College World Series Preview

March Madness has nothing on this year's NCAA baseball tournament. Unheralded (until now, at least) Stony Brook and Kent State ousted SEC East champion LSU and SEC West champ Kentucky on their way to crashing the College World Series. Talk about BCS busters!

“It’s good for our game,”  said Kent State coach Scott Stricklin, whose teams have put together a 313-163 record during his eight-year tenure at the Ohio school. “The more people who are involved, the better.?If you could write in who would be in Omaha every year, what’s the excitement in that?”

Florida State has come close to making the CWS every year. While the Seawolves and Golden?Flashes are first-time visitors to?Omaha, the Seminoles have made the journey from?Tallahassee 21 times.

Despite the absence of its two regular season champions, the SEC is still well-represented. A year after South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt finished 1-2-3, the Gamecocks and Gators have made their way back to Omaha. Arkansas, meanwhile, returns after a two-year absence.

However, there is no chance of an All-SEC final as all three teams were placed in Bracket 2.

Pac-12 powers UCLA and Arizona round out the field, both landing in Bracket 1.

A look at the eight-team field:


STONY BROOK (52-13) — Though the Seawolves are making their first CWS appearance, they are  no longer flying under the radar after knocking off LSU 7-2 in Game 3 in front of the largest single-game crowd in college baseball history.

Still, it's hard not to root for a team which has only been competing at the Division I level for 12 years, had a total home attendance of 5,800 and is only the second No. 4 Regional seed to qualify for Omaha. For the record, Fresno State, the only other No. 4 seed to reach the CWS, won the national championship in 2008.

The Seawolves are the first team to represent the northeast in Omaha since Maine in 1987.

Stony Brook has been resilient. Besides winning three straight elimination games at the Coral Gables Regional, the Seawolves dropped a gut-wrenching 5-4, 12-inning Game 1 decision at LSU.

Junior center fielder Travis Jankowski (.422, 5 HRs, 46 RBIs, 36 stolen bases, 78 runs scored), a supplemental first-round pick by the San Diego Padres in the recent Major League First Year Player
Draft, is the centerpiece of an explosive lineup in which all nine starters are batting at least .296.

Junior third baseman Will Carmona (.399-12-72), and junior second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum (.389-3-51) have been steady, if not spectacular.

In addition, three freshmen have been key contributors. Canadian shortstop Cole Peragine (.314, 39 RBI, 42 runs scored in 39 games) was named the American East's Rookie of the Year. Kevin Drawse (.335-3-40), who delivered a pair of two-run singles in Game 3 vs. LSU, is a first-team Freshman All-American. Rounding out the trio is left fielder Steve Goldstein (.344-4-34).

Senior righthander Tyler Johnson (12-1, 1.94) and sophomore righty Frankie Vanderaka (3-3, 2.37), who tossed complete game three-hitters vs. LSU in Games 2 and 3, headline the mound corps.

UCLA (47-14) — The second-seeded Bruins are one of the nation's hottest teams having won nine straight and 16 of their last 17. UCLA has outscored its opponents 33-9 while compiling a perfect 5-0 postseason record.

UCLA is making its fourth trip to the CWS, including a runner-up finish in 2010.
In last week's Super Regional, the Bruins swept TCU 6-2 and 4-1.

Freshman righthander David Berg (5-3, 1.58) leads the nation with 47 appearances and has answered the call from the bullpen in 21 of the last 22 games. In 68 1/3 innings, Berg has registered 61 punchouts while holding opposing hitters to a .172 batting average.

Sophomore righthander Adam Plutko (11-3, 2.56) has worked a staff-high 112 2/3 innings with 92 strikeouts, while limiting the opposition to a .216 batting clip. Another sophomore righty, Nick Vander Tuig (10-3, 4.35) has won his last seven starts, including the finale vs. TCU.

Junior righty Scott Griggs (3-1, 2.70, 15 saves) has struck out 64 batters in 36 2/3 innings in the closer role.

Junior right fielder and cleanup batter Jeff Gelalich (.365, 11 HRs, 46 RBIs), a supplemental first-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds, and junior first baseman Trevor Brown (.328-3-51) are the Bruins' run-prouducers.

ARIZONA (43-17) — The No. 6-seeded Wildcats have advanced to the CWS for the 16th time in school history. Arizona is back in Omaha for the first time since 2004 when it won its third national title.

Arizona, which has outscored its five postseason foes by a 61-20 margin, swept St. John's 7-6 in 10 innings and 7-4 in the Super Regional.

Averaging 7.5 runs per game, Arizona is the highest-scoring team in the World Series.

The first of five Wildcats drafted in the first nine rounds, Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Alex Mejia was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round. Mejia (.361, 3 HRs, 52 RBIs), a junior shortstop, is one of seven Wildcats hitting over .300 on a club that boasts a .333 collective batting average.

Among the other Wildcats to watch are sophomore left fielder Johnny Field (.383-3-43) and junior right fielder Robert Refsnyder (.354-6-61, 18 stolen bases).

Junior righthander Kurt Heyer (12-2, 2.28 ERA) has been the staff workhorse, logging seven complete games and 138 innings. Sophomore righthanders Konner Wade (9-3, 4.49) and James Farris (7-3, 4.18) have been reliable as well.

FLORIDA STATE (48-15) — This marks FSU's 21st CWS appearance and 15th under coach Mike Martin, yet the Seminoles are still seeking their first national championship.

FSU was impressive enough last weekend, manhandling Stanford 17-1 and 18-7 in the Super Regional.

Senior center fielder James Ramsey, the ACC Player of the Year and 23rd overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, carries the 'Noles offensively. He is batting .382 with a .519 on base percentage, 13 home runs, 57 RBIs, 76 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.

