Columbia, Mo. Regional Preview

By Jay Dryburgh - May 31, 2007

The Columbia, Mo. Regional should certainly be a competitive one as it features two 40-win squads in the University of Missouri and Louisville, a conference champion team in Kent State, and one of college baseball's traditional powerhouses, the University of Miami. There is no other sport that values stats more than baseball, and in this preview, that's what I will rely on to analyze each time. I'm looking forward to a great weekend of baseball off of I-70, and can't wait for the first pitch as the Canes take on the Cards on Friday at 1 p.m. CST.

Missouri: The host Tigers finished 40-16 (19-8 Big 12) and posted a stellar 18-4 mark to bring a Regional series back to Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field. Head Coach Tim Jamieson earned co-Coach of the Year honors in the Big 12 for his work with a squad that hit .282 and posted a staff ERA of 4.09.

Looking up and down the stat sheet, a couple of names jump out. Junior DH Jacob Priday leads the team in homeruns (10) and RBI (55). On his way to Freshman All-American honors two years ago, Priday knocked in 67 baserunners. While Priday is only hitting .299 overall, his conference splits show that he made a difference when it counted. He hit .330 with eight of his ten homers and 32 of his 55 ribbies. Evan Frey and Brock Bond both deserve a mention too. Both are hitting over .300 (.346 and .319 respectively) and getting on base has paid off: they are first and second in runs scored with 64 and 52. Bond is the only Tiger regular who has walked more than he has struck out, and both have stolen double digit bases (ten and twelve).

On the hill, sophomore RHP Aaron Crow looks like the ace with an 8-3 record and a 3.17 ERA. He's logged a team-leading 108 IP and also leads the team in K's with 81. He also has experienced the pressure of pitching in big games-- last year Crow kept the Tigers alive in the Malibu Regional by throwing a CG, allowing only a run and six hits.

The stats are a litle confusing when looking at the Mizzou 'pen: it appears that freshman RHP Kyle Gibson started the year as the Tigers closer, but relinquished the duties to sophomore LHP Scooter Hicks once Big 12 play began. Gibson has seven saves in 26 overall appearances, but all of Hicks' five saves have come against conference opponents. Besides having a great name, Scooter Hicks has also put up a 1.48 ERA and picked up four victories. And if you've heard of Hicks, it might be because Mizzou is his third NCAA team. He started his career at Tulane, but transferred to Texas A & M after Hurricane Katrina.

Gibson on the other hand has an ERA of 4.33, but has logged a ton of innings. In 26 appearances, 24 coming in relief, he has thrown 62.1 IP and struck out 70. Sophomore southpaw Ryan Gargano has the lowest ERA on the team at 1.11 in 17 appearances.

Mizzou plays in a big park, and that's probably the reason that the team has only hit 40 HR in 56 games. The team also doesn't steal a ton of bases, though there are certainly speed threats in the lineup. Mizzou steals about a bag a game (58 SB in 56 GP).

But here's a stat that really caught my eye: opponents hit .293 against the Tigers in conference play. I know there are some teams that can really rake in the Big 12, but that number seems awfully high for a team that won 19 of 27 conference games. The staff ERA also jumped to 5.27 in conference play, but the rub is that the Tigers returned the favor, as opponents had a 5.39 ERA in conference. This seems to suggest that Missouri can hit with anyone, and that they find ways to score runs and stick with teams. Or, the pitching in the Big 12 was down this year. Take your pick.

The Tigers finished with an RPI of 15, and a SOS of 34.

Miami: The University of Miami Hurricanes began the season with a #2 preseason ranking which lead even Head Coach Jim Morris to say this his relatively young team might be over-rated. But just like last year, the Canes (36-22, 17-13 ACC) are hot at the right time. They have lost only three times in their last 14 games. While an impressive run, keep in mind that the statistic contains sweeps of Wright St. and Duke. The Canes have a solid line-up and a rotation I would put against nearly any other in the country. The problem is the bullpen, which probably cost the Canes a series sweep against Wake Forest and a series win against Florida State and also accounted for roughly a 35% spike in the sale of Rolaids in Coral Gables drug stores.

But first, the Canes bats. No doubt, the first guy talked about has to be sophomore 1B Yonder Alonso. The fact that Alonso did not make the Dick Howser Award final watch list is a huge oversight. Everyone who talks to Yonder agrees on two things: that he is one of the nicest guys out there, and that he will be playing in the big leagues one day. His RBI total this season (74) places him with names like major leaguers Pat Burrell and Ryan Braun on the Miami all-time list. Another home run will give him 19, and tie him with Cleveland Indians LF Jason Michaels on the single season list at eight. Oh yeah, and he has walked nearly twice as much as he has struck out (61 BB and 31 K's).

Meanwhile, freshman LF/3B Mark Sobolewski has been a huge addition to the club. In addition to a 20 game hit-streak (a UM freshman record) he leads the team in hits (83) and is behind only Alonso with 50 RBI. There are plenty of other guys that I could write about here including Columbia, MO native Blake Tekotte, Roger Tomas, Jemile Weeks and Dennis Raben, but I can get to them later in the week. Especially Blake who is excited to see his family and play against some old teammates.

The Canes starting rotation of junior LHP Scott Maine, freshman LHP Eric Erickson and junior RHP Enrique Garcia has been incredibly consistent over the second half of the season. The three have combined for 262.1 IP, and collectively have a K/BB ratio of over 3:1. Coach Morris told reporters Monday that he plans to throw Maine (3.03 ERA, 5-5) on Thursday against Louisville.

