2010 NCAA Regional Previews: Norman

norman regional For the second postseason in a row, the NCAA Regionals are in Norman, Oklahoma. Joining the Oklahoma Sooners this year are #2 seed Cal, #3 seed North Carolina, and fourth seeded Oral Roberts.

Oklahoma (44-15, 15-10 Big 12)

Oklahoma finished the regular season eight games behind Texas for second place in the Big 12. The Sooners won two of their three games in the Big 12 tournament, but failed to advance to the Championship Game. Oklahoma’s year surprised many after the Sooners were devastated by the MLB Draft last June. A strong core of young players, led by All-Big 12 sophomore 3B Garrett Buechele (.393, 15 HR, 61 RBI) and sophomore 1B Cameron Seitzer (.331, 14 HR, 51 RBI) is bolstered with the addition of freshman LF Max White (.318, 14 HR, 39 RBI). The pitching staff compares equally to the hitting. Friday’s game is in the hands of junior RHP Michael Rocha (7-1, 3.02 ERA, 45 K in 56.2 IP), followed on Saturday by junior RHP Zach Neal (8-3, 4.52 ERA, 76K in 87.2 IP). If, and a little if that is, the Sooners make it to Sunday, junior RHP Bobby Shore (8-4, 4.52 ERA) and freshman LHP Ryan Gibson (5-2, 3.76 ERA) will be available. Junior RHP Ryan Duke (1-1, 3.00 ERA, 11 saves) will be ready to work the late innings if necessary.

California-Berkeley (29-23, 13-14 Pac 10)

The Bears bring an impressive resume of wins into Norman, but also lug around a disappointing file of loses. Led offensively by freshman 3B Tony Renda (.365, 52 R, 19 2B) and sophomore C Chadd Krist (.344 10 HR, 43 RBI), Cal put together a team batting average of .319, scoring over seven runs a game. On the mound, freshman LHP Justin Jones (10-5, 3.77 ERA) has been the main threat to opposing teams, with sophomore RHP Erik Johnson (6-3, 3.62) doing his share of the work to keep the Bears afloat. Unfortunately for California, they seem to be on the downswing, eight of their final 10 games during the regular season.

North Carolina (36-20, 14-16 ACC)

Mike Fox has led his Tar Heels squad to an incredible four consecutive trips to the College World Series, including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008, and looks to make it back to Omaha for another shot at that elusive National Championship. Unlike the previous years, North Carolina is sitting as a #3 seed, and not in the host spot that they have grown accustom to in the previous seasons. This season, North Carolina struggled against their ACC counterparts, losing five series, including three sweeps. Despite their record against their powerful conference, North Carolina has a good chance at advancing to the next round. Sophomore 3B Levi Michael (.355, 50 RBI, 18-20 SB) has been their main threat at the plate, but isn’t their only weapon. Junior 1B Dillon Hazlett (.342, 65 R, 51 RBI) and freshman RF Brian Goodwin (.293, 7 3B, 7 HR, 61 RBI) have done their part to get the Tar Heels to Norman. Junior RHP Matt Harvey (7-3, 3.10 ERA, 93K) and junior RHP Patrick Johnson (6-3, 3.44) have paced a pitching staff that hasn’t resembled that strong staffs Fox put together during their consecutive runner-up finishes. Despite their conference record, the Tar Heels bring in more postseason experience than any other team in Norman.

Oral Roberts (35-25, 19-9 Summit League)

Only four teams have made more consecutive postseason appearances than the Golden Eagles’ 15, a streak which has seen them claim 13 consecutive Summit League titles (3rd longest streak in NCAA history). The team from Tulsa is anchored on offense by the dynamic duo of junior OF Nick Baligod (.396, 11 HR, 53 RBI) and junior SS Tyler Saladino (.381, 17 HR, 73 RBI). Junior C/DH Seth Furmanek is tied for eighth in the NCAA with 22 home runs, but also holds the same place with his 66 strikeouts. As a team, Oral Roberts is just a pair of home runs shy of the century mark. In a baseball trend, the home run power also brings a bevy of strikeouts (477, good enough for second place). The pitcher to watch this weekend for the fourth seeded team is junior RHP Bryce Smolen (9-3, 4.26 ERA, 6 CG), a former walk-on transfer from Texas-Pan American who garnered first team All-Summit League honors this season. Aside from the tournament bid and conference championship, Oral Roberts can boast about being one of only three teams to pick up a win against #2 national seed Texas in Austin. The win in Austin was also one of only two losses for Texas in a midweek game.

Predictions:

1. Oklahoma
2. North Carolina
3. Oral Roberts
4. California

I’m not sold on Cal. They struggled on the road all season, and they have been streaky throughout the spring. Oklahoma has deep talent on both sides of the ball which will be too much for North Carolina to overcome in the final games. Oral Roberts can slug, but they have been forced to draw deep into their roster to overcome a myriad of injuries to their squad.