2010 NCAA Regional Previews: Tempe

#1 Arizona State (47-8, 20-7 Pac-10)

The biggest story over the college baseball offseason was the abrupt departure of Head Coach Pat Murphy back in November.  Scrambling, the Sun Devils brought back the recently let-go Tim Esmay to coach the 2010 edition of the Arizona State Sun Devils.  Esmay still had the interim label placed on him up until this week when AD Lisa Love removed the label after the Sun Devils 46-win season and 4th straight Pac-10 title .  The Sun Devils only non-conference loss, was a conference loss, against Arizona. The Sun Devils hosted a mid-week game against Arizona on April 20th that didn’t go against conference standings, which they lost 4-2.

The top of their lineup gives you the 1-2 punch of Sophomore middle infield combo Drew Maggi and Zack MacPhee. Maggi became the 8th player in school history to rack up 20+ steals in consecutive seasons, while his 33 on the year is the most since Oddibe McDowell swiped 36 bags in 1983 and 1984. The shortstop wowed fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium with his glove, as the Sun Devils didn’t commit an error over their weekend romp over the Pac-10’s other national seed, the UCLA Bruins.

Zack MacPhee is the current NCAA leader in triples with 14, and no one is going to come close to the Sun Devil Second Baseman in that category this season. The closest player on any team still playing is Gary Brown of Cal State Fullerton with 8. The Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist hit .381 with 8 HR and drove in a team leading 59 RBI, amassing a team leading .686 slugging percentage.  Senior OF Kole Calhoun picked up steam towards the end of the season, finishing with .323 BA, a team leading 13 HR, and 52 RBI, while ranking in the Top 10 nationally with 55 free passes.  Cleanup hitting Sophomore 1B Riccio Torrez has been a doubles machine this year with 23 to his credit and led the team in hits with 81.

The season started off with a surprise as it was announced Josh Spence would not pitch in the opening weekend.  As the season progressed, the Senior Captain never did appear in a game with the Sun Devils, which would be attributed to a nerve injury in his throwing elbow.  The loss of the Spence, who decided to come back to school after being the Angels 3rd round pick in 2009, looked like it could be a devastating blow to the Sun Devils, but Jr. RHP Seth Blair answered the call.  Blair had a great 2009 behind Mike Leake and Josh Spence, and added to his resume this season by going a perfect 11-0 with a 3.29 ERA, with 90 strikeouts in 90 IP.  His .270 Batting Average against and 10 HR given up were the highest out of any of the weekend starters, but was clutch in a performance against Gerrit Cole and UCLA back on April 30th where he went 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 earned run, giving the Sun Devils the momentum needed on the mound to complete the sweep.  Rounding out the rotation are RHP Merrill Kelly (9-2, 3.75 ERA) and the towering RHP Jake Borup (10-1, 3.93 ERA).  Brady Rogers was also highly effective in spot starts (4-3, 1.93 ERA), including throwing 7 shutout innings against Tempe Regional participant San Diego on April 5th, and could be used to eat up some innings in the regional.

In the bullpen, LHP Mitchell Lambson  (7-2, 2.37 ERA) struck out 77 batters in 60.2 innings over 34 middle relief appearances, and earned 3 saves in the process.  RHP Jake Barrett (3rd round pick in 2009, Toronto) was strong all year in relief as well, striking out 42 batters over 27.1 innings.  The closer for the Sun Devil squad is RHP Jordan Swagerty, who set the single season record for saves this year with 14.  The draft eligible Sophomore also plays some catcher, and twice this year was brought from the catcher position in for the save.

#2 San Diego (36-20, 19-2 WCC)

The Toreros were roughed up in Tempe back in early April in a couple of losses where they gave up runs in the double digits, including a 15-0 drubbing.

Senior RF James Meador (.391, 7 HR, 62 RBI) is the offensive leader of this ball club, mainly hitting in the cleanup spot, but is going to be out for the regional after suffering a broken hand in practice Tuesday.  Senior 3B Chris Engell (.421, 33 RBI, .460 OBP) had his 26 game hit streak snapped Saturday against St. Mary’s.  CF Kevin Muno (.288, 3 HR, 18 RBI) leads the team with 24 stolen bases.

The bright spot for San Diego is obviously their pitching staff.  RHP Kyle Blair (8-4, 2.99 ERA) and LHP Sammy Solis (9-2, 3.00 ERA) highlight the  rotation.  In what was deemed the de facto West Coast Coast Conference title series in Portland against the Pilots, Blair had his best performance of his career, giving up only 1 hit and striking out 15 batters, at one point striking out the side in back-to-back innings in the 4th and 5th.  Solis fed off Blair’s performance and threw a complete game, giving up 1 run in the 8th inning while only surrendering 4 hits and striking out a season high 10 batters.  Not to be outdone is Senior RHP AJ Griffin (7-3, 4.71 ERA), who combined with Blair became the first pitching duo in school history to notch 100 strikeout seasons in the same year.

#3 Hawaii (33-26, 12-12 WAC)

Hawaii held off the hot-hitting Fresno State Bulldogs to win the WAC championshp this week, and were rewarded with the #3 seed in the Tempe Regional.  Entering the WAC Tournament as a #4 seed, the Rainbows had stellar performances by a duo of Sophomores in 2B Kolten Wong and CF Collin Bennett.  Wong (.365, 7 HR, 40 RBI) blasted a walk-off homerun in the opening game against La. Tech on his way to 3 HR and 8 RBI in the tourney to go along with a .500 BA, while Collin Bennett(.335, 5 HR, 49 HR) broke WAC Tourney records with 7 doubles and 13 hits.  C David Freitas also earned All-WAC Tournament Honors.

On the mound Hawaii will rely on their righty/lefty duo of Josh Slaats and Sam Spangler.  Slaats (5.-3, 3.22 ERA) started the opener against La. Tech, giving up 0 ER over 5.2 IP and striking out 6, but didn’t earn the decision.  He picked up another ND in the tournament final against Fresno State.  What’s important to note about Slaats is how well he does against top competition.  The imposing 6’5, 230 pound Junior pitched a complete game shutout against The Citadel back on March 5th, allowing only 2 hits, while he allowed two unearned runs against Oregon State in 6 IP in a no decision.  He picked up a loss against Cal State Fullerton in a 3-0 loss, but the Rainbows ran into the buzzsaw known as Noe Ramirez and picked up the loss.  Spangler (5-6, 4.42 ERA) has pitched very well down the stretch, and picked up the win in the WAC Championship game.  Closer Lenny Linsky (3-0, 1.59 ERA, 12 Saves) picked up First Team All-WAC honors.

#4 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (33-24, 17-8 Horizon)

The Panthers enter the tournament on a great note after advancing out of the losers bracket to win back-to-back games against Wright State to take the Horizon League crown.   They have 4 regular starters hitting over .350, including Senior OF Tim Patzman (.417 AVG, 5 HR, 34 RBI).  The Panthers sport a team batting average of .329 and picked up a big 13-6 victory early in the season against fellow #4 seed Minnesota at the Metrodome.

On the mound, Chad Pierce (7-4, 3.70 ERA)  has two complete games to his credit will likely get the start against Arizona State in the opener.  Pierce picked up two victories in the Horizon League Tournament, earning him MVP honors.  The Panthers pitching staff has a tall order ahead of them, as they were swept by Hawaii in 2008 and Arizona State in 2009.

1. Arizona State
2. Hawaii
3. San Diego
4. UW-Milwaukee