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2011 NCAA Regional Preview: Nashville

By: WhenItStrikesMe.com
The Nashville Regional this year features four all-around, solid teams in National Seed host Vanderbilt, two seed Oklahoma State, three seed Troy and four seed Belmont. We’ll take a quick peek at each team’s strengths and provide some early predictions.

Vanderbilt OKState Troy Belmont
Location Nashville TN Stillwater OK Troy AL Nashville TN
Conference SEC Big12 Sun Belt A-Sun
Record 47-10 33-23 42-17 35-24
Conf Rec 22-8 14-12 21-9 17-13
Road Record 16-5 6-12 10-11 13-11
vs RPI Top 50 22-9 10-13 7-6 8-6
vs RPI Top 100 26-9 17-20 18-12 17-12
Last 10 6-4 3-7 7-3 8-2
WN RPI / SOS 4 / 28 34 / 29 46 / 143 67 / 81
Boyd ISR / SOS 1 / 33 37 / 34 38 / 140 87 / 124
Scoring Offense 6.9 5.8 7.0 6.9
Scoring Defense 2.9 4.4 4.2 5.8
Team Batting .318 .295 .294 .299
Team OPS .854 .804 .829 .843
Team ERA 2.49 3.70 3.73 4.68
Opponent OPS .597 .719 .702 .775
Stolen Bases 74-102 29-41 55-71 82-107
Opp St Bases 37-50 54-75 44-67 53-73
Fielding Pct .974 .975 .975 .962


Vanderbilt

 

The Commodores enter their home regional with robust out of conference (22-1) and home (28-4) records and put up a staggering run scoring margin of 254 to 106 against opponents in the top conference in the nation. They were tri-champions of the Southeastern Conference regular season along with #3 Florida and #4 South Carolina and reached the finals of the conference tournament in Hoover, Alabama. They are ranked second in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and the NCBWA polls and third by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.

The Commodores feature a stout, balanced roster that matches up well against any team in the nation, reflected by their consistent ranking in the top five of the Coaches poll all year long. The squad excels in every facet of the game, ranking ninth in the nation in batting (.318), fifth in ERA (2.49) and second only to Virginia in both best record (.825 winning percentage) and highest scoring margin (+4.0).

The pitching staff is anchored by a veteran, outstanding starting rotation and a talented bullpen. The rotation is anchored by two Golden Spikes nominees in Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin. Gray (10-3, 2.12 ERA, 101.2 IP, 112 K, .195 BAA) was Baseball America’s 2010 Summer Pitcher of the Year and a pre-season All-American. Garvin (12-1, 2.35, 95.2, 82, .225) was the 2010 Cape League Pitcher of the Year and the 2011 SEC Pitcher of the Year. They are backstopped by senior right hander Taylor Hill (4-1, 3.00, 84.0, 75, .250), who is projected to be an early round draft pick in his own right. Should Vanderbilt require a fourth starter, they will likely turn to freshman phenom Kevin Ziomek (3-0, 1.65, 43.2, 46, .210), who earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors as a spot starter and reliever.

Out of the pen, the Commodores rely heavily on four arms in particular. Will Clinard (1-2, 2 saves, 3.58 ERA, 27.2 IP, 33 K, .287 BAA) and Corey Williams (1-0, 2, 5.64, 30.1, 28, .237) provide a solid righty-lefty combo for the middle and late innings, though both have struggled a bit down the stretch. Meanwhile, set up man Mark Lamm (5-0, 1, 2.10, 25.2, 19, .250) and closer Navery Moore (4-2, 11, 1.21, 29.2, 25, .170) have both dominated SEC opponents all year. Jack Armstrong (0-1, 0, 2.81, 16, 15, .100) and Sam Selman (0-0, 0, 1.42, 6.1, 6, .208) could also see time on the mound.

