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2014 Stillwater (OK) NCAA Regional Preview

One of the toughest regionals will take place at Oklahoma State’s Allie P. Reynolds Stadium as three teams look set to vie for the right to head to Corvallis to face off with No. 1 overall seed Oregon State, should the Beavers advance from their regional.

Big 12 regular season champion Oklahoma State welcomes former conference rival Nebraska as well as the Big West’s premier program in Cal State Fullerton. America East champion Binghamton rounds out the regional with a roster that keeps battling despite a number of injuries.

Fullerton is no stranger to playing in South Central — either South Central LA (when visiting USC) or the South Central United States. While they haven’t played Oklahoma State, the Titans have a familiarity with the region, traveling to Baylor, Wichita State, Texas A&M and Oral Roberts in the past two years. They also played Nebraska and pitching coach Ted Silva ( a former Fullerton pitcher) four times last year, sweeping all four games.

Familiarity with the area may help the Titans’ routine, but it won’t help them once they get between the painted lines. So how does the Stillwater (OK) Regional shape up? Here’s a preview of the starting lineups, rotations, key players and the top players in the Stillwater (OK) Regional:

1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (45-16, 19-5) —
Big 12 At-Large

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Bryan Case
1B — Tanner Krietemeier
2B — Tim Arakawa
SS — Donnie Walton
3B — Craig McConaughy
LF — Gage Green
CF — Saulyer Saxon
RF — Conor Costello
DH — Zach Fish

SP — Jon Perrin
SP — Tyler Buffett
SP — Tyler Nurdin
RP — Vince Wheeland
CL — Brendan McCurry

Despite being the host, the Pokes have some questions entering the NCAA Tournament, particularly surrounding the health of Big 12 Player of the Year, Zach Fish. He left the Big 12 Tournament with an ankle injury last Friday and didn’t play the rest of the weekend.

Fish is expected to return to the lineup on Friday, but will he be at full strength? Oklahoma State needs speedsters Tim Arakawa and Gage Green to get on base and upset the timing of pitchers and give Fish and Tanner Krietemeier (who played his freshman year at Nebraska) someone to drive in.

Jon Perrin has moved from the bullpen to the Friday night role and excelled,holding a 7-4 record and a 1.78 ERA in 91 innings. But it will be freshman Tyler Buffett that gets the ball against Binghamton. The 6’1″ righty has pitched well, especially in the second half, compiling a 3.22 ERA and a 2-1 record, but he did allow six runs in 3.1 innings in his last start in the Big 12 Tournament.

When the Cowboys get the ball to its bullpen with a lead, it has pretty much been lights out. The combo of seniors Vince Wheeland (9-0, 1.49 ERA) and Brendan McCurry (5-0, 0.42 ERA, 18 saves, 2 ER in 43 IP) are about as good as it gets, but Oklahoma State has struggled to find consistent starting pitching outside of Perrin and Buffett.

Key Player: Tyler Nurdin – Last season, Tyler Nurdin was one of the top pitchers in the Big 12, boasting a 1.89 ERA in 14 starts (85.2 IP). He was expected to be one of the frontline starters for the Cowboys, but has struggled with his command, walking 36 batters in 51.2 innings. He’s also been hit around by the opposition to a .318 average and has compiled a 6.10 ERA.

What can Nurdin give the Pokes this weekend? Unless they get knocked out in two games, someone is going to have to start Game 3 and maybe Game 4 and Game 5. How the junior lefty responds when his number is called could determine how successful this weekend is for OSU.

2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (40-19, 18-6) —
Big Ten At Large

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Tanner Lubach
1B — Blake Headley
2B — Pat Kelly
SS — Steven Reveles
3B — Jake Placzek
LF — Michael Pritchard
CF — Ryan Boldt
RF — Austin Darby
DH — Ben Miller

SP — Chance Sinclair
SP — Aaron Bummer
SP — Kyle Kubat
RP — Zach Hirsch
CL — Josh Roeder

Struggling early in the season with up-and-down results, head coach Darin Erstad challenged his team. The Cornhuskers responded. Nebraska is a physical team that finished the season 25-6 in its final 31 games to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008.

Zack Hirsch will be key out of the bullpen for Nebraska.

Erstad has relied on veterans Pat Kelly, Blake Headley and preseason All-American Michael  Pritchard in the middle of the lineup. Kelly leads the numbers game with four homers and 55 RBI while Headley and Ben Miller both have a team-best .319 batting average.

The offense has produced 351 runs (34th in the country), but can the Huskers keep opponents off the board? The pitching staff has a 3.55 ERA on the season, but has cut down on a high walk rate that got Nebraska into trouble early in the season. Chance Sinclair leads the staff with a 9-1 record and a 2.29 ERA in 91.1 innings and Zach Hirsch and Josh Roeder give it a strong righty/lefty combo at the backend of the bullpen.

Nebraska routinely saw Oklahoma State in the Big 12 and faced Cal State Fullerton four times last season, so there will be some familiarity for the Huskers.

Key Player: Ryan Boldt (pictured at top) – Star players emerge quickly. Ryan Boldt is the caliber player that can do that this weekend. The soft-spoken freshman centerfielder plays the game all out, all the time, but does it so smoothly that it never appears he is straining to give full effort. He had a patient approach when I saw him last summer in a high school All-American game — something rare in those type of showcases — and has flashed his athleticism at times with the Cornhuskers. Could this be the national coming-out party for Boldt?

