Tempe Regional Preview

The Arizona State Sun Devils aren't the team that entered the postseason last season. A downfall in past tournament runs is now strength, as ASU boasts one of the top pitching staffs in the nation. With ace Mike Leake leading the way and Josh Spence returning in some role, the Devils could look to pitch their way to Omaha.

The offense is no slouch either, but there are young and inexperienced bats that must step up if ASU wants to win a 6th National Championship. Starting the path to Omaha is the Tempe Regional, which is being considered a favorable draw for ASU, with Oral Roberts, Cal Poly and Kent State coming to town this weekend. Here is a look at the teams that will play for a spot in the Super Regional this weekend in Tempe.

#1 Arizona State Sun Devils (5th National Seed)

Record: 44-12, 21-6 Pacific-10 (Champions)

Top Hitters:

Jason Kipnis CF .380 14 HR 65 RBI
Carlos Ramirez C .347 18 HR 67 RBI
Matt Newman RF .313 7 HR 49 RBI

Starting Pitchers:

Mike Leake 14-1 1.24 ERA
Josh Spence 8-1 2.35 ERA
Seth Blair 6-2 3.45 ERA
Jordan Swagerty 3-1 4.38 ERA

Top Reliever:

Mitchell Lambson 8-3 2.97 ERA

About the Sun Devils: The Sun Devils are a different team than they were last season entering the regional, no longer relying heavily on the home run ball to create offense. Mike Leake is arguably the best pitcher in the nation that doesn't get the hype and will be tough for any of the other teams in the regional to beat. The Devils are a team that can rely on pitching to carry them to Omaha, something that might have cost them in the past.

Pat Murphy has options on the mound, especially with Josh Spence returning to action. Before his injury, Spence led the nation in ERA, but his role for the playoffs is yet to be determined.

If Spence can't start, Seth Blair and Jordan Swagerty have proven to be very capable replacements and Mitchell Lambson could be Murphy's best reliever in years.

The offense is no slouch either, with the potent bats of Kipnis and Ramirez leading the team to just under eight runs per game. Drew Maggi has become a dangerous leadoff hitter that always seems to get on base and get around to score and start an ASU rally.

The one factor that may work against ASU is its lack of experience. Leake and Raoul Torrez are the only players that have played in a College World Series and only Kipnis, Blair, Jason Franzblau and Matt Newman have had experience in the postseason.

#2 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Record: 31-13, 16-2 Summit (Champions)

Top Hitters:

Juan Martinez SS .381 14 HR 62 RBI
Seth Furmanek C .333 15 HR 59 RBI
Tyler Garewal CF .348 5 HR 33 RBI 13SB

Starting Pitchers:

Jerry Sullivan RHP 7-3 3.07 ERA
Mark Serrano RHP 9-0 2.42 ERA
Andre Lamontagne RHP 5-2 3.23 ERA

Top Reliever:

TJ Kelly RHP 3-1 3.77 ERA 4 Saves

About the Golden Eagles: ASU has a good pitching staff, but Oral Roberts would argue that it carries one that is just as good. The Golden Eagles are led by the reigning national player of the week, right hander Jerry Sullivan. ORU's pitching staff boasts an ERA of 3.54, good for top five in the NCAA.

That pitching staff along with the bats of shortstop Juan Martinez and Arizona native Seth Furmanek led ORU to dominate the Summit League, taking the regular season and tournament titles. Those 31 wins must have been enough for the committee to give ORU a two seed, because Eagles head coach Rob Walton thought his team would get a four seed. Many analysts have already called Oral Roberts the worst #2 seed by far in the field.

In all, the Eagles have four Arizona natives on their roster. The only two quality wins by the Eagles came in back to back nights in the Rice Classic in early March when ORU took down Washington State and Rice on back to back nights.

Other than that, they have been swept by Cal State Fullerton and dropped close games to Texas and Arkansas. ORU also isn't a great road team, going just 9-10 away from their home park. Their record against Top 50 RPI teams is 3-8 and just 8-11 against the Top 100. It would be interesting to see if they would have gotten in to the field without winning the Summit League automatic bid, which makes them a questionable two seed.

#3 Cal Poly Mustangs

Record: 37-19, 14-10 Big West (3rd Place)

Top Hitters:

Adam Buschini .412 11 HR 57 RBI
Ryan Lee .323 3 HR 29 RBI 25 SBs
Kyle Smith .335 5 HR 40 RBI

Top Pitchers:

DJ Mauldin 5-4 4.78 ERA
Matt Leonard 5-3 7.58 ERA
Jared Eskew 5-2 4.98 ERA
Mason Radeke 6-1 5.02 ERA

Top Reliever: Eric Massingham 7-3 2.43 ERA 5 Saves

About the Mustangs: This will be the first appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a Division I school for Cal Poly, since moving to Division I fifteen years ago. The Mustangs finished third in the Big West Conference, behind #1 seeds UC Irvine and Cal St. Fullerton.

