The NCAA baseball tournament kicks off this Friday, and the action at PK Park starts with a 2:00 first pitch between Cal State-Fullerton and Indiana State. The games will be streamed live for free on NCAA.com. Remember, the regional is double-elimination, and the schedule will be as follows:
Friday, June 1:
2:00 Game 1: Fullerton vs. Indiana State
6:00 Game 2: Oregon vs. Austin Peay
Saturday, June 2:
2:00 Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
6:00 Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Sunday, June 3
12:00 Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser
4:00 Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Monday, June 4
6:00 Game 7: if necessary
Now, onto the matchups:
No. 1 Seed Oregon Ducks
42-17, (19-11), 3rd place in the Pac-12 Conference
Record vs. NCAA Tournament Teams: 11-8
Team Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .266/.357/.376
Team Pitching (ERA/WHIP/BAA): 3.02, 1.22, .226
George Horton's team is built on pitching, but one of the keys to this season has been that the offense has been better. Its still not a great offense, but it's a competent offense, and that is all you need with the kind of pitching Oregon has had. Ryon Healy, Aaron Jones, and Kyle Garlick are the heart of the lineup, and all are batting around the .300 mark and provide Oregon with the bulk of their power (4, 6, and 6 HR respectively). While this team has shown much more power this season (139 XBHs, including 28 home runs), at its heart it is still a small ball team, which will count on stealing bases and bunting runners over, even at times to their own detriment.
The pitching has been outstanding. Pac-12 pitcher of the year Alex Keudell is a guy who peaks at 90-91 but has impeccable control. He may not go Friday, as George Horton may save him for a potential Saturday matchup with Fullerton. The other starters, Jake Reed, Jeff Gold, and Brando Tessar have all been excellent this season, Reed especially so, and they have beaten tournament teams this season with each on the mound. What really separates this staff from most is that they go four deep with quality starters who all go deep into games, and also have an excellent bullpen, with the ability to bring in three very effective releivers. Closer Jimmie Sherfy has been one of the best in the nation with 17 saves and a whopping 84 strikeouts in 55 innings. He's also rare in being an elite closer who can go up to 4-5 innings if need be.
No. 2 Seed Cal State-Fullerton Titans
35-19 (17-7), Big West Conference Champions
Record vs. NCAA Tournament Teams: 8-7
Team Batting : .278/.361/.358
Team Pitching : 3.09, 1.14, .249
George Horton's old team is built similarly to his current one, in that the pitching has been really good, while the offense leaves a bit to be desired. As you can see from the slash stats, while Fullerton's average is respectable, it's a very empty average. 80% of the team's hits are singles, and they've hit only nine home runs all season. That said, they manage to string together enough singles and walks to average 4.48 r/g, just slightly less than Oregon. When your team ERA is 3.09, that will win you a lot of ballgames, and Fullerton has done just that. Despite playing in the Big West, they are a tested bunch. Their 8-7 record against NCAA Tournament teams include a series win in College Station vs. regional host Texas A&M, a competitive series in which they won a game against #1 Florida in Gainesville, and a combined 3-1 record against fellow #2 seeds TCU and Pepperdine.
The offense is led by infielder Richy Pedroza, first baseman Carlos Lopez, and outfielder Michael Lorenzen. These three are the only regulars on the team batting over .300. Pedroza and Lopez are also quite adept at drawing walks, while Lorenzen is more of a free swinger who is prone to the strikeout (incidentally, Lorenzen is also the Fullerton closer and has had a nasty season sporting a 1.23 ERA with 16 saves). There isn't a lot of longball power on this team, but Lopez and Lorenzen have legitimate doubles power, with 20 and 18, respectively. On the whole, this is a pesky bunch that strings together a series of hits and walks to score their runs.