The starting lineup for the Commodores is pretty set with SEC Freshman of the Year Tony Kemp (.335, 0 HR, 27 RBI, .852 OPS) leading things off in left field. He is followed by shortstop Anthony Gomez (.341, 0, 39, .757) and All-SEC first baseman Aaron Westlake (.356, 13, 44, 1.093). In the cleanup hole is catcher Curt Casali (.319, 5, 45, .888) and Mike Yastrzemski (.295, 2, 37, .799) mans right field. They are followed in the order by All-SEC third baseman Jason Esposito (.352, 7, 51, .952) and All-SEC designated hitter Conrad Gregor (.336, 3, 27, .897). The bottom of the order is rounded out by center fielder Connor Harrell (.289, 7, 28, .845) and second baseman Riley Reynolds (.329, 0, 17, .756). Top reserves most likely to see playing time include infielder Sam Lind (.239, 1, 14, .706), outfielder Joe Loftus (.227, 0, 7, .643) and infielder Brian Johns (.214, 1, 5, .728).

All told, the lineup presents great balance from top to bottom with decent speed throughout. Vanderbilt features five consistent base stealers in Yastrzemski (21-23), Kemp (15-19), Esposito (14-24), Harrell (7-7) and Gomez (7-9). They also play great defense with a team percentage of .974. Top defenders include Gray and Esposito, who are likely to receive national gold glove honors this year. Gray was the 2010 winner of the gold glove as a pitcher.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys head to Nashville on a bit of a down streak, having lost 14 of their last 21 games, including a 1-2 performance in the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City. They featured a strong start to the year which had them peaking with a 17 ranking in the Coaches Poll in week 10. They finished the season fourth in their conference after a solid 18-9 record against non-conference opponents.

Much like Vanderbilt, their roster is extremely balanced, with solid all-around play throughout. Their scoring margin of 338-248 reflects early season dominance, but the recent stretch of poor play has been emblematic of a team that may have hit a wall mid season. It starts with the pitching.

The Cowboys feature four pitchers who have seen weekend action as starters. Each has struggled down the stretch, despite generally solid numbers. Mike Strong (5-1, 3.61 ERA, 72.1 IP, 70 K, .241 BAA) is a hard throwing righty and is expected to get the ball on Friday night, followed by Brad Propst (7-5, 3.66, 96, 58, .252), who is more of a finesse pitcher. Sunday will likely feature Randy McCurry (2-4, 2.91, 43.1, 36, .253), a lefty who worked for most of the year out of the pen, with Andrew Heany (7-4, 3.88, 65, 51, .292) as the probable fourth starter. In the last eight games, none of these arms has made it past the fifth inning.

Out of the pen, Oklahoma State has no true closer, but they do have some good arms in Gabe Weidenaar (0-0, 3 saves, 0.43 ERA, 21.0 IP, 18 K, .194 BAA), Jason Hursh (1-1, 0, 2.73, 29.2, 10, .310), Blake Barnes (3-1, 0, 3.48, 44.0, 29, .244), Hunter Herrera (3-1, 0, 3.76, 38.1, 16, .344) and flamethrower Chris Marlow (3-3, 4, 4.43, 40.2, 70, .175). Andrew Heck (3-1, 4.74, 38.0, 25, .273) was a spot starter most of the year, but would be another arm on the staff if needed. All of the above are righties, providing a lack of match up depth for Coach Frank Anderson.

The lineup is stout, though, with left fielder Devin Shines (.276, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .789 OPS) leading things off. He’s followed by utility guy Weidenaar (.288, 2, 22, .731) who plays center and provides late relief out of the pen. First baseman Zach Johnson (.359, 13, 62, 1.068) is as good a bat as in the regional and is followed by second baseman Davis Duren (.293, 3, 25, .737). Next in the lineup are right fielder Luis Uribe (.309, 3, 28, .848) and designated hitter Dane Phillips (.342, 4, 32, .917). Rounding out the lineup are third baseman Mark Ginther (.297, 10, 32, .868), catcher Jared Womack (.286, 8, 45, .812) and shortstop Hunter Baily (.267, 1, 17, .688). Other than with Baily in the nine hole, you’ve got pretty consistently solid power and average. Key reserves include outfielder Nico Rosthenhausler (.254, 0, 7, .564) and pitcher/utility man Randy McCurry (.179, 0, 5, .358).