Junior first baseman Jayce Boyd (.389, 4 HRs, 59 RBIs) and junior second baseman (.310-7-40) have also had productive campaigns.

Florida State hasn't received a complete game all season, but an effective bullpen has taken up the slack.

Freshman lefthander Brandon Liebrandt (11-2, 2.58), the son of former major leaguer Charlie Liebrandt, will draw the start in Friday night's first-round matchup against Arizona.

Another freshman, Mike Compton (8-2, 2.86) has emerged as a fixture in the rotation, while junior righty Robert Benincasa (4-1, 1.25, 15 saves) has been lights out in the ninth inning.


KENT?STATE?(46-18) — The Golden Flashes saw their 21-game winning streak come to an end in a 3-2 Game 2 Super Regional loss to Oregon, but bounced back to win Game 3 3-2 on the road in Eugene.
All three contests in the series were decided by a single run as Kent State took the opener 7-6.
Champions of the Mid-American Athletic Conference, the Golden Flashes are now 8-7 in one-run games after an 0-4 start.

In its only two games against an SEC foe, the Golden Flashes outlasted SEC East champion Kentucky 7-6 in 21 innings in first round of the Gary Regional. It was the second-longest postseason game in NCAA history. Two days later, Kent State edged the Wildcats 3-2 in the finals.

At Omaha, the Golden Flashes are bracketed with three SEC teams.

Kent State is led by MAC Player of the Year George Roberts and MAC Pitcher of the Year David Starn.

Robertson, a senior first baseman, is batting .368 with eight home runs and 64 RBIs, followed by senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (.364, 5 HRs, 64 RBIs, 29 doubles), junior center fielder and leadoff batter Evan Campbell (.327-7-40) and senior catcher David Lyon (.279-10-41).

Starn (11-3, 2.21 ERA), a senior lefty, junior righty Ryan Bores (9-3, 3.35) and sophomore Tyler Skulina (11-2, 3.63) have started 17 games apiece, with all three shouldering over 100 innings. Starn's 123 punchouts are tops among CWS pitchers.

ARKANSAS?(44-20) — This marks the Razorbacks' seventh trip to Omaha.

Since going two and out in the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks have won five of six, including a 3-0 mark in the Houston Regional.

Traveling to Waco, Texas for the Super Regional, the Hogs dropped Game 1 8-1, before taking Game 2 5-4 and prevailing 1-0 in 10 innings in Game 3.

Five pitchers combined to shutout Baylor in the decisive game. It was the Hogs' 10th shutout of the season.

Junior third baseman Matt Reynolds (.338, 7 HRs, 43 RBIs, 15 SBs) and sophomore right-handed reliever Nolan Sanburn (4-1, 2.52) were both drafted in the second round. Reynolds was chosen by the New York Mets with the 71st pick. Three picks later, the Oakland A's selected Sanburn. In all, the Razorbacks had eight players drafted.

Senior shortstop Tim Carver (.304-2-30) and sophomore first baseman Dominic Ficociello (.301-6-40) complement Reynolds offensively.

Neville product John Clay Reeves has appeared in 27 games with 19 starts behind the plate as a true freshman, batting .281 with four home runs and 19 runs driven in.

Among the eight teams in Omaha, Arkansas boasts the second-lowest ERA (2.95). Sophomore righthander Ryan Stanek (7-4, 2.91) and junior righthander D.J. Baxendale (7-5, 3.18) are the mainstays of the rotation. Sanburn and sophomore righty Brandon Moore (5-2, 2.71) have anchored the bullpen.

SOUTH?CAROLINA?(45-17) — The two-time defending national champion Gamecocks are the bottom seed in Omaha, despite owning an NCAA record 21-game postseason winning streak. South Carolina confirmed its reservations to Omaha for the sixth time in school history by knocking off Oklahoma 5-0 and 5-1 in the Super Regional.

Junior first baseman Christian Walker (.315, 11 HRs, 54 RBIs) leads the Gamecocks at the plate. Drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles, Walker was recently named the SEC's Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Other than Walker, freshman left fielder Tanner English (.306-0-22) is the Gamecocks' only regular batting over .300. Junior third baseman LB Dantzler (.264-9-45) is second on the squad in home runs and RBIs.

South Carolina's pitching staff has yet to log a complete game, but has produced eight shutouts en route to compiling a 3.06 team ERA.

Senior lefthander Michael Roth (7-1, 2.50, 115 innings pitched) and junior righty Colby Holmes (7-1, 2.80) man the top of the rotation.

FLORIDA?(47-18) — Making their third consecutive trip to the CWS and eighth overall, the top-seeded Gators are seeking their first national title after finishing runner-up to South Carolina a year ago.

Florida is 23-10 against Top 25 foes, including a 3-1 record against South Carolina. The Gators took two out of three from the Gamecocks in Columbia during the regular season, before winning a 7-2 decision in an SEC Tournament elimination game.

Florida secured its spot in the CWS by sweeping North Carolina State 7-1 and 9-8 in 10 innings in the
Super Regional.

Florida leads the nation with 75 home runs.

Selected by the Seattle Mariners with the third overall pick, junior catcher Mike Zunino (.322, 19 HRs, 28 2Bs, 64 RBIs) was the first of nine players chosen in the draft. Junior designated hitter and lefthanded pitcher Brian Johnson (.314, 6-41; 8-4, 3.56) was acquired by the Boston Red Sox as the No. 31 pick.

Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (.323-8-41) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (.319-16-48) have also proven to be tough outs.

Florida's 2.90 ERA is the lowest among CWS teams.

Junior righthander Hudson Randall (9-2, 2.61, 93 innings pitched) has been the Gators' most reliable starter. Senior righty Greg Larson (6-0, 1.42 ERA) and junior righty Austin Maddox (3-3, 2.50, 12 saves) lead a deep bullpen.