Tempe Regional Preview

The time has finally come as the Road to Omaha begins with a 64-team field, including the 43-13 Sun Devils. Arizona State's Pac-10 championship season has earned them the right to host one of the 16 regionals this weekend, and a super regional the following weekend to cut the field down to eight College World Series participants.

With the privilege of hosting a regional come the natural high expectations – something ASU has been able to cope with for the most part. Their 30-3 home record enables the Devils to have a sizeable advantage as the face the likes of Monmouth (36-22-1) and College World Series powerhouses Nebraska (30-25) and California-Riverside (37-19.)

In the double elimination round-robin regional format, Monmouth – the fourth seeded team – becomes the first match up for ASU as Nebraska and UC-Riverside square off in the #2 / #3 seed game.

THE OUTLOOK

The first game of the Tempe regional will be the Nebraska and Riverside game as the Big Red of Husker country look to make it back home to Omaha in their eighth regional appearance in the last nine seasons. The Highlanders of UC-Riverside will look to make the most of their second appearance in their short, six-year, Division-I tenure by sending junior right hander James Simmons (10-3 in 16 starts) to the mound in the first game. Nebraska will likely throw Tony Watson (6-4 in 14 starts) against the Highlanders.

ASU will take its nation-leading offense to the field at Packard Stadium in the second game of the Tempe Regional as they host the Hawks of Monmouth. In this match-up the Devils should be able to slug out the Hawks on the way to a cruising victory. However, if the Devils – who likely will hold off Josh Satow and Mike Leake until the weekend games – fall behind early or get in an early funk against Ryan Buch or Brad Brach (both 9-2 on the season,) thinks could naturally get a little dicey.

Overall, Pat Murphy's team has the luxury – thanks to a national #5 seed – of having a simpler first round task than most which enables them to hold back his aces for the more crucial games.

KEY OFFENSIVE CONTRIBUTORS

As with every major college baseball team, the offenses reign supreme for the teams in the Tempe Regional. Also in comparison with most every team in major collegiate baseball, each team has at least one slugger that initiates fear in opposing pitchers – Pac-10 player of the year Brett Wallace, for example. Joining Wallace in the quartet of sluggers in the Tempe Regional are Andrew Brown of Nebraska, Kyle Messineo of Monmouth and Jaime Pedroza of UC-Riverside.

Brett Wallace (soph.) earned the POY title in the Pac-10 on the strength of his .426 batting average along with his 15 home runs and 73 RBI's, all three good enough to lead the team. Wallace normally bats leadoff in an effort to get him as many at-bats as possible – something Murphy saw work wonders in the 2005 CWS run with Jeff Larish.

Andrew Brown (sr.) led the Huskers in home runs (9) as well as placing second on the team in batting average (.316, team leader at .331) and RBI's (41, leader at 43.) Brown does not stop with the home runs however. He paced his squad in doubles totaling 19 – seven more than the next highest – and in total bases with 112 – nearly 30 more than the next highest. If Nebraska is going to get beat, whoever does it will need to keep Brown in check.

Kyle Messineo (sr.) often can be overlooked as the outfielder stands just under 6-feet tall. However, overlooking this Monmouth senior would be a grave mistake as he maintains the senior leadership role as well as resident "gnat" on the base paths. Messineo tied for second on the Hawks team with a .346 batting average, second in home runs with eight, first in runs scored with 68 and stole 41 bases on just 45 attempts – a 91 percent success rate. Keeping Messineo off of the bases will be the call for the Devils in the first round and will be vital to beating the Hawks in later games.

Jaime Pedroza (soph.) more than likely will show up as the second deadliest power hitter in the Tempe Regional behind Wallace. The infielder led the Highlanders in at-bats and home runs (12) as well as RBI's (51) and extra-base hits (30) – all of this while maintaining the second highest batting average on the team (.329.) When facing the potent Highlander offense, which includes seven regulars with averages above .280 and three players with double-digit home runs, keeping Pedroza in the ballpark will turn the key to victory.

PITCHING WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS

This old adage remains true to this day as the pitching staffs look to shut down the opposing offenses while allowing their team to tee off on the opponent. Sounds simple enough, right? However, when starting pitcher Satow or relief ace Jason Jarvis pitches for ASU, or Simmons throws for the Highlanders followed by dominating closer Joe Kelly, doubt begins to creep into the opposition. Throw in Brach and Justin Esposito for Monmouth or Tony Watson and Matt Foust for Nebraska and the Tempe Regional could be up for grabs.

Satow has been a savior for a pitching staff that badly needed on in Tempe. He led the team in innings while tossing three complete games en route to an 11-3 campaign. When Satow left the game in the rest of the starts, Jarvis was there to clean up victories for ASU, saving 10 games for the Devils during their 43-win season.

Simmons earned three Big West pitcher of the week awards during the 2007 season that saw him finish with a team-leading 10 wins, 2.32 ERA, five complete games and 113 strikeouts in 116 innings. Behind him in the bullpen was Kelly who locked down six late inning victories for the Highlanders with a 0.68 ERA, only allowing two earned runs all season long.

Brach, owner of six complete games and four shutouts during the 2007 Monmouth season, racked up a team leading 92 innings pitched while holding a 4.5: 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Esposito worked the majority of the high leverage, back end of the bullpen innings with great success. Esposito worked 21 innings to earn his 10 saves, striking out a batter per inning and winning three games to go along with it all.

The Cornhuskers are not left out when it comes to starting and relief pitching, although they do have a decided disadvantage in the area evidenced by Watson and Foust. Watson racked up 14 starts in 2007, earning him a 3.94 ERA in the process. In his 93 innings pitched Watson allowed nine home runs and opponents hit him at a .261 clip. When Watson was relieved by the mediocre Nebraska pen, Foust was the brightest star. In 25 appearances (six of them being starts,) Foust registered seven saves, which was good enough for the team lead, while earning a 3.69 ERA. Honorable mention for the Husker bullpen goes to Luke Wertz who led the team in ERA while working in middle relief.

PREDICTED WINNER

ASU should realistically have no problem advancing out to the super regional, which they also would host, from this group of four teams. Either Nebraska or UC-Riverside will come out of the first game with a loss while ASU has the luxury of pitching Flores in the first game instead of wasting Satow or Leake. The regional likely will come down to ASU and whichever team wins in the first regional game with the edge going to the maroon and gold.

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