Coral Gables as a host site comes as a surprise to most, if not all of college baseball. The final host spot came down to a few SEC teams and an ACC team in Miami, and the selection committee opted to have a 3rd regional in the state of Florida, with Miami joining Florida State and Florida as host sites. The Coral Gables regional features two teams from Florida, one from New York, and one from Missouri. Joining the University of Miami (FL), are the Knights of Central Florida from Orlando, the Bears of Missouri State, and the American East Champion Seawolves of Stony Brook. It’s been deemed one of the toughest regionals of all 16 host sites, and action of the double-elimination tournament gets under at 2 PM ET on Friday when the #2 seeded UCF Knights face off vs. #3 seed Missouri state. First seeded Miami will then battle the four seed Stony Brook at 7 PM. The winner of the Coral Gables Regional will match up with the winner of the Baton Rouge (LSU) regional.
Miami (36-21, ACC At-Large)
19th year head coach Jim Morris continues his run of success at the helm of the Hurricanes. A midseason sputter that saw his team lose 9 of 12 games wasn’t enough to keep them out of the ACC Tournament, where a championship game berth likely was the tipping point in getting the Canes to host a regional. Question marks riddled this Miami team throughout the season, after season ending injuries to last seasons Friday night starter Bryan Radziewski, freshman starter Andrew Suarez, coupled with a midseason injury to preseason All American catcher Peter O’Brien. But the Canes rallied back with a late season spurt, taking 7 of their last 9 regular season games, and an ACC Tournament championship game appearance where they lost to Georgia Tech.
Offense: This was the biggest question a month before the season started. Where was this Miami team going to get run production? The team lost three of it’s best hitters to the MLB draft in top 100 picks Zeke DeVoss and Harold Martinez, as well as offensive catalyst Nathan Melendres. But two weeks prior to opening night, Bethune Cookman transfer Peter O’Brien pleaded his case to the NCAA and they granted him a hardship waiver that would allow him to play his senior season at Miami. O’Brien, a 3rd round pick of the Rockies in 2011, would then be named a team co-captain along with starting pitcher Erik Erickson. The Canes’ offense has come and gone throughout the season but they appear to be turning it on at the right time. Peter O’Brien returned from a broken hand and appeared in three of the ACC Tournament games, and while he struggled, the Canes need O’Brien if they want to get back to Omaha for the first time since 2008. Chantz Mack and Brad have really turned things on over the last month, raising their averages to just under .300. O’Brien, even though only playing in 39 of 57 games, leads the Canes in BA (.338), HR (10), SLG (.633), OBP (.444), and RBI (39).
Pitching: The Miami Hurricanes have a three-headed monster of a rotation. While none of them are over matching or completely dominant, the trio of Erik Erickson, Steven Ewing, and Eric Whaley represent one of the most complete starting rotations in the entire country. Erickson is a story unto itself. The 6th year graduate student received a medical waiver to play this season, after enduring multiple Tommy John surgeries over the past 2+ years. Once cleared, he was named a co-captain, and has been a force on the mound. He holds almost a 6:1 K:BB ratio, with a sub 3 ERA, and an 8-5 record. Steven Ewing made his way into Miami’s weekend rotation after the injury to Radziewski and he’s been phenomenal since moving to that role. He is 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA, and is the best strikeout starter that Miami has, he leads the team with 88. Eric Whaley just continues to cruise along relatively unnoticed until being named All ACC Tournament team last week in Greensboro. Whaley leads the Canes’ starters in ERA (2.47) but sits just 4-4, and has gotten little to no run support throughout the year. The bullpen was another major question coming into the season, and it has been sensational to say the least. Although opening day closer EJ Encinosa has had his struggles, still look for Miami to potentially use him in long relief appearances, something he has done well, going 6 perfect innings of relief in a 14 inning win over North Carolina earlier this season. The closer role has really been by committee for the latter half of the season, using a combination of the lefty AJ Salcines and the right Eric Nedeljkovic who have combined for 11 of Miami’s 19 saves. Salcines and Nedeljkovic are 1-2 in ERA for the Canes, and have both been major surprises for a bullpen that was decimated by the 2011 MLB draft.
Central Florida (43-15, C-USA At Large)
Terry Rooney leads the UCF Knights to their 2nd consecutive regional appearance, and hoped to build off last year’s appearance in the Tallahassee regional. Central Florida has spent much of the year in the top 25, and before losing a series at home to Memphis to end April, looked like they could be the 3rd Florida team hosting a regional. Instead, they get to stay in state and play in Miami, a place where they feel accustomed to, having played at Alex Rodriguez park earlier this season. While the Knights ended the season in the top 25 RPI, they were just 2-6 vs. top 25 RPI teams this season, including a split of a home and home series with the hosting Canes. UCF does it at the plate and on the mound, and is definitely one of the top #2 seeds in the country.
Offense: The Knights have five starters hitting above .300, including four 1st or 2nd team Conference USA members. Led by Travis Shreve, UCF can be potent at the plate. Shreve leads the team hitting .353, and has one of the lowest strikeout rates in the country. The power for the Knights comes from Alex Friedrich, DJ Hicks, Chris Taladay, and Ronnie Richardson. They represent one of the tougher lineups in this regional. Friedrich leads the team in XBH with 28 and is hitting .327. Hicks, who was named 1st team Conference USA, leads UCF in HR (11), RBI (68), and SLG (.531). This is a deep offensive ball club in a regional full of offensive superstars. As a team, they hit 35 points better than opponents, while slugging almost 100 points more. This offense could provide a real challenge to a Miami pitching staff who has been dominant as of late.