3. Cal State Fullerton Titans (32-22, 14-10) —
Big West At Large

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Jared Deacon
1B — Greg Velazquez
2B — Taylor Bryant
SS — Keegan Dale
3B — Matt Chapman
LF — Austin Diemer
CF — Clay Williamson
RF — J.D. Davis
DH — Tanner Pinkston

SP — Thomas Eshelman
SP — Justin Garza
SP — Grahamm Wiest
RP — Phil Bickford
CL — Kobe Gauna/J.D. Davis

The Titans are the team no one wants to see. They enter the NCAA Tournament red hot having won their last seven games to play their way into the tourney for the 23rd straight time. It all started with the return of Rick Vanderhook to the dugout after being put on paid administrative leave while an investigation into an allegation of verbal abuse took place.

Justin Garza has no-hit stuff as he showed last weekend.

In tandem with Vanderhook’s return has been Cal State Fullerton finally getting production throughout the lineup rather than just from Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis in the heart of the order.

Clay Williamson is hitting .317 during a 27-game streak of reaching base. Keegan Dale recently had a 19-game hit streak. Jared Deacon has raised his average from .181 to .239 in nine games by going 11 for his last 26.

And then there’s J.D. Davis, who is hitting .524 with 11 extra base hits and 11 RBI in the last 10 games, while bash brother Matt Chapman has raised his average 32 points since May 11 and has a streak of six straight multi-hit games.

Throughout the season, Cal State Fullerton’s pitching has remained the constant that has kept them in almost every ballgame. Fullerton leads the nation in ERA (2.03), K/BB ratio (5.20) and walks per nine innings (1.46). But finally the offense that was expected all year has made an appearance to complement the moundwork.

Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza and Grahamm Wiest continued their success from last season and added the No. 10 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Phil Bickford, to the mix. Bickford has seen his role fluctuate this season, beginning as a reliever and then taking over the midweek starter role only to be pushed into the weekend rotation when Garza missed some extended time with soreness.

But now that Garza is back healthy and the Titans have their skipper, the team is rolling and Vanderhook has the option of using Bickford in a variety of ways. Depending on its needs, Fullerton has a long reliever, setup guy or a fourth starter.

Key Player: Keegan Dale – After a lopsided victory over USC last week, Keegan Dale said Fullerton was finally back to playing Titan Baseball. His commandeering of the shortstop position has helped key the resurgence after there were so many struggles early this season. Moved up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, Dale’s ability to move runners in a variety of ways will be essential this weekend when the Titans try to play for one run. If Dale can help set the table for David and Chapman and play solid defense (13 errors on the season), the Titans could pull off the upset.

4. Binghamton Bearcats (39-22, 21-6) —
American East Conference Champion

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Eddie Posavec
1B — Shaun McGraw
2B — Daniel Nevares
SS — John Howell
3B — Reed Gamache
LF — Jake Thomas
CF — Bill Bereszniewicz
RF — Zach Blanden
DH — Brendan Skidmore

SP — Jake Cryts
SP — Greg Ostner
SP — Casey Wenzel
RP — Jextin Pugh
CL — Nicolas Liegl

As if Binghamton’s road wasn’t tough enough already, the Bearcats lost ace Jack Rogalla to an injury in the America East Tournament opener last weekend. Jake Cryts will get the ball in the first game in Rogalla’s stead.

Jake Cryts will get the ball in the opener.

Binghamton seems to have gotten used to playing with a limited roster after 11 of their 30 roster members were unavailable during the final three weeks of the season. (And don’t be named Mike as four pitchers named Mike down with injuries, including CBD Top 100 player Mike Urbanski.) The Bearcats lost Rogalla’s start, but won four straight to win the automatic bid from the America East. That included back-to-back one-run wins over favored Stony Brook.

Offensively, Binghamton is led by Bill Bereszniewicz and his .360 batting average and five triples. Jake Thomas and Daniel Nevares provide the pop, combining to hit 11 homers and 70 RBI.

Key Player: Greg Ostner – One of the America East Tournament wins came on the back of closer Greg Ostner, who pitched a shutout in only his second career start. He’ll likely need to reproduce his outing to keep the Bearcats from taking the two-and-que route.

5 Top Players

1. J.D. Davis (Cal State Fullerton) – Imposing stature, especially for two-way player. Athletic with sneaky speed. Power hitter that’s at his best when using patient approach but attacking RCF gap.

2. Zach Fish (Oklahoma State) – Stocky build. Short stroke. Will chase pitches down and away. Ankle injury shouldn’t affect power potential (11 HR this season).

3. Thomas Eshelman (Cal State Fullerton) – Competitor that attacks hitters and pounds the strike zone. Built arm strength in the offseason, turning himself into pro prospect with low 90s fastball.

4. Matt Chapman (Cal State Fullerton) – Lightning quick bat with strong wrists. Can turn on the ball, but has power to all fields. Great hands defensively and strong arm (99 mph off the mound in the summer).

5. Pat Kelly (Nebraska) – Patient approach. Short swing that usually makes solid contact. Team leader.

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