By: Thomas Nelshoppen of The Baseball Zealot
Last week at the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan’s bat boy was wearing a jersey with “692” on the back of it. The reference was lost on me till later when I read that is the exact mileage from Ann Arbor to Omaha.
When you set your goals, set them high.
Michigan (45-12) will put that all to the test as they host a NCAA Regional Tournament at Fisher Stadium beginning this Friday. They received a #2 seed and in fact, are the only #2 seed hosting a regional tournament this year. They will begin the tourney by facing #3 seed Kentucky (42-17). #1 seed Arizona will take on #4 seed Eastern Michigan (25-32).
Eastern Michigan, based in Ypsilanti, Michigan just six miles away from host city Ann Arbor, has been a cinderella story so far this season. The Eagles lost the first 17 games of the 2008 season before turning it around. They pulled such a one-eighty that they ended up in first place in the Mid-American Conference with a 15-8 record. The one thing EMU has going for them (unfortunately, maybe the only thing) is momentum.
Kentucky is one of nine Southeastern Conference teams to make the NCAA Regionals. There’s one statistic that might make the Wildcats nervous. In regular season play, the Wolverines are 14-1-1 against Kentucky.
The Pac-10’s Arizona Wildcats and head coach Andy Lopez are no stranger to postseason play. Lopez has coached 13 teams to the NCAA postseason on the Division I level, five of those with Arizona. He has a won a national title with Pepperdine in 1992 and has gone to the College World Series with three different schools.
Here is a quick rundown on each team in the Ann Arbor Regional (including links to team and conference web sites):
#1 seed: Arizona Wildcats
Location: Tucson, AZ
2008 record: 38-17 (12-12 conference)
Head Coach: Andy Lopez (7th season)
Players to watch: 1B C.J. Ziegler who leads the team in HR and rbis, reliever Dan Schlereth who struck out 73 in only 52 innings with a 1.73 ERA.
#2 seed: Michigan Wolverines
Conference: Big Ten
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
2008 record: 45-12 (29-5 conference)
Head Coach: Rich Maloney (6th season)
Players to watch: Big Ten Player of the Year Nate Recknagel, Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Zach Putnam
#3 seed: Kentucky Wildcats
Conference: Southeastern Conference
Location: Lexington, KY
2008 record: 42-17 (16-14 conference)
Head Coach: John Cohen (5th season)
Players to watch: Four Wildcats made All-SEC First Team this year. 2B Ryan Wilkes, OFs Collin Cowgill and Sawyer Carroll and on the mound, Chris Rusin.
#4 seed:Eastern Michigan Eagles
Conference: Mid-American Conference
Location: Ypsilanti, MI
2008 record: 25-32 (15-8 conference)
Head Coach: Jake Boss (3rd season)
Players to watch: EMU’s Steve Bradshaw was in the MAC’s top five in hitting with a .385 average and team-leading 53 rbis. Zack Leonard hit .342 with 9 homeruns and 51 rbis.
Tournament Schedule (Times Eastern)
Friday, May 30
Game 1 — #1 seed Arizona (38-17) vs. #4 seed Eastern Michigan (25-32), 2 p.m.
Game 2 — #2 seed Michigan (45-12) vs. #3 seed Kentucky (42-17), 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 31
Game 3 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m.
Game 4 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 1
Game 5 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 7 p.m.
Monday, June 2
Game 7 (if necessary) — Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 7 p.m.