2010 Tempe Regional Preview

Four conference champions will square off in Tempe this coming weekend with the goal to continue their seasons and advance to the Super Regional. ASU is the top seed in the entire NCAA Tournament and its road to another trip to Omaha starts with the Tempe Regional. Here is a look at the teams that stand in the Sun Devils' way.

#1 Arizona State Sun Devils (Top National Seed)

Record: 47-8, 20-7 Pacific-10 (Champions)

Top Hitters:

Riccio Torrez 1B .391 9 HR 50 RBI

Zack MacPhee 2B .381 8 HR 59 RBI

Kole Calhoun RF .323 13 HR 52 RBI

Starting Pitchers:

Seth Blair 11-0 3.20 ERA

Merrill Kelly 9-2 3.75 ERA

Jake Borup 10-1 3.93 ERA

Top Relievers:

Jordan Swagerty 1-0 2.12 ERA 14 saves

Mitchell Lambson 7-2 2.37 ERA

Brady Rodgers 4-3 1.96 ERA

About the Sun Devils: There is always pressure on ASU when it comes to postseason expectations, but for the first time in school history, the Sun Devils have an added bulls eye on their backs.

ASU is the top national seed in the tournament for the first time since the NCAA started naming national seeds in 1999. While being the top seed is a great accomplishment, it hasn't bred many results. Only one top national seed has won the national championship, which was Miami in 1999.

The odds are stacked against them, but why should this ballclub stop defying odds now? They have done it all season long. It seems like such a long time ago that long-time head coach Pat Murphy resigned and players were left in limbo for weeks without a coach.

The players came together during those times and they have rallied around head coach Tim Esmay, who officially shed his interim label on Tuesday accepting the full-time position at his alma mater.

The pitching staff was faced with more to overcome when All-American Josh Spence was sidelined by an injury that didn't let him throw one single pitch all season. Junior Seth Blair stepped up in his stead and established himself as a true ace, finishing a perfect 11-0.

The rotation is rounded out by Merrill Kelly and Jake Borup, who have had solid first seasons contributing. Neither is experienced in postseason play, however.

ASU's bullpen is a strong point and could be the difference this season. Brady Rodgers and Mitchell Lambson can eat up innings, while Jake Barrett and Jordan Swagerty are as good as it gets at the back end.

ASU is stacked again on the offensive end, leading the Pac-10 in almost all of the major offensive categories. While they don't hit massive amounts of home runs like they used to, the Sun Devils will manufacture runs by stealing bases and hitting doubles and triples. There really is no weak spot in the lineup; it will actually be interesting to see who Esmay decides to play during the regional because he has so many options.

#2 San Diego Toreros

Record: 36-20, 19-2 West Coast Conference (Champions)

Top Hitters:

James Meador (injured) OF .391 7 HR 62 RBI

Chris Engell 3B .421 1 HR 33 RBI

Mike Ferraro OF .341 2 HR 25 RBI

Starting Pitchers:

Kyle Blair RHP 8-4 2.99 ERA

Sammy Solis LHP 9-2 3.00 ERA

AJ Griffin RHP 7-3 4.71 ERA

Top Relievers:

Matt Thomson RHP 1-2 2.63 ERA 7 saves

Matt Hauser RHP 4-2 3.51 ERA 8 saves

Chris Jensen RHP 2-0 3.15 ERA

About the Toreros:

Starting pitching is the name of the game for USD, as the Toreros boast two frontline starters in Kyle Blair and Sammy Solis. Revenge will also be on their minds, as USD has lost to ASU and Hawaii already this season.

Those games were during the mid-week and the NCAA Tournament will be a whole different ballgame. After dropping two games at Packard Stadium in April, USD won 17 of 19 and closed out its season with a 22-6 record.

Blair and Solis will give USD a very good chance of surprising some people in Tempe.

Blair is a big right hander that features a fastball in the low 90s and an above average curveball and changeup. His command is good and if he gets things rolling, he can shut down any team in the country.

Solis is an Arizona native that also has three good pitches. The lefty sits in the lower 90s and has a different arm angle that can be deceptive to hitters. The dark horse on the mound for USD is AJ Griffin. He is a former All-American reliever who has been up and down as a starter.

The USD starters are good and the bullpen is solid, so it will be up to the offense to win them games in the tournament. The Toreros won't hit a lot of home runs, but they still put up over six runs per game.

James Meador is the best offensive player in the WCC but suffered an injury during Tuesday's practice and has reportedly been ruled out for the regional.

USD is ready to finally make some noise in the tournament and has the talent to do so. Coach Rich Hill's group shouldn't be taken lightly, they have the tools and the confidence to shock ASU.

