Hokies Host First NCAA Regional in Program History

The Hokies are hosting their first NCAA regional in program history.
The Hokies are hosting their first NCAA regional in program history.

No. 1 Virginia Tech (38-20, 15-14 ACC, RPI 11)

For the first time in program history, Virginia Tech is hosting an NCAA Regional.  With 16 wins in their last 19 games (including a series win against Virginia and victories against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia in the ACC Tournament), the Hokies carry plenty of momentum into the historic occasion.

Virginia Tech is 12th in the country in home runs, slugging 52 bombs so far in 2013. After Chad Pinder’s offensive explosion during the ACC Tournament, there are now four Hokies in the top 16 home run hitters in the conference: Pinder (7), Tyler Horan (11), Andrew Rash (9), Mark Zagunis (9).

That’s not to say the Hokies can’t hit for average: The team is hitting .290, fourth in the ACC.  All of the aforementioned sluggers are above the .300 watermark, with Horan leading the way at .349.

Joe Mantiply has a 2.92 earned run average to lead the Hokies, The hero of the ACC Tournament was Brad Markey, who struck out 10 Florida State batters in a 3-2 win. However, Markey has been inconsistent this season, leading the team in strikeouts (78) but posting a 5.12 ERA.

The deciding factor for Virginia Tech will be defensive play.  A case study of this is the ACC Tournament, in which the Hokies committed two errors during their three pool play wins, but four in a loss to North Carolina in the ACC Championship.  VT leads the ACC in errors, but the team’s overall play improved with a defensive shift that placed Brendon Hayden at third base, Pinder at shortstop, and Alex Perez at second base following a 15-6 loss to Virginia.  Avoiding a relapse will be crucial to postseason success.

No. 4 Connecticut (34-26, 9-15 Big East, RPI 79)

The Huskies had lost its last five conference games to end the regular season.  However, a run through the Big East tournament ended in a conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Connecticut will not blow anyone away offensively. The Huskies have a .352 slugging percentage, placing them 195th in the nation in the category. They have just two hitters above .300, although one of them is the impressive LJ Mazzilli. The senior infielder was a ninth-round pick by the Minnesota Twins in last year’s draft, but elected to return for another collegiate season.  Mazzilli batted .364 with 16 doubles, six homers, and 49 runs batted in for the Huskies.

Mazzilli is one part of a base-stealing trio for the Huskies, also. Mazzilli has 28 swipes on 32 attempts, while Billy Ferriter has 25 steals and Tom Verdi has 19. While the latter two (especially the .260 hitting Verdi) aren’t high on average, they both get on base often. Verdi has drawn 25 walks and leads the nation in times hit by a pitch (28), giving him a .402 on base percentage.

Carson Cross leads the Huskies pitching staff.  The 6’5” sophomore was 8-4 in 15 starts with a 2.50 earned run average and 83 strikeouts.   UConn also has several strong options out of the bullpen, with Pat Butler, David Mahoney, Ryan Moore, Jordan Tabakman all posting sub-3.00 ERAs with more than 15 appearances.

No. 3 Coastal Carolina (37-21, 18-6 Big South, 45 RPI)

In early May, Coastal Carolina took two games in a series at Georgia Tech.  The Chanticleers won eight of their next nine games following that weekend in Atlanta, but lost back-to-back games to Liberty in the Big South tournament.

Like Connecticut, the Chanticleers have a weak offense and strong pitching.  Coastal’s .354 slugging percentage is 188th in the nation and 10th in the Big South. However, their on-base percentage of .370 is second in the conference, with a conference-leading 258 bases on balls (tied for 22nd in Division I).

Outfielder Jacob May is the best hitter in the Coastal Carolina lineup.  The junior is batting .321 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases.  After May, only senior outfielder Ted Blackman has an average above .300 (Blackman is at .303), and only sophomore catcher Will Remillard has more runs batted in (39 to May’s 29).

On the mound, the Chants are led by first team All-Big South pitcher Ben Smith.  The left-handed sophomore has a 2.19 earned run average and 78 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings of work.  He has held opposing batters to a .217 average. Joining Smith is true freshman Seth Lamando. Lamando was the Big South freshman of the year, with a 3.43 ERA and 59 strikeouts.

No. 2 Oklahoma (40-19, 30-11 Big 12, RPI 34)

The Sooners were 3-7 in May before rolling through the Big 12 Tournament, complete with a 7-6 win over regional host Kansas State.  Oklahoma has a chance to build on that success with this weekend’s trip to Blacksburg.

Junior Matt Oberste has been one of the best hitters in the conference for the Sooners. His .382 average is second in the Big 12, and he leads the conference in slugging percentage (.647) thanks to 18 doubles and 10 home runs. As a team, the Sooners tied with West Virginia for most home runs in the conference (32).

The Sooners’ pitching staff is anchored by the dominant Jonathan Gray.  Gray will hear his name called early on June 6 during the MLB Draft, and for good reason.  The junior owns a 1.55 earned run average, with a WHIP of 0.82.  He is also fourth in the nation in strikeouts, with 128.

Not that Gray is the only pitcher who can deal for the Sooners.  The team has an ERA just below 3.00, good for 22nd in Division I.  Fellow starter Dillon Overton has a 2.89 ERA and a 9-2 record, with 74 strikeouts.  Anchoring the bullpen is Jacob Evans, who has recorded nine saves (1.75 ERA, 40 strikeouts).

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