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2011 NCAA Regional Preview: Charlottesville

By: Greg Waters
Several interesting story lines mark the 2011 Charlottesville Regional. St John’s is returning to Charlottesville where they almost pulled the upset last season forcing the 5th overall national seed Virginia to an elimination game. The ECU Pirates return to Charlottesville where they played the Cavaliers tough in a three game series the second week of the season, losing the three game set 2-1, including a one-run loss on Saturday. Navy will be making its first appearance in Charlottesville since a 17-1 loss back in March of 2009. This will be Virginia’s fifth time hosting an NCAA Regional since 2004.

#4 – Navy Midshipmen (33-23-1)

Navy is making its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance and the Middies first since 2002. Concluding regular season play with a 12-8 record, Navy claimed the top seed in the Patriot League tournament and secured the conference’s automatic bid with a 2-1 title series win over rival Army. Sophomore RHP Ben Nelson (5-5, 4.91) is expected to go against the Cavaliers on Friday. Southpaw Sam Long (5-4, 3.97) and righty Wes Olson (7-1, 2.51) round out the projected first three games starting trio. The staff has a combined 4.94 ERA and opponents are batting .280. Centerfielder Alex Azor paces the Midshipmen with a .332 batting average. A contact guy, Azor is among the most difficult hitters in the NCAA to strikeout. Sophomore third baseman Greg Dupell is second among everyday players with a .322 batting average; he leads the team in round trippers, is second in hits and tied for third in RBI. As a team Navy hits .276

#3 – St. John’s Red Storm (35-20)

The Red Storm enter the Charlottesville Regional with an at-large NCAA bid and a likely a chip on their shoulder. With an RPI of 54, many pundits and analysis have questioned the inclusion of St John’s in the field of 64 at the expense of some other programs and that might add some extra incentive for the weekend. St. John’s fell 4-2 to Seton Hall in the title game of the BIG EAST Championship. St. Johns is led by first team All-BIG EAST shortstop Joe Panik. The Golden Spikes Award candidate led the Red Storm in average (.402), runs (59), home runs (9), slugging percentage (.645) and on-base percentage (.513) finishing the regular season ranked in the top ten in the BIG EAST in nearly every offensive category. First baseman Paul Karmas (.319 BA/5 HR/40 RBI) and left fielder Jeremy Baltz (.312 BA/6 HR/58 RBI) round out a solid trio of power and run producers in the SJU lineup .The Red Storm finished fourth in the Big East with a .285 batting average and second in home runs. Opponents hits just .257 against a St. Johns staff sporting a 4.04 ERA. The Red Storm is expected to go with ace Kyle Hansen (8-6, 2.70 ERA) against ECU which means lefty Brendan Lobban (6-2, 4.04 ERA) will likely be in the bump on Saturday to face the winner of the Navy vs. Virginia contest. Matt Carasiti (2-2, 2.52 ERA, 7 saves) is usually called on to shut things down late. The Red Storm is making their third appearance in the NCAA Championship in the last four seasons and its 33rd overall. St. John’s returns to the Charlottesville Regional for a second consecutive season failing in the Regional Final to Virginia 5-3 last year.

#2 – East Carolina Pirates (39-19)

East Carolina will make its 25th NCAA Regional appearance and 11th in the last 13 years after earning the #2 seed at the Charlottesville Regional. Right hander Mike Wright (6-3, 2.84 ERA) is expected to face off against the Red Storm on Friday while team ace and fellow righty Seth Maness (9-3, 1.88 ERA) is expected to start against the Navy vs. Virginia winner. Maness received first-team All C-USA honors for the fourth-straight season. Southpaw Kevin Brandt (7-3, 2.26 ERA), rounds out the first three in the rotation with Seth Simmons (6-2, 6 saves, 2.56 ERA) coming in to shut things down late in game. The Pirates have thrown a league-high nine shutouts this season, a figure which ranks in the top 10 nationally. East Carolina’s team ERA of 2.58 is seventh-best among all Division I teams and ECU has registered 28 quality starts during the 2011 campaign. Trent Whitehead (.332 BA/4 HR/29 RBI) paces the Pirates from the plate and is tied for third in C-USA with 20 doubles while leading the Pirates in batting and in stolen bases with 16. The second-team Conference USA selection gets help from right fielder Corey Thompson (.330 BA/5 HR/45 RBI) and third baseman Philip Clark (.329 BA/3 HR/27 RBI). Johnny Bench Award candidate Zach Wright started 58 games this season and led ECU with 13 home runs. The Pirates finished third in C-USA in batting hitting at a .299 clip but also grounded into a league high 50 double plays.

#1 – Virginia Cavaliers (49-9)

The Cavaliers enter the Charlottesville regional as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament based on a high level of consistency throughout the season and on the heels of a 4-0 sweep of their ACC tournament pool and the title game. En route to its second conference championship in the last three seasons, Virginia defeated #3 national seed North Carolina 3-2 and #5 national seed Florida State 7-2. The Cavaliers are built on pitching and defense and while Danny Hultzen (10-3, 1.59 ERA)will likely be one of the first two or three names called in next week’s MLB draft, the Cavalier have three other solid arms in a deep pitching staff that held opponents to a .212 batting average during the season. Will Roberts (10-1, 1.78 ERA) will get the start on Friday against Navy and Tyler Wilson (7-0, 2.41) will follow Hultzen in game three. Brandon Kline highlights an outstanding bullpen that had a 1.76 ERA in the ACC Tournament. Chris Taylor (.293 BA, .371 OBP, 42 RBI) sets the table from the lead-off spot while John Hicks (.338 BA, 6HR, 50 RBI) and Steven Proscia (.333 BA, 7 HR, 53 RBI) provide the pop in the Virginia batting order. Virginia is solid 1-8 in the batting order and though Keith Werman may not have huge hitting numbers, he delivers solid at-bats (often drawing 7-9 pitches per at bat), is tough to strikeout and is one of the top bunters in the nation. The Hoos finished third in the conference with a .303 batting average and are second in the nation with a 2.34 ERA.

Prediction

  1. Virginia
  2. St. Johns
  3. ECU
  4. Navy