The field is set. Eight teams -- three from the SEC, two from the Pac 12, and one each from the ACC, American East Conference, and the Ohio Athletic Conference -- have descended upon Omaha, Nebraska for their shot at taking home a national championship. Together they average a #26 RPI and a combined record of 372 - 132 (.738). Follow the jump for a briefing on each team in the 2012 College World Series field.
UCLA Bruins #1 RPI (47-14, 20-10 Pac-12) - The Bruins began the season with a 2-1 loss to Maryland, but shortly thereafter reeled off a 12-game winning streak en route to a share of the Pac 12 regular season championship. As a team, the Bruins are batting .309 which is good enough for 13th in the NCAA. Junior Jeff Gelalich leads the pack with a .365 average, 11 home runs, a .558 slugging percentage, and 15 stolen bases. Catcher Tyler Heineman (.343 Avg.) isn't far behind with a .343 Avg. The Bruins own a combined .241 batting average against, owing much to Adam Plutko's 112.2 innings pitched. Plutko own's 11 of UCLA's 47 wins this season and 92 strike outs all to himself (7.4 K/9). Junior Scott Griggs has 15 saves so far this season. Grigg's K/9 ratio is an impressive 15.9. He's going to shorten games for the Bruins and make UCLA a tough out in this tournament.
Arizona Wildcats #14 RPI (43-17, 20-10 Pac-12) - The team that shared the regular season title with the Bruins also happens share a bracket with them. Arizona is making its 16th appearance in the College World Series. Arizona is hitting .333 as a team (#4 in the NCAA), led by Johnny Field. Field is hitting an unreal .383 over 235 at-bats. He, Seth Mejias-Brean (.366), Alex Mejia (.361), and Robert Refsnyder (.354) have started all 60 games for the WIldcats this year, so this is a seasoned team that will be hard to flap. (Side note: Can you use "flap" like that? I dunno. I know unflappable is a word that people use... I'm just going with it.) Clearly Arizona is a team that makes its living at the plate. Their pitching staff shares a combined BAA of .263 and a 3.93 ERA. Kurt Heyer (12-2, 2.28 ERA) is the ace of the staff, while Matthew Troupe (4-1, 3.90) leads the team in saves (6). The Wildcats have only compiled 10 saves this season, but I'm guessing that owes more to the fact that they're dropping a billion runs on teams every other game.
Florida State Seminoles #3 RPI (48-15, 24-6 ACC) - The Seminoles have made 21 appearances in the College World Series but have never taken home the title. This year, the Seminoles appear poised for victory on the grandest stage in college baseball after dropping 35 runs in two games on Super Regional opponent Stanford. Oh, did I say Arizona's Johnny Field's batting average is unreal? I meant that FSU's Jayce Boyd's average is unreal -- .389! Florida State doesn't have quite the depth that 'Zona has, though. The Seminoles are a full 50 points behind the Wildcats in batting average and only have one other player hitting above .350 -- CF James Ramsey at .382. The stats don't matter here, though, because FSU is playing like a team possessed. Sorry, I meant a team PISSED. The Arizona and FSU game on Friday night should be one for the ages. I'm guessing it will be a 4 hour affair featuring at least one outfielder being sacrificed as an inning eater on the mound. The Seminole hurlers combine for a .250 BAA and a 3.52 ERA -- good but not great numbers. If the Seninoles want to make it to the championship series they'll need to channel the "gorilla ball" of seasons past... and last weekend.
Stony Brook Seawolves #86 RPI (52-13, 21-3 American East) - No team deserves the moniker "Cinderella" more than the Seawolves. Last year they went 42-12 and missed out on a post season berth. This season Stony Brook is ranked 2nd in the NCAA in batting average (.335), has compiled 52 wins, and has most definitely earned their spot among the best teams in the nation. Junior Travis Jankowski leads the team in average (.422) and OB% (.485). Senior Tyler Johnson leads the team in wins (12), but with a .244 BAA and a 1.94 ERA he's not quite unbeatable. I may be pulling for the Seawolves to come out of Bracket #1, but I'm not so sure it's going to happen. Their best regular season series victory is probably a 3-1 margin over Yale at home. Their 13 losses on the season include a sweep at the hands of East Carolina and a loss a piece to Kansas and Minnesota -- the only major conference teams on their schedule. Stony Brook appears to be adjusting to the competition in the post season quite well, though. Their two post season losses are a 9-8 decision to UCF in the Regional and a 5-4 decision to LSU in the Super Regional. If the Seawolves are going to continue on, their pitchers will have to grind out some clutch performances against a few of the best offenses in college baseball.