Top defenders include Baily at short, leading a stellar team fielding average of .975. In fact, Oklahoma State has yielded just 34 unearned runs all year, a fine number. Behind the plate, opponents have run easy on Womack, who has thrown out under twenty percent of base stealers.

Troy

The Trojans enter the regional on an uptick, having won the Sun Belt conference with a 21-9 league record. They are victors of 7 of their last ten, including wins over Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky in the conference tournament. They peaked mid-season with an appearance in the week nine coaches poll. From a numerical standpoint, it’s clear why with the regional’s most prolific scoring offense and one of the regional’s truly elite pitchers.

That pitcher is the Alpha and Omega of the Troy staff. Scouts love Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Tanner Ray (11-0, 2.39, 109 IP, 64 K, .237 BAA) and his numbers, if not the strikeout column, speak volumes to his talent. The righty will certainly test Oklahoma State on Friday afternoon. Thereafter, things come back down to earth a bit with a pair of southpaws in power arm Jimmy Hodgskin (3-6, 4.56, 73, 58, .259) and Ryan Sorce (5-4, 5.23, 62, 47, .323). If the Trojans get to a fourth game, they will likely throw lefty Shane McCain (2-2, 52.1, 53, .256).

The bullpen is among the shortest in the regional with only four real key arms, starting with closer Nathan Hill (5-2, 2.42 ERA, 3 saves, 48.1 IP, 61 K, .235 BAA). The next man out of the pen is Tyson Workman (5-3, 4, 2.59, 41.2, 44, .212) but, as Chris Lee noted in his preview of Troy for VandySports.com, Workman threw a whopping 149 pitches in seven relief innings in the regular season finale. Also the Trojans regular right fielder, Workman did close out the Sun Belt tournament finale with a scoreless inning, but one has to wonder about his arm health. Other key arms include Nick Ward (2-0, 0, 3.79, 19, 16, .243), Garrett McHenry (1-0, 2, 23.1, 28, .175) and Shane McCain (2-2, 1, 4.30, 52.1, 53, .256).

The lineup is balanced for Coach Bobby Pierce and starts with utility man Workman (.285, 1 HR, 12 RBI, .733). He’s followed by outstanding third baseman Tyler Hannah (.369, 7, 49, 1.075) and shortstop Adam Bryan (.339, 11, 66, .983), comprising as good a 1-2 power punch as is in the regional. Batting cleanup is second baseman TJ Rivera (.298, 1, 34, .749). Left fielder Boone Shear (.273, 2, 18, .782) and catcher Todd McRae follow (.316, 1, 34, .839), while first baseman Logan Pierce (.238, 4, 43, .732), designated hitter Blake Martz (.235, 7, 40, .770) and center fielder Ali Knowles (.281, 1, 13, .759) round out the regular lineup. Key reserves include Hayden Hillyer (.295, 0, 10, .706), Josh McDorman (.280, 1, 7, 41, .803) and Dan Peterson (.248, 2, 16, .688).

Top defenders include the Alan Trammell – Lou Whitaker like combination of Bryant and Rivera, up the middle. The Trojans have a stellar .975 fielding percentage as a team, continuing the Nashville Regional’s seeming uniformity of solid squads with the glove. McRae has thrown out a respectable 23.5 percent of base stealers on the year.

Belmont

The Bruins are one of the stronger four seeds in the NCAA tournament and they are riding a high streak at the moment, entering as the Atlantic Sun tournament champions after a somewhat lackluster 36-24 regular season. The squad is the power bunch in the field, matching up well with the Vanderbilt and Troy offenses at nearly seven runs per game; however, unlike the rest of the field, the Bruins pitching staff is pretty much a one-trick pony, with a rough team ERA of 4.68.

