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2011 NCAA Tournament Preview: Fort Worth

1. TCU (42-17)
2. Oklahoma (41-17)
3. Dallas Baptist (39-17)
4. Oral Roberts (36-20)

TCU (42-17. 20-3) Mountain West Conference Regular Season Champions

Top Pitcher: Kyle Winkler, Jr., SP (8-2, 1.40 ERA, 98 K)
Top Hitter: Jason Coats, Jr., OF (.332, 8 HR, 56 RBI)

After making a surprise run to Omaha last season, with a stop off in Austin, the Horned Frogs came into the season with huge expectations. Those expectations were mostly set on the shoulder of Matt Purke, which proved to be a bit shaky as the season wore on. Purke’s shoulder hasn’t been 100% for the entire season, which has put some question marks on TCU’s chances to make a return trip north. Kyle Winkler and Steven Maxwell are still highly capable on the mound, but the loss of Purke, coupled with closer Kaleb Merck’s absence, has put a lot of pressure on the offense. Jason Coats is TCU’s top run producer, leading in both runs scored and RBI. SS Taylor Featherston has a dangerous bat that can cause trouble for any pitching staff, but his defense can also put TCU pitchers in tough situations. Overall, there is a lot of experienced players for Coach Jim Schlossnagle.

Oklahoma (41-17, 14-11) Big 12 Conference At-large

Top Pitcher: Michael Rocha, Sr., SP (10-3, 1.79 ERA, 79 K)
Top Hitter: Garrett Beuchele, Jr., 3B (.322, 8 HR, 62 RBI)

The Sooners spent some time at the top of the polls early on in the season, but saw a drop off in wins as their competition level increased after 16 games. Michael Rocha, a senior from Texas, was a Friday night workhorse, throwing five complete games in 15 starts. Behind him, junior Burch Smith stepped up as the second starter with senior Bobby Shore battling injuries. Freshmen Jordan John and Dillon Overton are not only the top relievers, but also serve as highly capable spot starters for head coach Sunny Golloway. On offense, 3B Garrett Buechele started off hot, but hit a slump towards the end of the year and saw his batting average plummet down to .322. C Tyler Ogle and 1B Cameron Seitzer are dangerous hitters that can produce runs at any time. As a team, Oklahoma hit over .315, and has only seven hitters on their roster with averages under .300. Looking to get back to Omaha, the Sooners have a chance to get out of Fort Worth with a Super Regional bid under their arms.

Dallas Baptist (39-17) D1 Independent At-large

Top Pitcher: Jared Stafford, Sr., SP (7-4, 3.11 ERA, 58 K)
Top Hitter: Jason Krizan, Sr., OF (.431, 37 2B, 10 HR, 76 RBI)

Jason Krizan set the NCAA-record for single-season doubles on his way to being named First Team All-American. The senior from Pflugerville, Texas is one of the top hitters in the nation with a quick bat and a great eye, but isn’t the only hitter on the team. The Patriots hit 60 home runs, and 129 doubles on their way to finishing with a .316 team average. Landon Anderson and Tyler Robbins are just as dangerous as Krizan when at the plate. On the mound, Jared Stafford and Brandon Williamson are capable starters who can take advantage of the bats to keep Dallas Baptist in the lead. Behind them, Chris Haney is a hard-throwing closer, and allowed only two extra base hits in 31.1 innings of work. The Patriots are one of the better 3-seeds in the tournament, and should not be taken lightly, boasting a pair of wins over TCU, and another one over Oklahoma already this season.

Oral Roberts (36-20, 21-7) The Summit League Regular Season/Tournament Champions

Top Pitcher: Alex Gonzalez, Fr., SP (8-5, 2.61 ERA, 99 K)
Top Hitter: Nick Baligod, Sr., OF (.358, 7 HR, 39 RBI)

The Golden Eagles have won 14 straight Summit League Tournament Championships, six of those under Oklahoma head coach Sunny Golloway. Oral Roberts enters the tournament with a 2-6 record against fellow tournament members, with wins over Baylor and Arizona State. Senior Nick Baligod can hit for average or power, and has enough speed to move himself up with a stolen base. Junior Cam Schiller and senior Chris Elder both collected over 50 RBI, and hit .345 and .330, respectively. On the mound, freshman Alex Gonzalez led the Golden Eagles with an 8-5 record and five complete games. He spurned an 11th round selection by Baltimore to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sophomore Drew Bowen posted a 5-2 record with 1.96 ERA, holding opponents to a .200 average. Junior Matt Rush serves as the primary closer, picking up nine saves over 25 appearances.

PREDICTION: This is one of the more competitive regionals, with a pair of 2010 College World Series participants facing off. TCU has an advantage, having played all the other teams so far, but lost a pair of games to Dallas Baptist and Oklahoma, while picking up a win against Oral Roberts in Fort Worth. The Sooners kicked off the year strong, but struggled down the stretch, and were 1-2 in the Big 12 Tournament, losing a pair to Kansas State. Dallas Baptist is a complete wildcard in this, and has a chance to steal the regional. With their ability to throw out five different starters, and their overall ability to hit as a team, I have to pick Oklahoma as the favorite out of this regional.