA postseason. It’s safe to say it was a campaign for the Tigers to forget.
Why 2012 looks good:
LSU will have some new blood in the program with the addition of pitching coach Alan Dunn, who takes over for David Grewe, who resigned last month. Dunn brings a solid resume to the table. Furthermore, the Tigers welcome back a talented pitching staff with starting pitchers Kurt McCune, Kevin Gausman and Ryan Eades leading the way. McCune and Gausman are proven weekend starters in the SEC, while Eades has a wealth of potential. The Tigers also welcome back reliever Kevin Berry, who rose to the occasion at times last season. Offensively, replacing outfielder Mike Mahtook will be difficult, but the Tigers welcome back Alex Edward, JaCoby Jones, Mason Katz, Raph Rhymes and Ty Ross. There’s also a great chance they welcome back infielders Tyler Hanover and Austin Nola. Additionally, the Tigers are slated to add the services of Nola’s brother, a talented right-handed pitcher who was a 22nd-round pick to the Blue Jays. It will be a big year for the Tigers.

South Carolina

What they did in 2011: What a campaign it was for the Gamecocks. They entered the season fresh off the program’s first national title. They put together a solid regular season and stormed through the postseason to earn back-to-back national titles, only the ninth program in college baseball history to do so. It was a memorable year for the Gamecocks.
Why 2012 looks good:
The Gamecocks will feel great about their pitching staff entering next season. They welcome back an excellent weekend rotation with All-American Michael Roth, Colby Holmes and Forrest Koumas leading the charge. The bullpen is more of a question mark, but still should be in good shape. The Gamecocks have high hopes for Tyler Webb and Steven Neff. They’re also holding out hope that closer Matt Price returns for another season, but there’s a good chance he signs after getting drafted in the sixth round by the Diamondbacks. Offensively, the Gamecocks have some legitimate holes to fill. It’s safe to say they’ll be without outfielder Jackie Bradley and shortstop Peter Mooney next season, while Scott Wingo and Adrian Morales were seniors this past season. That puts much pressure on guys such as Adam Matthews (should he return), Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli, Christian Walker and Jake Williams.

Texas A&M

What they did in 2011: The Aggies are coming off a very successful campaign. They entered the season expected to compete for the Big 12 title. They won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles and marched their way to the College World Series for the first time since 1999. The Aggies certainly put together a campaign that could be a springboard.
Why 2012 looks good:
There’s a great chance right-handed pitcher John Stilson signs before the August deadline, but the Aggies otherwise look great when it comes to their weekend rotation. Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling will formulate one of the nation’s best one-two punches, while the No. 3 spot should have more clarity entering next season. The Aggies also have some other quality arms returning, including Brandon Parrent (likely), Derrick Hadley and Kyle Martin, while some incoming freshmen are expected to contribute. Offensively, outfielders Tyler Naquin and Krey Bratsen will lead the way, while Jacob House, Matt Juengel, Brandon Wood and perhaps even Adam Smith will be back. The Aggies will be favored to win the Big 12 entering next season.

Stanford

What they did in 2011: The Cardinal entered the season with high expectations and met them at the end of the campaign despite having some consistency issues during the regular season. The Cardinal won the Fullerton Regional before dropping a tough NCAA Super Regional series to surprising North Carolina.
Why 2012 looks good:
Stanford already has suffered a pair of tough losses in pitchers Danny Sandbrink and Jordan Pries, but the weekend rotation is still in excellent shape. The Cardinal has arguably the nation’s top prospect for the 2012 MLB draft in right-hander Mark Appel, while Brett Mooneyham hopes to make a strong return from a finger injury that sidelined him last season. The Cardinal also welcomes back Dean McArdle and A.J. Vanegas, both very talented pitchers who earned valuable experience this past season. Offensively, the Cardinal will have a very talented and experienced unit with Kenny Diekroeger, Tyler Gaffney, Lonnie Kauppila, Stephen Piscotty, Brian Ragira, Jake Stewart and Austin Wilson leading the way. There’s no reason why this team shouldn’t be in Omaha next June.

Arkansas

What they did in 2011: The Razorbacks did what they were expected to do this past season. They entered the season with some gaping holes from an experience standpoint, and it showed at times. Still, the Hogs put together a solid overall record and reached the Tempe Regional title game against Arizona State. They set the stage for 2012.
Why 2012 looks good:
The Hogs have some serious work to do at the plate with the departures of James McCann, Collin Kuhn and Kyle Robinson, but should be OK as the season progresses with the return of Bo Bigham, Tim Carver, Dominic Ficociello, Franco Broyles, Matt Reynolds and Matt Vinson. An incredibly deep and experienced pitching staff is what should propel the Hogs to the next level. Weekend starters DJ Baxendale, Brandon Moore and Ryne Stanek give the Hogs a solid 1-2-3 punch, while they also welcome back Barrett Astin, Geoffrey Davenport (from an injury), Randall Fant, Cade Lynch and Nolan Sanburn. Look for the Hogs to take a huge step forward next spring.

North Carolina

What they did in 2011: What a special campaign the Tar Heels put together. They entered the season expected to reach an NCAA Regional. However, they exceeded expectations with yet another trip to the College World Series. The Tar Heels couldn’t have put together a better campaign considering some of the holes they entered it with.
Why 2012 looks good:
Things might not look great at first glance from an offensive standpoint without Levi Michael, Jesse Wierbicki and Ben Bunting entering next season, but this unit could surprise some people. The Heels welcome back stud sophomore Colin Moran in addition to Tommy Coyle, Jacob Stallings (likely), Chaz Frank, Seth Baldwin and Brian Holberton. Even without ace pitcher Patrick Johnson, UNC’s pitching staff should be in good shape next season. It welcomes back a legit ace-type in left-handed sophomore Kent Emanuel, while the Tar Heels also welcome back Michael Morin, Chris Munnelly, R.C. Orlan, Tate Parrish, Cody Penny, Andrew Smith, Cody Stiles and Shane Taylor. UNC again will have much depth.

Rice

What they did in 2011: The Owls entered the season with high expectations and played well throughout the regular season. However, they didn’t play well in the Houston Regional and failed to advance to an NCAA Super Regional. How Rice finished last season should serve as a motivator entering next spring.
Why 2012 looks good:
Sure, the Owls will be without position player Anthony Rendon (expected) and pitchers Tony Cingrani and Abe Gonzalez next season. However, this team looks very solid on paper. The Owls welcome back several capable of hitters in J.T. Chargois, Keenan Cook, Michael Fuda, Derek Hamilton, Shane Hoelscher, Ryan Lewis, Craig Manuel and Michael Ratterree. They also likely will return talented veteran Jeremy Rathjen, who missed much of last season with an injury. The pitching staff also is in solid shape. The Owls will have a solid one-two punch in their weekend rotation with sophomores Austin Kubitza and John Simms leading the way, while there’s a good chance Matthew Reckling returns for another season. The Owls also have high hopes for quality arms such as Tyler Duffey, Tyler Spurlin, Taylor Wall and Jeremy Fant, while Chase McDowell comes back from an injury that sidelined him much of last season.


Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org



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