Cal Poly suffered a big blow when freshman star Matt Jensen was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. The freshman was hitting .375 with nine home runs. Adam Buschini filled in for Jensen and took off to a .412 batting average and tied the program's record for batting average in a season.

In a pitching heavy regional, the Mustangs don't have a true ace. DJ Mauldin has the lowest ERA on the staff at 4.78 but will not start against Oral Roberts on Friday that will be given to freshman righty Mason Radeke. Poly head coach Larry Lee calls Radeke his most consistent pitcher with a rubber arm, so you may see him more than once in the regional. His ERA is not a great indicator as to how he has pitched lately, the freshman struggled early, but has pitched very well as of late.

With not a lot of power and a huge hole in the lineup without Jensen, the Mustangs need their pitching staff to step up and perform better than it did in the regular season if it has a chance to win the regional. Cal Poly started the season 30-10 and moved up all the way to #13 in the polls, but fell to a 7-9 finish to the season.

The Mustangs may not have a lot of power, but they hit .324 as a team and average eight runs a game, a good fit for Packard Stadium. Cal Poly may be the team that gives ASU the most fits this weekend.

#4 Kent State Golden Flashes

Record: 42-15, 17-9 Mid-American (3rd Place East Division, Tournament Champions)

Top Hitters:

Greg Rohan .339 14 HR 58 RBI
Jason Patton .312 14 HR 47 RBI
Anthony Gallas .328 10 HR 52 RBI

Top Pitchers:

Brad Stillings 6-3 6.62 ERA
Kyle Hallock 4-2 4.01 ERA
Kyle Smith 4-2 4.80 ERA

Top Reliever: Andrew Chafin 4-1 1.26 ERA 8 Saves

About the Golden Flashes: The Flashes can hit the ball. All nine of their at bats leaders are hitting over .310 on the season and three guys have double digit home runs. Will this talent force Pat Murphy to throw Mike Leake on Friday? Their best win is over Ohio State and Kent State also has a win over tournament team Wright State.

Other than that, their schedule isn't very strong. The pitching staff is a bit of a question too, as Brad Stillings is the team's innings leader with an ERA close to seven. Last year's MAC player of the year Greg Rohan leads the team with a .339 batting average, 14 home runs and 58 driven in. Last season, Rohan connected for 20 home runs, so the six foot senior has pop.

They were ranked #18 by Baseball America to start the season, so the talent certainly is there to upset the Devils. But that talent hasn't had a big win, they have just two against the Top 100 RPI. They do have 18 road wins, but none of great quality.

Overall Regional Outlook:

The Tempe Regional isn't stacked with big name schools like last year, but it may be more interesting than 2008. The teams RPI's won't blow anyone out of the water, but they all have talent. What we have are unknown teams that all could be dangerous or all could be really overmatched.

Oral Roberts can pitch, but against ASU's lineup?

Cal Poly could be a team that could scrap its way to victories and can hit, but this is their first taste of postseason as a D1 school.

Kent State has loads of talent that may not have had the results that they wanted this season, but like ORU are very unproven against talented teams.

With a talented lineup like Kent State's, I don't think Murphy will take a chance and Mike Leake will likely start the opener. That leaves either Josh Spence, Seth Blair or Jordan Swagerty to pitch against Oral Roberts or Cal Poly.

The Devils will likely have to match up with Cal Poly to advance to host a super regional and it is going to be fun to watch the great pitching staff and offense of ASU go head to head with the hungry, but inexperienced in the tournament offense of Poly.

This regional could be great or it could be a flop. Unproven teams can go either way once they hit the big stage on Friday. The Devils have the second easiest road to the Super Regionals, other than Cal St. Fullerton, and should have no trouble moving on if they play to their potential.

Tempe Regional Schedule

Friday

Game 1: #2 Oral Roberts vs. #3 Cal Poly 2 P.M.

Game 2: #1 Arizona St. vs. #4 Kent State 7 P.M.

Saturday

Game 3: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser 2 P.M.

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner 7 P.M.

Sunday

Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser 1 P.M.

Game 6: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner 6 P.M.

Monday:

Game 7: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 6 Loser 6 P.M (If Necessary)


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