Florida Gators #2 RPI (47-18, 18-12 SEC) - Ladies and gentlemen: I present the favorite to win Bracket #2. Florida is widely regarded as the most talented team in the country. Coach Kevin O'Sullivan has done a spectacular job of convincing prospects to forsake the pros for three years in college and a chance at a national title. Of course the knock on O'Sullivan is that he is sometimes overly conscious of saving his players' arms for the Pros. That's not a vice that the Gamecocks' Ray Tanner shares. Tanner has -- and will continue to -- ride Michael Roth's rubber arm for as far as it will take him. The Gators are only hitting .284 (I say "only" compared to the offensive Goliaths listed above) as a team, but it's really the pitching that makes this team so formidable. The Gators rank 27th in hits allowed per nine innings (8.12) and 8th in ERA (2.90). O'Sullivan gave Brian Johnson (8-4, 3.56 ERA) the opening start versus the Gamecocks on Saturday night. That means the Gators will have ace Hudson Randall (9-2, 2.61 ERA) available for either an elimination game or a chance to eliminate on Monday. If Bracket 1 is all about the offense, Bracket 2 is all about the pitching.
Arkansas Razorbacks #19 RPI (44-20, 16-14 SEC) - The Razorbacks bolster the theory that Bracket 2 is a pitcher's bracket. As a team they're batting just .273 but own a combined ERA of 2.90 and a BBA of .231. Arkansas has starting pitching in spades. Brandon Moore (5-2, 2.71), Ryne Stanek (7-4, 2.91 ERA), and DJ Baxendale (7-5, 3.18 ERA) could probably start for any team in the SEC. Matt Reynolds leads the Hogs at the plate with a .338 Avg., .523 SLG%, and a .443 OB%. I don't see the Razorbacks advancing to the championship series, though. Their best series win of the season was without a doubt a 2-1 margin over Florida in Gainesville, which loses its luster when weighed against being swept by LSU and series losses verses Auburn and Ole miss.
Kent State Flashes #74 RPI (46-18, 24-3 Ohio Athletic) - If Stoney Brook wears the glass slipper in Bracket 1, then there is no doubt that the Kent State Flashes wear it in Bracket 2. The Flashes appear to be that rare team that strikes a balance between offense and pitching. They claim a .302 Avg., .246 BAA, and 3.49 ERA. George Roberts leads the team at the plate (.368 Avg., .561 SLG%, .396 OB%) followed closely by Jimmy Rider (.364 Avg., .527 SLG%, .432 OB%). David Starn (11-3, 2.21 ERA) is the Flashes' ace while the coaches appear to take a "by committee" approach when it comes to relief. Like Stoney Brook their regular season schedule is a bit soft, but they did manage to oust both Kentucky and Oregon from the NCAA Tournament. The Flashes will look to continue their run against Arkansas on Saturday.
South Carolina Gamecocks #11 RPI (45-17, 18-11 SEC) - The reigning two-time National Champions take a hefty 21 game post-season winning streak to Omaha with them. That streak will be put to test immediately when the 'Cocks face Florida's Brian Johnson Saturday night. Johnson took the regular season match-up from USC by a score of 7-2. But where there's Michael Roth there's hope. Carolina will look to it's veterans for leadership in the CWS and it's newcomers for a spark -- just as it has the last two years. Juniors Christian Walker (.315 Avg., .534 SLG%, .440 OB%) and Evan Marzilli (.288 Avg., .360 SLG%, .350 OB%) continue to head the Gamecocks' offensive output, while freshman Tanner English has seen his production take off as of late. The fielding has shored up for this team since the error-prone games of February, and now coaches will begin the task of crafting a championship starting rotation with only one fixture: Michael Roth (7-1, 2.50 ERA). Helping Roth will be a host of guys with plenty of CWS experience like closer Matt Price and starter Colby Holmes. I expect to see coach Ray Tanner lean heavily on relievers Tyler Webb (6-1, 1.91 ERA) and Evan Beal (4-4, 4.02 ERA). As we've seen in the past, once Tanner finds something that works he has a tendency to ride it till it break or the season ends. Don't expect to see more than 5 or 6 different pitchers from the Gamecocks for the duration of the CWS.
Well, the College World Series is finally here, folks, which means it's about time for me to check my head out of the stats for a while and enjoy the ride. I'll see you on the other side and, as always...