The leader of the staff is a true ace in Matt Hamann (9-1, 2.22 ERA, 81.0 IP, 49 K, .212). He is no newcomer to Hawkins Field, having pitched against Vanderbilt in each of the last three years. Early this year, he threw a scoreless inning (yielding a walk and striking out a batter), while he was hammered in 2010 (3 IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 6 ER) and had a solid performance in 2009 (3 IP, 3 H, BB, ER, 2 K). He will be matched against Vandy ace Gray in the Friday night game, a must win for the Bruins. It is a must win because there’s not a whole lot after Hamann. Southpaw Chase Brookshire (5-4, 3.52, 94.2, 66, .279) is a solid, if unspectacular number two starter and utility guy Nate Woods (6-5, 6.44, 57.1, 34, .298) is perhaps the regions weakest starter. James Buckelew (2-4, 5.46, 62.2, 36, .316) would be the likely fourth man for Coach Dave Jarvis, if needed.

The bullpen is not any prettier than the rotation past Hamann. Keeping in mind that Belmont plays in a hitters’ park, the relief corps really lacks any solid numbers. Sometimes starter Garrett Fanchier (4-3, 0 saves, 3.95 ERA, 66.0 IP, 39 K, .283 BAA) is the first man out of the pen, while Jon Ivie (3-3, 13, 4.37, 35, 25, .274) closes. The key middle men are Blake Harvey (0-1, 0, 4.44, 26.1, 18, .303) and Josh Davis (5-1, 1, 6.26, 54.2, 34, .288). Belmont doesn’t generally go deeper than that.

The lineup is where Coach Jarvis earns his keep and it is easily the most prolific home run hitting corps of the regional with three batters in double figures. It starts with one of the regional’s best all around players in left fielder Derek Hamblen (.322, 11 HR, 36 RBI, .947 OPS). Following him are center fielder Dylan Craig (.324, 1, 35, .796) and first baseman and pitcher Woods (.347, 12, 61, 1.035). Catcher Matt Zeblo (.298, 5, 41, .887) bats cleanup and is followed by right fielder Tim Egerton (.287, 12, 53, .910) and second baseman Greg Brody (.312, 7, 38, .876). Rounding out the lineup are designated hitter Judah Akers (.289, 7, 30, .813), shortstop Jared Breen (.291, 3, 30, .762) and third baseman Zac Mitchell (.281, 2, 39, .718). Key reserves include Vinny Casha (.206, 1, 7, .577) and Drew Turner (.217, 0, 5, .693).

The Bruins defense is the weakest in the regional, with a .962 fielding percentage that is accentuated by the pitching staff’s inability to strike out batters (just 329 K in 519.1 IP). The only real highlight in the field is center fielder Craig, who has played error-free ball all year. Catcher Zeblo has thrown out approximately one of ever four base stealers.

Regional Roundup

Based on BoydsWorld’s ISR Based Probabilities, Vanderbilt has a 89.4 percent probability of advancing through the regional, with Oklahoma State carrying an 8.5 percent change of advancing. Troy has a 2.0 percent chance of advancing while Belmont is predicted to have no chance of advancing. Only Virginia (95.7 percent) and North Carolina (91.8 percent) are considered more likely to advance. This holds true with my predictions for the weekend. The only real roadblock for the Commodores seems to be Belmont starter Matt Hamann and his robust 9-1 record and 2.28 ERA. Hamann is not a strikeout pitcher, making him one of the rare guys who can give the Commodores fits at times. Should the Commodores win on Friday, they ought to be able to hold out against the remainder of the opposition’s pitching staff.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State will face a stiff test themselves with Troy’s Tyler Ray. Oklahoma State’s lack of a true ace may work in the regular season, but lacking a true star pitcher can come back to haunt even a top team in the short form tournaments.

Top Match Ups

The Friday night match ups will be the ones to watch, as only Vanderbilt really goes more than one ace deep in their staff. Gray vs. Hamann promises to be an interesting battle of Nashville based aces, but it’s the under card match up of Ray against the Oklahoma State bats that proves to be most intriguing and offers the only really probable “upset” of the regional. On paper, Troy seems to be a strong Friday favorite.

Predictions

Friday: Troy over Oklahoma State; Vanderbilt over Belmont
Saturday: Oklahoma State over Belmont; Vanderbilt over Troy
Sunday: Oklahoma State over Troy; Vanderbilt over Oklahoma

WhenItStrikesMe can be followed at his website by clicking here.