2009 NCAA Regional Preview: Louisville

Who’s going to come out of the Louisville Regional? I don’t think anyone really knows because there is no dominant team in this regional and every team has a legitimate chance to advance. Big East champion Louisville will host a regional for the first time in program history (although they did host a Super Regional) as the #1 seed, Sun Belt Conference champion Middle Tennessee is the second seed, while a hot Vanderbilt squad is the #3 seed and the recently crowned Big 10 Tournament champion Indiana Hoosiers rounds out the field as the #4 seed.

The opening game of the regional between Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee will be played at 3 pm EDT on Friday, with Louisville and Indiana to follow at 7 pm EDT. The first elimination game will be played at 3 pm EDT with the winner’s bracket championship game at 7 pm EDT Saturday. Sunday’s slate opens with the second elimination game at 3 pm EDT and closes with the first regional championship game at 7 pm EDT. If necessary, a second regional championship game will be played on Monday at 7 pm EDT.

#1 Louisville Cardinal (44-15, 19-7 Big East)

Only a month ago there were questions as to whether or not Lousiville would end up on the right side of the bubble. The Cardinals rolled off 11 wins in their last 12 regular season games though, then took home the Big East Tournament crown, to add to their regular season title and they ended up right where they are now. Where they are is hosting a regional for the first time in program history and doing so as a #1 seed.

The Cardinals ride the back of their tremendous pitching staff that compiled a 4.19 ERA in 2009, tops in the Big East. They’re able to do this because they have a strikeout to walk ration of nearly 3:1 as a staff. Jr. LHP Justin Marks is the anchor on the staff with a 10-2 record and 3.50 ERA in 14 starts. Marks strikes out 11.2 batter per nine innings and has limited opposing batters to a .223 batting average. So. LHP Dean Kiekhefer is the Cardinals’ other starter and he hasn’t been nearly as good as Marks. Kiekhefer is 6-4 with a 4.70 ERA this year as Louisville’s #2, but luckily for him, he’s not asked to go deep into games. That’s because the Cardinals’ bullpen is outstanding and amazingly deep. While they don’y have an absolute shutdown guy at the back end of their bullpen, they have six, seven of eight guys who can all give them quality innings.

The Louisville offense is led by Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist and Louisville Slugger All-American, Jr. 3B Chris Dominguez. Dominguez, who broke onto the national stage two years ago in the Cardinals’ run to Omaha has emerged as one of the nation;s top hitter this year. He’s hit .359 with 23 homers, 79 RBI, 77 runs scored and has stoled 18 bases this year. Dominguez isn’t alone in that Louisville offense though. So. Phil Wunderlich, who can be found all over the field defensively, is a beast at the plate with a .369 batting average, 18 homers and 74 RBI. As a team, the Cardinals average 8.5 runs a game, while hitting ,312 and leading the Big East with 81 home runs.

The Cardinals catch the ball fairly well, at a clip of .969, but won’t overwhelm you with their defense. Louisville certainly has to be considered the favorite in this regional, especially in front of the home fans, but as the weekend goes on, their starting pitching could be a problem.

#2 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (43-16, 21-8 Sun Belt)

Middle Tennessee was a surprise pick as a #2 seed, but the Blue Raiders won’t apologize to anyone for it. The program last competed in the postseason when they were in Athens, Georgia in 2004, where they scored a total of two runs in their first two games, both losses. Now, the Blue Raiders head to Louisville as Sun Belt regular season and tournament champions, who are even a favorite this regional for at least one game.

The Middle Tennessee pitching is a bit of question mark, but certainly not so at the top or back end. Jr. LHP Kenneth Roberts is the ace of the staff and has put together a fine season with a 10-1 record that includes two complete games and a 2.98 ERA. At the back end of the Blue Raiders’ staff is their closer, Jr. RHP Coty Woods. Woods has 14 saves this year, a 4-2 record, a 1.51 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings to give Middle Tennessee a bonafide stopper. What happens after Friday or before they can get to Woods though is anyone’s guess and why the Blue Raiders have a 5.20 team ERA and batters hit .282 against them despite Roberts and Woods.

