College : : Story
Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Starkville Regional preview

Kendall Rogers        


Team Conference Record Berth Last NCAA appearance
1. Mississippi State Southeastern 43-17 At-large 2012
2. South Alabama Sun Belt 42-18 At-large 2006
3. Mercer Atlantic Sun 43-16 At-large 2010
4. Central Arkansas Southland 39-20 Automatic First
Mississippi State
1. Miss St.
2. South Alabama  

3. Mercer

4. Central Arkansas
We've talked about Mississippi State as a potential national title contender much of the season, and nothing has changed in that regard. The Bulldogs are much improved from an offensive standpoint over last season, hitting .296 entering the weekend with hard-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe leading the charge with a .352 average, 15 homers and 54 RBIs. Meanwhile, shortstop Adam Frazier is hitting .352 with 30 RBIs while second baseman Alex Detz is hitting .312 with a home run and 30 RBIs. Brett Pirtle and Wes Rea are two other guys to watch. Pirtle has hit the ball well lately and has a .310 average with two homers and 28 RBIs, while Rea has a lot of power potential with six homers and 32 RBIs this season. As much improved as the offense might be, State is led by its outstanding pitching staff, which includes outstanding closer Jonathan Holder (1.00, 16 saves) as well as key relievers such as Ross Mitchell, Ben Bracewell, Chad Girodo and Myles Gentry. State also has a solid weekend rotation with Kendall Graveman, who pounds the strike zone and talented left-handers Jacob Lindgren and Luis Pollorena leading the way. There's not much not to like about this State team entering the postseason. The sky is the limit for MSU.
South Alabama
Had the Jaguars taken care of business the final weekend of the regular season against Troy and done well in the Sun Belt tournament, there's a good chance they're an NCAA Regional host this weekend. Instead, they're on the road at State. The good news is the Jaguars have a team capable of winning this NCAA Regional if all the pieces fall into place. South Alabama possesses one of the nation's top offensive lineups, hitting .302 entering the weekend with two-way player Jordan Patterson, Dustin Dalken and Nolan Earley leading the way. Patterson is hitting .360 with 25 doubles, four homers and 49 RBIs, Dalken is hitting .329 with eight homers and 39 RBIs and Earley is hitting .323 with three homers and 58 RBIs. Also keep an eye on hard-hitting outfielder Nick Zaharion, who has good gap power with seven homers and 45 RBIs. From a pitching standpoint, Matt Bell (3.52, 69 IP), Jacob Noble (3.70, 65 2/3 IP) and Jarron Cito (5.65, 71 2/3 IP) are serviceable arms, but keep an eye on outstanding relievers Dylan Stamey and Kyle Bartsch. STamey has appeared in 22 games and has a 2.23 ERA in 36 1/3 innings, while Bartsch has appeared in 21 games and has a 2.52 ERA.
It was an absolute shock when NCAA Selection Committee chairman Dennis Farrell said Mercer was the last team in the field of 64. Not only was Mercer clearly in our final field, it also was a No. 2 seed in our final projections. So, Starkville essentially has a pair of two seeds in this weekend's tournament. Mercer is a very solid club, with an offense hitting .301 entering the weekend. Third baseman Chesny Young is an impressive player with a team-best .394 batting average, 15 doubles, three triples, four homers and 61 RBIs, while Derrick Workman and Nick Backlund both are power hitters to watch. Workman has nine homers and 48 RBIs while Backlund has 21 doubles, 13 homers and 65 RBIs. The key for all opposing teams this weekend will be to not let those two hurt them too much at the plate. From a pitching standpoint, Mercer has a pair of solid starting pitchers in Brandon Barker (2.35, 84 1/3 IP) and DJ Johnson (2.80, 83 2/3 IP), while relievers Dmitri Kourtis and Morgan Pittman are as good as it gets. Kourtis has appeared in 33 games, recorded nine saves and has a 3.21 ERA in 61 2/3 innings, while Pittman has appeared in 30 games and has a 3.12 ERA in 26 innings.
Central Arkansas
There's no question this is the strongest four seed in this year's NCAA field of 64. Not only should Central Arkansas be a three seed this weekend, there's zero reason why this team, which took two of three from Mississippi State earlier this season, should be headed to Starkville. With that said, this is a very dangerous club. UCA doesn't have an overwhelming offense, but versatile outfielder Forrestt Allday and catcher Michael Marietta are worth watching. Allday is hitting .383 with 13 doubles, three homers and 35 RBIs, while Marietta is hitting .315 with four homers and 56 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Jonathan Davis, who doesn't have a great batting average, but does a nice job of getting on base with 35 walks this season. Pitching-wise, UCA rides a solid trio of starting pitchers in Caleb McClanahan, Bryce Biggerstaff and Jeffrey Enloe. McClanahan has a 2.17 ERA in 116 1/3 innings, along with 80 strikeouts and 10 walks, Biggerstaff has a 2.91 ERA in 99 innings along with 56 strikeouts and 16 walks, and Enloe has a 3.28 ERA in 104 1/3 innings of work. Also keep an eye on Ethan McKinzie, who has appeared in 20 games, recorded five saves and who has a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings of work.
Mississippi State was one of the nation's hottest teams entering the 2012 NCAA postseason, but were unable to even reach the Tallahassee Regional title game after losing to Samford. State is at home this weekend and will be extra motivated to take that next step to an NCAA Super Regional. Look for a balanced attack from State this weekend, with that opening game against Central Arkansas being a real dog fight. On paper, this NCAA Regional looks like it will be rather offensive in nature. And with State having the deepest pitching staff by far, and at home, I like its chances to advance. Still, this is the toughest NCAA Regional for a reason.


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