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All American Game | Story | 6/23/2013

All-Americans shoulder CWS load

Patrick Ebert     
Photo: Perfect Game

OMAHA – This year's field of eight teams may not have offered a Cinderella feel-good story as it has in recent years, most recently a year ago when Stony Brook knocked off perennial powerhouse Louisiana State in the Super Regionals a year ago advance to the College World Series.

Seven of the eight teams that advanced to Omaha this year were ranked among the top 16 teams in
Perfect Game's initial 2013 preseason team rankings, five of which were among the top 10:

1. North Carolina
5. LSU
8. Oregon State
9. NC State
15. Louisville
16. Mississippi State

Not ranked: Indiana

All eight teams hosted Regional sites, and four of the eight hosted Super Regional play.

In addition, eight of the 15 first-team
Perfect Game College All-Americans played or are still playing in the College World Series (17 of 45 players on all three teams played in Omaha).

All of this illustrates a somewhat stable college baseball season from beginning to end. For the most part, the best teams made it to Omaha, as did the best players.

Two of those players are freshmen, North Carolina's Skye Bolt and LSU's Alex Bregman. Bregman was named first-team shortstop on the All-American list linked above, while Bolt was extremely productive hitting in the middle of the Tar Heels batting order for most of the year, a year that they opened the season, and spent most of it, sitting atop the rankings.

Both players were Perfect Game All-Americans during the summer of 2011, the ninth annual Classic that included the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Carlos Correa. Bregman received EvoShield's SWAG award as part of the Classic's annual dinner banquet, getting the invitation to participate after a particularly impressive performance at the 2011 National Showcase.

So while their backgrounds suggest that it shouldn't be a complete surprise that they performed at such a high level during their introductory season to college baseball, such expectations need to be tempered with young players in the college game.

Those that do contribute usually do so in a similar introductory role. Position players often hit lower in the order and/or come off the bench, while pitchers are often used as mid-week starters or even as relievers that struggle to find consistent, significant innings until they have earned their stripes.

The two All-Americans proved to be the exception to this rule, playing integral parts of their respective teams' impressive seasons.

Bolt served as North Carolina's cleanup hitter for much of the season, batting behind the Division I leader in RBI (91) and the 2013 draft's No. 6 overall pick by the Miami Marlins, third baseman Colin Moran.

The switch-hitting outfielder hit .321/.418/.491 on the year with 22 extra-base hits, including six home runs in addition to 10 stolen bases (in 13 attempts), 51 RBI and 48 runs scored.

In the College World Series, Head Coach Mike Fox moved Bolt down a couple of spots in the order, and Bolt responded by going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in North Carolina's win over Bregman and Louisiana State earlier in the week, which eliminated the Tigers from the College World Series.

I kind of talked to Coach (Scott) Jackson a little bit, just felt we needed to make a change,” Coach Fox said of moving Bolt down in the order. “Really just for the sake of just change, nothing really negative or positive, really. Just maybe just get Skye out of that four hole and drop him down a little bit. It gave us some righties back-to-back with all the lefties we knew that were coming at us today.”

Recognizing the scope and importance of playing in the College World Series, Bolt was quick to embrace his new spot, and role, in the batting order.

I just really reverted back to what got me here,” Bolt said after North Carolina eliminated LSU. “That was staying tall and taking what the pitcher was giving me instead of trying to drive some extra base hits there in the four hole and try to move some guys around with runners at either first or second in scoring position.

I got a little pull happy, a little overexcited to hit the baseball, and especially with an umpire back there that was giving us a lot off the plate as far as balls and strikes there. So the last two at-bats, (I) just shortened up a little bit. (I) had a talk with Coach Jackson, just revert back to what got me here, that was staying tall and using my hands and use what the pitcher's giving me. And he gave me some pitches to hit.”

For as impressive as Bolt's season was, Bregman's was even more eye-opening.

Bregman opened the season as the Tigers' starting shortstop, and exploded from the very beginning of the season, finishing the year by hitting .369/.417/.546 with 31 extra-base hits, including six home runs of his own. Bregman also stole 16 bases (in 17 attempts) drove in 52 runners and scored 59 of his own.

In Omaha, Bregman didn't fare as well, while going 0-for-8 in two games, indicative of LSU's quick exit from the College World Series despite being considered one of the favorites to win it all.

As part of a young team that includes dynamic sophomore and Friday ace Aaron Nola, LSU is expected to be just as strong, if not more so, a year from now. Bregman will once again will be looked upon to carry the team's offense as the team's three-hole hitter, and will have at least two more opportunities to return to Omaha.

The two freshmen aren't the only two former All-Americans that participated in the College World Series. Right-hander Taylore Cherry was Bolt's teammate for North Carolina, while outfielder and right handed pitcher Dylan Davis (Oregon State), left-hander Hunter Virant and right-hander Cody Poteet (both UCLA) also were in attendance. Cherry and Virant played sparingly this past season, while Poteet and Davis served larger roles for their respective teams.

Davis, a two-way star with a potent bat at the plate and a powerful arm on the mound, led Oregon State in hitting (.335), doubles (22), hits (86), RBI (61) and slugging (502).

Poteet was a key member of the UCLA pitching staff for a team that advanced to the CWS finals to face Mississippi State in a best-of-three series that begins on Monday night. In 29 appearances, 11 of which were starts, the freshman right-hander went 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA, working 70 2/3 innings in a versatile and important swing role.

Bolt and Bregman will continue to carry a consistent theme the rest of this summer as they will join the Collegiate National Team within the next week, joining fellow College World Series participants Nola, Carlos Rodon, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Burdi, David Berg and Michael Conforto. Also joining Team USA will be two more former All-Americans, Tyler Beede and Ryan Burr.

College World Series notes

Of the four teams that advanced to play on Friday, 92 of the 140 players on the rosters had previously attended a Perfect Game event (66 percent).

Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto made two spectacular defensive plays against Mississippi State on Friday, both at the expense of hulking Bulldogs slugger Wes Rea.

The first of which occurred when Rea drove a ball to deep left-centerfield that looked as though it could clear the fence for a home run. Conforto robbed Rea of extra bases by colliding hard into the outfield wall to make the catch, a feat that left a noticeable impression in padding of the wall.

The second of which came when Conforto made a catch in left field and fired a strike to home plate to gun down Rea trying to score from third on a sac fly.

Hunter Renfroe, the 13th overall pick in this year draft (Padres), blasted a no-doubt home run in the same game, a three-run shot that turned out to be the deciding blow in Mississippi State's 4-1 win over Oregon State. That win sent the Bulldogs to the championship round with UCLA, and sent Oregon State home.

UCLA's infield defense is as good as it comes. Bruins Head Coach John Savage has always built his teams around pitching, and this year's staff is particularly adept at inducing ground balls early in the count. Second baseman Cody Regis, third baseman Kevin Kramer and shortstop Pat Valaika each made several balls hit to them look easy, turning double plays and making quick work of North Carolina in the second game on Friday.

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