While there are some questions surrounding the Middle Tennessee offense, there are none around what is one of the nation’s top offenses. The Blue Raiders’ offense, which ranks fifth in the country in runs, hits an astounding .346 as a team and hit 99 homers on the year. It’s a powerful offense that is led by So. LF Bryce Brentz, who has been one of the nation’s best hitters this year, is a Louisville Slugger All-American and Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist. Brentz is batting .482, tops in the nation and has backed that up with 28 homers, 78 runs scored and 72 RBI. Sr. 3B Rawley Bishop backs up Brentz pretty well though, hitting over .400 himself at .404 and having hit 14 homers, while scoring 76 runs. With eight starters batting at least .320 and four more guys on the bench who hit .300, there is no time for opposing pitchers to rest.

The Blue Raiders’ .968 fielding percentage is right about on par with Louisville, but their lack of postseason experience could haunt them when the ball is hit in their direction. Middle Tennessee St. seems a good bet in the regional opener with their offense and Roberts on the hill, but what happens after that is a mystery. Whatever happens though, the scoreboard operators better be on their toes.

#3 Vanderbilt Commodores (34-25, 12-17 SEC)

A team that entered the final week of play on the bubble in some people’s minds, Vanderbilt ended any doubt as to their postseason fate with a run to the title game of the SEC Tournament. The Commodores lacked consistency all season long, often running off four wins, just to follow it up for three or four losses. What Vanderbilt team will we see this weekend?

The Vanderbilt pitching staff is anchored by Jr. LHP Mike Minor, who was sensational in the SEC Tournament and carries a 6-4 record with a 3.64 ERA into this weekend. After Minor, the Commdores have a lot of question marks, but one guy who they may feel confident about is So. RHP Caleb Cotham, who was lights out last weekend in Hoover. What may do Vanderbilt in at the end of the day though is the inability of their bullpen to finish off ballgames. As a team, the Commodores have a 4.85 ERA and opponent’s hit .274 against them.

The Vanderbilt offense smacked the ball around some this year to the tune of 7.1 runs per game as a .308 batting average. Those numbers are due in large part to a trio of second-year bats. Redshirt Fr. 1B/C Aaron Westlake batted a team-high .377 on the year with eight home runs to go along with it. So. OF/1B Steven Liddle hit .354 and scored a team-best 61 runs, while tying for the team-lead with 10 home runs. Liddle is tied for the team-lead in home runs with So. C Curt Cassal, who hit .341 as well and led the Commodores with 56 RBI.

Vanderbilt caught the ball fine, with a .971 fielding percentage. The Commodores should be an interesting team to watch this postseason because they do have talent and have experience, having played in regionals the past three years. Could this be the year that they make a Super Regional though?

#4 Indiana Hoosiers (35-25, 16-7 Big Ten)

Considered by many to be the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten, Indiana struggled for most of the season to develop any sort of consistency. It seemed the season was lost, but they got it together when it counted. The Hoosiers went a perfect 4-0 in the Big Ten Tournament to capture the crown and the automatic bid that goes along with it

The Hoosiers ranked fourth in the Big Ten regular season in ERA at 5.20, but their Big Ten Tournament played lowered it to a 5.08 mark. Golden Spikes Semifinalist, Jr. RHP Eric Arnett leads the Hoosiers’ staff with a 2-1 record in 13 starts and showed an amazing ability to go deep into games with six complete games. Arnett accumulated a 2.58 ERA as opponent’s hit just .212 off of him on Friday nights. After Arnett though it gets a bit dicey, although Jr. LHP Matt Bashore has performed well (7-4, 3.57 ERA), as has Jr. RHP Chris Squires with his eight saves.

The Indiana offense finished second in the Big Ten with a .329 team batting average, while scoring 7.4 runs per game. Fr. DH Alex Dickerson paced the Hoosiers’ offense with a .379 batting average and his 14 homers and 57 RBI weren’t too shabby either. Jr. C Josh Phegley is one of the nation’s top catchers are he’s also one of Indiana’s top hitter. Phegley hit .352 in 2009 with a team-leading 17 home runs and 66 RBI. Jr. CF Evan Crawford provides the speed in the Indiana lineup with 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts, while reacking bases at a .404 clip.

Indiana could run into trouble in the field, where they finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten in errors. The Hoosiers come into the regional extremely hot and could very well pull off a Friday upset with Arnett on the mound. Having proven just a week ago how well they can play and in a regional where very little separates the four teams, Indiana has a darn good shot to pull off the improbable four seed to regional champion run.

Prediction:

1) Indiana
2) Vanderbilt
3) Louisville
4) Middle Tennessee

  • FuzzyYellowDMB

    Good call so far. ;)

    Go Blue Raiders!

    • Ryan Rosenblatt

      Well at least my picks for the next few days can’t be any worse than today’s