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May 31, 2013

Blacksburg Region Preview

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Beginning today, 64 teams across the country will start a two-week battle to try to earn a trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. For the first time ever, Virginia Tech and English Field will host a regional in Blacksburg. Oklahoma, Coastal Carolina, and Connecticut are the others in the regional who try and walk away with a Super Regional berth next week.

TEAM CAPSULES

Virginia Tech (ACC)
Season Record: 38-20
Conference Record: 15-14
Vs. UConn all-time: 10-5 (7 in a row, last meeting in 2004)
Vs. Oklahoma all-time: 1-0 (4-2 W in 1978 in Nashville)
Vs. Coastal Carolina all-time: 3-6 (Won both matchups in 2012)
Top Bats: SS Chad Pinder (.327 BA, 7 HR, 48 RBIs), LF Tyler Horan (.349 BA, 11 HR, 50 RBI)
Top Arms: SP Joe Mantiply (6-0, 2.92 ERA), RP Clark Labitan (2-5, 2.83 ERA, 10 Saves)

Oklahoma (Big 12)
Season Record: 40-19
Conference Record: 13-11
Top Bats: 1B Matt Oberste (.384 BA, 11 HR, 58 RBIs), 2B Hector Lorenzana (.278 BA, 2 HR, 37 RBIs)
Top Arms: SP Jonathon Gray (9-2, 1.55 ERA), SP Dillon Overton (9-2, 2.89 ERA)

Coastal Carolina (Big South)
Season Record: 37-21
Conference Record: 18-6
Top Bats: CF Jacob May (.321 BA, 6 HR, 29 RBIs), DH/OH Ted Blackman (.303 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI)
Top Arms: SP Ben Smith (5-3, 2.19 ERA), RP Ryan Connolly (6-4, 2.10 ERA, 11 saves)

Connecticut
Season Record: 34-26
Conference Record: 9-15
Top Bats: 2B L.J. Mazzilli (.364 BA, 6 HR, 49 RBIs, 28 SBs), 3B Vinny Siena (.302 BA, 1 HR, 33 RBIs)
Top Arms: SP Carson Cross (8-4, 2.50 ERA), SP Jordan Tabakman (6-2, 2.50 ERA)

ANALYSIS

As a whole, this regional is full of capable teams. Virginia Tech played for the ACC Championship; Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship; Coastal Carolina won the regular season Big South Championship; and Connecticut won the Big East Championship. Three of these teams are from power conferences. They expect to win. Coastal Carolina is the fourth and they are one of those power-baseball schools. They don't play in a big conference, but they are one of the top programs in the country year-in and year-out.

Although the Hokies are the number one seed, Oklahoma has to be the favorite. They sent Virginia home in Charlottesville last year in the exact same situation. The Sooners have two aces in Gray and Overton and pitching is what is going to win this regional. Everyone saw how far the Hokies can go if they get strong pitching last weekend. When Mantiply, Markey, and Burke throw well, they have as good of chance as anyone in the country. Oklahoma has two guys that have proven themselves every week this season.

Coastal Carolina isn't as talented as it was a few years ago when it consistently hosted regionals, but it remains dangerous. Like Virginia Tech, it will depend on starting pitching to really step up this weekend. The Chanticleers are eighth in the country in sacrifice bunts, so you can expect them to bunt guys over constantly.

The Huskies struggled in the Big East until they won the tournament championship, but a hot team is a difficult one to handle, especially with the pressure of playing in a regional. They use their bullpen judiciously and have four relievers with an ERA under 3.00 (Pat Butler, Ryan Moore, Stephen Catalina, David Mahoney). The Huskies also like to run on the base paths, as they have Mazzilli with 28 stolen bases and CF Billy Ferriter with 25.

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

Game 1: Oklahoma 5 - Coastal Carolina 1
The Sooners will likely throw Gray, who will shut down the Chanticleers and allow the offense to manufacture a few insurance runs late.

Game 2: Virginia Tech 7 - Connecticut 4
Mantiply will go for the Hokies, who absolutely need to win this opener in front of the home crowd. Playing at home with the crowd at their backs, I expect the offense to come out swinging.

Game 3: Coastal Carolina 6 - Connecticut 4
Once teams lose once, desperation begins to set in. Coastal claws this one out, but just barely.

Game 4: Oklahoma 4 - Virginia Tech 3
This is the big one. Oklahoma will throw their second ace Overton, while I suspect Virginia Tech will bring Devin Burke. Both guys, especially Burke, have proven themselves down the stretch. This will be one intense game.

Game 5: Virginia Tech 7 - Coastal Carolina 1
Pitcher Brad Markey comes up big in this one for the Hokies as a clutch third starter and the Hokies offense comes up big.

Game 6: Oklahoma 8 - Virginia Tech 5
Once you get into Sunday, the top starters are all used up and it becomes a matter of getting to the late-inning guys with a lead, executing the little things offensively, and making plays defensively. The Hokies sometimes struggle defensively, and I think that eventually does them in on Sunday.

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