Pitching: The starting rotation is where UCF could have a bit of trouble. They have multiple quality starters, but similar to Miami, no one with overpowering numbers. Ben Lively leads the Knights with a 9-2 record, and a 3.23 ERA, and averages more than a strikeout an inning. Ray Hanson appears to be peaking at the right time, as he shut down Tulane in UCF’s final game of the C-USA tournament. The highlight of the UCF pitching staff is there bullpen, mainly the combination of Roman Madrid and Joe Rogers. Madrid has the best ERA on the team at 0.64, and leads the team in appearances, holding almost a 3:1 K:BB ratio. Rogers is one of the better closers throughout the country. He is 4-1 with a 1.60 ERA, and a team leading 12 saves. Look for UCF to use their dominant bullpen to their advantage with the potential for a quick hook if one of their starters gets into early trouble.
Missouri State Bears (39-20, Missouri Valley At-Large)
The Bears are making their 1st appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2003. But that was a special year for Missouri State, where they won the Lincoln, Nebraska regional, and then swept Ohio State to go to the College World Series in Omaha. Missouri State is one of the MVC teams selected to the field of 64, the 1st time since 2007 at least three teams were taken from the conference. They finished 13-7 in the MVC, and finished in the top 40 RPI, but went just 13-10 vs. top 100 RPI teams, and didn’t have a single “signature” win. They have an uphill battle if they want to advance out of the Coral Gables Regional, and could be considered the 4th best team in the regional even though they are the #3 seed.
Offense: The Bears’ offense is led by a team BA of .278, 40 points higher than opponents. It’s a trio of Bears that do the majority of the damage for Missouri State. It starts with Kevin Medrano, who leads the team hitting .328. Keenan Maddox, who leads the team with 7 HR’s and is second with a .310 average, follows him. Finally, Luke Volt, who is one of only 3 players to start all 59 games for the Bears leads the team with 46 RBI and is 2nd on the team in SB with 9, trailing only Medrano (11). The Bears’ offense has 20 more HR than opponents, and averages more than .5 HR’s per game. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 130 runs, and might not even half to be that efficient when paired with their dominant pitching staff.
Pitching: Led by Golden Spikes semi-finalist Nick Petree, Missouri State has that ace that many teams awe at. Petree is 10-3 with a miniscule 0.92 ERA in 15 starts, including 2 complete games. He averages more than a K per inning in over 100 IP’s. He’s joined in the rotation by Pierce Johnson, who has also topped the 100 strikeout plateau in only 91.2 IP. He is only 3-6 on the year, but has an ERA of only 2.55. Rounding out their rotation is Cody Schumacher, who has the “worst” ERA of the starters at 3.57, but is 8-1 on the season, and also averages a strikeout per IP. Tyler Burgess was one of the best closers in the MVC, and in 25 appearances, he is 5-1 with a 1.63 ERA, and a team high 11 saves. Missouri State could be a severe threat to the Canes if they are able to get past UCF without using Petree. Even if Petree goes in game 1 vs. UCF, their rotation is deep enough to compete to win the regional
Stony Brook Seawolves (46-11, America East Champions)
Stony Brook is making their 4th regional appearance, and 3rd in the last 5 years, but have never made it past the opening regional. They have won the America East title two of the past three seasons, and come into the Coral Gables Regional with the best winning percentage in all of D1 baseball (.836). The Seawolves’ issue is that they played one of the worst schedules in all of college baseball, and are 0-3 vs. top 100 RPI teams, while being 38-4 vs. teams with an RPI of 201+. They come into the regional having won 11 straight games, and 22 of their past 23 but don’t have a signature win on their schedule. Matt Senk has over 600 career wins, and will look to pull a shocker in the opener between Stony Brook and Miami.
Offense: Jr. OF Travis Jankowski leads The Seawolves. He was named preseason 3rd team All-American, and to the 50 man Golden Spikes watch list. He is tied for 1st in D1 with 9 3B, 10th with 34 SB, and 8th with 66 RS. Maxx Tissenbaum joins Jankowski in the .400 club, as they are both hitting .400 or better coming into regional play. Tissenbaum has the best strikeout rate in the country, striking out once every 50 at bats. He was named American East 1st team, and was a Louisville Slugger 3rd team preseason All American. The final key to the Stony Brook offense is SR catcher Pat Cantwell. He strikes out only once every 23.3 AB’s (6th in D1), and has made the All American East team the past two seasons. The team hits at a .337 clip, almost 100 points better than opponents, and averages more than 3 XBH per game.
Pitching: Stony Brook is led by American East Pitcher of the Year, SR Tyler Johnson. His 1.78 ERA is good for 15th in D1, and his 9 wins are T29th. He averages under two walks per 9 innings, and is the program leader in career victories. Fellow 1st team American East pitcher Brandon McNitt, who is 8-2, with a 2.26 ERA, joins him on the Seawolves staff. Their rotation rounds out with Evan Stecko-Haley, who sits at 7-3, with an ERA just north of 3. The team has a sub 3 ERA as a whole, but don’t have a defined closer. Frankie Vanderka leads the team with 5 saves, but three other members of the staff have recorded 2+ saves. Miami will have their hands full if Stony Brook throws Johnson in game 2 of the Coral Gables Regional.
Summary: Miami certainly didn’t get an easy regional. Stony Brook has the best record in the nation, and both Stony Brook and Missouri State both have stud pitchers. But the depth of Miami’s staff should be enough to escape the regional and potentially matchup with LSU. Stony Brook has a very good offense, but they haven’t seen anyone this season that matches the quality of any of the other teams in the regional. The Canes did luck out however avoiding any power conference teams, where there was a lot of talk of potentially Kentucky or Mississippi State being the 2 seed in Coral Gables. It will be one of the tougher regionals in the country. But Miami will squeak out with the W, but it may take until the finale on Monday
- Stony Brook
- Missouri State