Unfortunately for UM starting pitching is only half the battle, and the bullpen is the chink in Miami's armor. The team really misses closer Chris Perez from last year's CWS team. Dennis Raben had been effective out of RF for the Canes, but his success has diminished statistically since Raben really only throws a fastball in the 80s and a curve. Redshirt freshman RHP David Gutierrez has been a surprise, and done an admirable job in the 7th and 8th innings. RHP Danny Gil is the closer, and has shown flashes of brilliance, but has also been erratic at times. However, Gil is a tremendous competitor, and stepped up big time for UM in last year's postseason as a starter once Carlos Gutierrez (David's big brother) was lost.

The Canes finished with an RPI of 17, and a SOS of 8.

Louisville: The Cardinals finished at 40-20 (19-8 Big East) and look like a dangerous team on paper. First year coach Dan McDonnell has done a nice job with his squad, and it can't hurt that he's seen the Canes before: as an assistant at Ole Miss a year ago, he watched Miami beat the Rebels in the Oxford Super Regional on their way to Omaha. This berth marks only the second time that UL has reached regional play.

Offensively, the Cards are led by three players hitting above .350. Isaiah Howes leads the way with his .387 average. He has also driven in 55 behind the strength of his team leading 15 dingers. Third team All-American selection Logan Johnson matched Howes' RBI total, has 26 doubles, and has been hit by a pitch (26 times) more often than he struck out (24 times)! Johnson, a senior, was all over the Big East top ten in offensive categories including all Triple Crown categories. Finally, opponents have got to keep fellow third team AA Sr. Boomer Whiting off the basepaths. Whiting was successful in 69 of 80 steal attempts. As a team, the Cards have stolen 141 bases in 181 attempts. Pretty impressive considering that the other three teams in the regional have combined to steal 174 bases.

And if the Cardinals manufacture runs, the pitching has kept opponents off the board. The Louisville staff has an ERA of 2.89. Junior RHP Zack Pitts' ERA is a miniscule 1.78 in 106 IP. And opponents have been nibbling off of him, hitting only .204, which isn't even the lowest opp. avg. on the team. Freshman leftie Justin Marks holds that distinction among regular starters with opponent hitting only .191... and Marks is trumped by senior closer Trystan Magnuson (opponents are hitting .172). The 6'7" RHP leads the team with eight saves, and his ERA is only .92 in 31 appearances. Looking at the pitching, it's no wonder that UL is 30-7 when scoring first, and 32-4 when leading after six.

But, to play devil's advocate, the Big East is certainly not the same conference as the ACC or even the Big 12. In their out of conference sched, UL dropped two to a solid Stetson club, and also lost to Southern Mississippi in an early season tournament game. Both of those squads made the tourney. They missed Big East co-champs Rutgers in the regular season, but lost two of three to them in the BEAST tourney. They dropped two of three on the road against the other regular season co-champ St. Johns. Louisville's SOS was ranked 67th by Warren Nolan, and their RPI was 41 which is between the College of Charleston and the University of Florida. Both of those schools did not receive a regional berth.

That being said, it's hard to count out a team that has put up such gaudy statistics. The Cards will hope those numbers generate wins when they open against Miami on Friday at 1 p.m. CST.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes (33-24, 19-8 MAC) will make their eight regional appearance as the #4 seed. The Flashes are hot at the right time, having won 16 of their last 17 games and their last eight straight. As a #4 seed with nothing to lose and a strong end of the season, I'm sure that Mizzou's Head Coach Tim Jamieson will plead with his team not to take the MAC Champions lightly. Kent St. is led by third year Head Coach Scott Stricklin.

Senior infielder Andrew Davis leads Kent St. in average (.336), hits (78) and RBI (53). Both freshman OF Anthony Gallas and sophomore infielder Greg Rohan have double-digit HR numbers at 10 and 11 respectively. That accounts for nearly half of the Golden Flash total of 44. Gallas looks to be a solid recruit, as he leads the team in SLG%, OBP, and BB. Kent State doesn't steal a lot of bases-- only 37 in 47 attempts.

Junior RHP Evan Smith has the best ERA among Kent St. starters (3.18), but has only a 4-4 record to show for it. The starters have not been overpowering, but it looks like Kent State's pen has done solid work. Senior LHP Ryan Davis has been great in 23 relief appearances, and leads the team in winning decions with six, and saves with eight. He has allowed on six earned runs in 30.1 IP for a 1.78 ERA.

Despite his work, Kent State has not won a single game this season when trailing after six innings. Furthermore, they are only 3-7 when facing southpaw starters. They went below .500 in out of conference play, but did beat Louisville 4-2. Despite these numbers, its tough to underestimate a team that has been on a roll like the Flashes have.

Still, Kent State had an RPI of 127 and a SOS of 184.

Kent State faces Missouri in the second game of the Columbia, Mo. regional, Friday at 6:30 p.m. CST.

Here is a link to the schedule of games taken from Mizzou's official website:

I hit Columbia late Thursday night, and will be out at the field bright and early on Friday. Feel free to leave comments on who you think will take the Regional, or let me know if there is something I must do while I'm in the Show-Me State!

Posted by Jay Dryburgh at 01:15 AM on May 31, 2007

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