Conversely, the pitching has been quite spectacular. Fullerton gave up the fewest walks per nine innings of any school in the nation. #1 starter Dylan Floro will likely pitch the opener against Indiana State, meaning that Oregon should see freshman Grahamm Wiest if they get past Austin Peay. Wiest was 5-5 this season with a 2.78 ERA, but don't let the record fool you. His WHIP was well less than 1 and he doesn't walk anybody. Wiest's issue was that when people did get hits against him, they tended to go for extra bases. Like Oregon, Fullerton has two pitchers who both excelled while sharing the Sunday role in Kenny Mathews and Koby Gauna, so, like Oregon, are plenty equipped to go four games. Like Oregon, who would start in a potential game 5 is a question mark.
No. 3 Seed Indiana State Sycamores
41-17, (14-7), Missouri Valley Conference regular season champions
Record vs. NCAA Tournament Teams: 7-6
Team Batting: .290/.376/.402
Team Pitching: 3.18, 1.24, .251
Its hard to compare numbers direcdtly, because the Sycamores didn't play a schedule anywhere near the caliber of Oregon or Fullerton. On the face, their hitting looks considerably better than either team, the pitching worse, but still good. However, consider the talent those statistics came against. Indiana State was 7-6 against Tournament teams, however, including a series win at #2 seed Dallas Baptist and a win at Missouri. Indiana State also struggled down the stretch, losing their final series to Missouri State, before going two and out in the MVC tournament while losing to the #5 and #8 seeds.
Catcher Jeremy Lucas is clearly the star of the offense, with a line of .350/.445/.550 to accompany nine home runs and 52 RBI. Those are monster numbers in the current college game. Landon Curry and Kyle Burnam set the table with OBPs of higher than .400, while Jon Hedges and Rob Ort also boast power with seven homers each. This team has hit the ball a ton against teams in the midwest, but hasn't faced pitching staffs anywhere near the caliber of Fullerton or Oregon, so it will be interesting to see how their offense plays.
Pitching-wise, they have four guys who have thrown at least 11 starts, and their top guy is Dakota Bacus, who figures to throw the opener against Fullerton. All of their starters have been very good, but the bullpen has been a problem. There is not a single guy that the Sycamores can count on to shut a rally down like Sherfy for Oregon or Lorenzen for Fullerton. Oregon and Fullerton are both patient teams that could force the starters to throw a lot of pitches and get to the bullpens relatively early.
No. 4 Seed Austin Peay Governors
38-22, (19-7), Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament champions
Record vs. NCAA Teams: 0-2
Team Batting: .295/.397/.444
Team Pitching: 4.65, 1.51, .266
Austin Peay comes into the tournament hot, winning six of seven. But this was in a bad conference. In fact, the Governors played one of the worst schedules of any team in the field, the only two games against tournament teams being two losses against Belmont, a team Oregon beat in Nashville.
The slash stats stick out at you immediately, and this team has slugged its way to victories this season, letting outstanding hitting make up for some pretty bad pitching. Greg Bachman is the offensive star, with slash stats of .339/.388/.589, while slugging a whopping 16 homers. Jordan Hankins added nine homers of his own. Austin Peay hit 60 home runs on the season, but the opponents hits 48 of their own (compare this with 28 for Oregon and 9 for Fullerton). I can't comment on the size of the parks in the Ohio Valley conference, but PK Park is pretty big, and pitchers from Oregon and Fullerton are legitimate talents that aren't just going to throw meatballs out there. Its clear that these guys can hit, so it will be interesting to see what they do against pitchers with better sequencing and breaking stuff. They've also had the benefit of getting guys on base via the walk, drawing 296 on the season. For reference, Oregon pitchers have given up 212 walks, a considerably smaller number.
Pitching has been a small disaster for the Governors. Zach Toney, the guy likely to start against Oregon on Friday, has a nice ERA at 2.89, and has a freakishly low BAA of .196. His walk rates are a bit high, but he has been successful because he's not giving up a ton of hits. The rest of the starting staff has been really below average, and the bullpen has mostly been a disaster. Closer Tyler Rogers has a 2.04 ERA with 11 saves, but they have several guys throwing 30 or 40 innings with ERAs in the fives and astronomical walk rates. Oregon has a bit of bad luck getting Peay's one good starter on Friday, but Oregon has still beaten far better pitchers in conference play. However, we must not count Peay out. They took down host Georgia Tech in the first game of their regional last season.