#3 Hawaii Rainbows

Record: 33-26, 12-12 Western Athletic Conference (4th Place, Tournament Champions)

Top Hitters:

Kolten Wong 2B .365 7 HR 40 RBI

Greg Garcia SS .351 3 HR 35 RBI

Jeffery Van Doornum DH .342 12 HR 35 RBI

Top Pitchers:

Josh Slaats RHP 5-3 3.22 ERA

Sam Spangler LHP 5-6 4.42 ERA

Matt Sisto RHP 5-5 5.57 ERA

Top Relievers:

Lenny Linsky RHP 3-0 1.59 ERA 12 saves

Jesse Moore RHP 1-1 4.42 ERA 4 saves

Zach Gallagher RHP 3-4 4.98 ERA 1 save

About the Rainbows: Hawaii is making Arizona its second home. The Rainbows just finished off a surprising run to the WAC tournament title in Mesa this past week and will just stay in the Valley to start postseason play.

The Rainbows got hot at just the right time, because without their run to through the WAC tournament, Hawaii wouldn't be in the NCAA Tournament.

They don't hit for a high average, nor do they have a good team ERA. They don't steal bases and they don't hit a lot of home runs. So how are they in the tournament?

The answer to that is simple. Baseball is a funny game, stats can often be tossed right out the window, what matters is how you are playing in the moment and at this moment the Rainbows are hot.

To make some noise in the regional, they will have to rely on the arm of Josh Slaats. Winning Friday's opener against USD will be critical for Hawaii, because they don't have the pitching to climb out of the loser's bracket.

The top and middle of Hawaii's offense can do some damage, but the lower part of the lineup struggles.

The task facing Hawaii is great. ASU and USD are stronger and deeper on the mound and at the plate. The Rainbows will have to play their best baseball of the season to come out of the regional.

#4 UW-Milwaukee Panthers

Record: 33-24, 17-8 Horizon League (2nd Place, Tournament Champions)

Top Hitters:

Ben Long 1B .351 8 HR 55 RBI

Dan Buchholz 3B .333 9 HR 47 RBI

Cole Kraft SS .353 5 HR 35 RBI

Top Pitchers:

Chad Pierce RHP 7-4 3.70 ERA

Jayme Sukowaty RHP 4-1 3.91 ERA

Jeff Gordon RHP 5-0 4.79 ERA

Top Reliever:

Greg Blohowiak RHP 2-0 1.73 ERA 2 saves

Cameron Amsrud RHP 2-5 3.15 ERA 9 saves

Kyle Schmidt RHP 4-3 5.49 ERA

About the Panthers:

UWM will be making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and it's first since 2002. They aren't unfamiliar to Tempe, however.

ASU and UWM squared off to open up the 2009 season. The Sun Devils outscored the Panthers 53-9 in that four game series.

UWM is playing its best baseball of the season down the stretch, mostly because of the resurgence of its pitching staff. In five Horizon League tournament games, UWM's pitchers had a 2.66 ERA, led by ace Chad Pierce's 1.80 ERA.

Pierce is a Wisconsin native who started his college career at Arkansas, but transferred back home and is having an outstanding first season as a Panther. He threw 150 pitches in a complete game victory in the opener of the conference tournament this past Thursday and came back to pitch six innings and get the win on Sunday in the championship game.

Pierce will more than likely get the task of facing ASU on Friday and will have to work similar heroics if an upset is in order. The Panthers need solid outings from Pierce and starters Jayme Sukowaty and Jeff Gordon if they are going to compete. UWM's bullpen does not have the depth to keep them in games.

On the offensive side, UWM lost leading hitter Tim Patzman a few weeks back to a broken wrist that will end his collegiate career. Patzman had a three-run home run in the '09 series in Tempe.

Without its leading hitter, UWM will need Ben Long and Dan Buchholz to carry the weight offensively. The Panthers can hit and feature a lot of athletic, gap-to-gap hitters.

Overall Regional Outlook:

The target is on their chest, everyone is gunning for the Sun Devils.

Character and dealing with adversity is so important in postseason baseball, not many teams have dealt with more than ASU has this season.

However, I feel that this won't be a cakewalk into the Super Regional. While Hawaii and UWM shouldn't present many challenges to ASU, USD is a hungry and postseason experienced team that has enough talent to shock the Sun Devils.

If I'm ASU, I am hoping that Hawaii's ace can pull off the upset of USD on Friday. If that happens and ASU gets past UWM, the Sun Devils will be in good shape. If the Toreros win and face ASU, Sammy Solis or Kyle Blair could cause some problems.

Don't be surprised if Esmay will hold Seth Blair off until the second game of the regional, ASU can get by UWM with either Kelly or Borup on the mound. Freshman Brady Rodgers might even get the call as a starter this weekend.

While ASU had no problems taking two games from USD this season already, this is a whole different animal. I have said all along that the Toreros were a scary team and I didn't want to see them in the Tempe Regional.

That being said, I still think ASU should and will win the regional. Just be ready for a bit of a fight.

Tempe Regional Schedule

Friday, June 4th

Game 1: #2 San Diego vs. #3 Hawaii 2 P.M.

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

Saturday, June 5th

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, June 6th

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

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

Monday, June 7th

Game 7: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 6 Loser 6:30 P.M. (If Necessary)

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