NCAA Baseball Regional Capsules: College Station Regional
After losing ace starting pitcher John Stilson for the rest of the season, the last thing the Aggies of Texas A&M wanted to see was a tough regional draw. Unfortunately, they got one. The Aggies certainly still have more than enough talent (and momentum from the Big 12 tournament) to win this regional, but it won't be easy.
Arizona quietly put together a very good season at 36-19. It likely just missed out on the opportunity to host its own regional. Coach Andy Lopez knows how to win and has gotten his teams much farther with much less talent than he has on the roster now.
Seton Hall had a rather pedestrian regular season. The NCAA tournament was little more than a pipe dream. The Pirates caught fire in the Big East tournament, though, and here they are.
Wright State also isn't your usual doormat No. 4 seed. The Raiders have been a consistently good program over the last half decade or so and are no strangers to the regionals. They are also no strangers to College Station, as they visited A&M for a non-conference series relatively recently.
1. Texas A&M
Texas A&M (42-18): Big 12 automatic bid
The Aggies got to where they are thanks to outstanding starting pitching, a deep bullpen and an offense that is led by a group of outstanding athletes that can both hit and run.
The best of those athletes is sophomore outfielder Tyler Naquin. He can hit for average and power and runs well. At one point this season, Naquin put together a 27-game hitting streak. Fellow outfielder Krey Bratsen leads the way in stolen bases, and utility man Matt Juengel provides the pop in the order.
On the mound, the Aggies will be missing their best pitcher, John Stilson. Thankfully for them, they have two other starting pitchers in Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling that would be aces on many other staffs. Nick Fleece and Joaquin Hinojosa bolster the back end of the bullpen.
Best-case scenario: The Aggies don't miss Stilson one bit and sweep their way through the regional behind great pitching performances by Wacha and Stripling.
Worst-case scenario: Opposing offenses get to Wacha and Stripling, and the Aggies don't have any other starter they trust in a big game. The Aggies' pitching runs thin, and they drop the regional.
Offensive players to watch: Tyler Naquin (.379 BA, 17 doubles, six triples, 42 RBI), Krey Bratsen (.339 BA, 34 RBI, 26 steals), Matt Juengel (.304 BA, five HR, 42 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Michael Wacha (7-3, 2.37 ERA), Ross Stripling (12-2, 2.41 ERA) Nick Fleece (31 appearances, 1.55 ERA), Joaquin Hinojosa (2.48 ERA, eight saves)
Arizona (36-19): Pac-10 at-large
The Wildcats have battled injuries all season, but rather than use that as an excuse for a disappointing season, they rallied around each other and had a great season.
Arizona hit .322 as a team and proved that good hitting is contagious, as it got contributions up and down its entire roster. It has seven regulars hitting at least .300 and have six players with at least 30 RBI.
Pitching-wise, the Wildcats aren't as strong, but they are solid at the top of the rotation. Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon give them two good starting pitchers. The versatile Konner Wade can start and relieve, and Bryce Bandilla gives them a durable bullpen arm.
Best-case scenario: Arizona continues to knock the cover off the ball and takes advantage of the weakened Texas A&M staff without Stilson. It gets good starts from Heyer and Simon and is able to save most of its bullpen for a full team effort in the regional championship game, which it wins.
Worst-case scenario: Arizona's pitching depth gets exposed as being very thin. Heyer and Simon don't go deep into games, and the Wildcats run out of pitching quickly. They win a game but don't challenge to win the regional.
Offensive players to watch: Cole Frenzel (.365 BA, .477 OBP, 44 RBI), Joey Rickard (.360 BA, 36 RBI, 15 steals), Alex Mejia (.346 BA, 39 RBI), Bryce Ortega (.328 BA, 24 steals), Robert Refsnyder (.323 BA, six HR, 53 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Kurt Heyer (8-3, 2.32 ERA), Kyle Simon (10-3, 2.93 ERA), Bryce Bandilla (29 appearances, 3.65 ERA)
3. Seton Hall
Seton Hall (33-23): Big East automatic bid
Makes no bones about it: If Seton Hall has some success in the postseason, it is because it is pitching well.
Collectively, the PIrates have a 2.61 ERA. Joe DiRocco and Jon Prosinski are both aces in their own right. They have three different relievers with multiple saves, led by regular closer Ryan Harvey.
The offense is pitiful as a whole. That's why the pitching will have to carry them. No hitter in their lineup has an average over .300. Only four regulars have averages of .273 or higher. All told, they hit .249 as a team. The struggles don't just end with hitting for average either. They only have 13 home runs total on the season.
Best-case scenario: The Pirates' momentum continues, and they make it to the regional final. DiRocco and Prosinski have great starts, which allows them to save their bullpen for the most important games.
Worst-case scenario: The Pirates simply don't hit enough to help out their pitchers, no matter how well they pitch. Seton Hall drops to 0-2 quickly.
Offensive players to watch: Zach Granite (.299 BA, .400 OBP, 12 steals), Mike Genovese (.290 BA, 30 RBI), Sean Gusrang (.288 BA, three HR, 34 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Joe DiRocco (8-1, 1.68 ERA), Jon Prosinski (6-4, 2.11 ERA), Ryan Harvey (2.47 ERA, seven saves), George Fernandez (28 appearances, 1.54 ERA)
4. Wright State
Wright State (36-17): Horizon League automatic bid
If you thought Arizona's offense was something to behold, you'll be really impressed with the offense of Wright State. Its strategy is going to be to try to jump on pitchers early and let its deep bullpen protect the lead.
The Raiders may boast the best hitter in the entire regional in Jake Hibberd. He doesn't do it alone, though. As a team, they have an average of .329. They have eight regulars who hit over .300, and Hibberd himself has an average over .400. They aren't a bunch of free swingers either. They have six guys with on-base percentages better than .400.
Pitching-wise, Wright State might have some trouble getting good starts. It doesn't have a true ace in the starting rotation, but it makes up for that with a deep bullpen led by Michael Schum, Jordan Marker and Michael Meintel. All three are pitchers that can give you multiple innings at a time.
Best-case scenario: The Raiders club their way through the opposition and get surprisingly good output from their starting pitchers. They find themselves in a winner-take-all final game to win the regional.
Worst-case scenario: They don't get enough starting pitching to back up even the best offense. The bullpen never gets a chance to protect a lead, and the Raiders go two and out.
Offensive players to watch: Jake Hibberd (.412 BA, nine HR, 56 RBI), Zach Tanner (.372 BA, five HR, 34 RBI), Tristan Moore (.365 BA, five HR, 46 RBI), Corey Davis (.317 BA, eight HR, 40 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Michael Schum (1.42 ERA, nine saves), Jordan Marker (25 appearances, 1.80 ERA), Michael Meintel (17 appearances, 1.99 ERA), Michael Woytek (7-3, 4.09 ERA)
Picking this regional was difficult. I think there are three teams that could win this regional. Seton Hall is the only team I can't see winning because it just doesn't swing the bat well enough.
Arizona has a great offense and two dependable starting pitchers. It also has a battle-tested head coach in Andy Lopez who gets the best out of his guys in situations like this.
Wright State has a shot to win this regional because you can never count out a team that hits that well. Even a pitching staff as good as A&M's is bound to take its lumps against that offense.
My pick, though, is A&M. The Aggies still have two ace-level starters in Wacha and Stripling. The offense is good enough, but more importantly, the speed on offense will force opposing defenses to make plays even on the most routine of grounders.
You also can't overstate the power of momentum. This team put together a great run through the Big 12 tournament, and they really seem to enjoy playing together. Being at home for the regional never hurts either.