#4 Stanford Cardinal (46-15) Friday, June 13, 1 PM Central (2 PM Eastern)
Stanford comes into this series with a 5-0 postseason record after having swept both the Regionals and the Super Regionals. The team has won nine straight and 18 out of their last 19 games. However, after an impressive showing (41 runs scored in three games) during the Regionals, the majority of the team's offense struggled in the Super Regionals. The team scored nine runs over the two days and was held scoreless in all but four of the 18 innings played during the tournament. Stanford struggled to deliver in clutch situations during the series, leaving a total of 14 men on base and failing in several attempts to move runners over. In addition senior catcher Ryan Garko, usually money with runners on base, left five on over the two games and went hitless in the second game of the series. Carlos Quentin (6 for 8) and Danny Putnam (4 for 7, 5 RBI) provided much of the Cardinal offense during the series. Granted, Stanford went up against two very good pitchers in Abe Alvarez (11-2, 2.35 ERA) and Jered Weaver (14-4, 1.96 ERA) but the team will face plenty of tough pitching during the College World Series and the offense will likely need to heat up somewhat for the team to advance deep into June.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, their top two starting pitchers had very good showings against Long Beach State. During Friday's game, ace John Hudgins delivered a sterling performance, going the distance while allowing only one run on seven hits and two walks. The junior right hander improved to 11-3 on the season. Mark Romanczuk tossed another good performance in only his second career postseason appearance. The freshman went 8.1 innings, allowing only two runs on ten hits. Perhaps most important, however, was the fact that Romanczuk did not walk a batter. The Cardinal are undoubtedly hoping that Hudgins and Romanczuk can build on these solid outings. Overall, the staff has a 3.98 ERA and has allowed only a .246 opposing batting average, best in the Pac-10.
Saturday's victory was the 100th career postseason win for Coach Marquess, and he has successfully guided the Cardinal to the College World Series for the 5th straight season. Marquess is known for his ability to get the most out of his players, and this year has been no exception as freshmen Jed Lowrie, Mark Romanczuk, and Matt Manship performed very well under pressure and veterans Tobin Swope and Jonny Ash have played important roles. The team is looking for their first National Championship since 1988.
Probable Starting Lineup
CF Sam Fuld (.327 BA, 2 HR, 32 RBI) The team's centerfielder and leadoff hitter is a critical component of their success and leads the team with 75 runs scored on the season. When Fuld is getting on base in front of Quentin and Garko, he puts pressure on the opposing pitching staff and leads to runs and big innings. Currently, he's only 6 for 21 (.286) during the postseason, but owns a .441 average and two homeruns in his career at the College World Series. Don't let Fuld's position as the leadoff hitter fool you -- he has solid extra base power and his nine triples on the season tie him for best in the Pac-10. If Tobin Swope and the rest of the bottom of the order can get on base, Fuld should have some RBI opportunities.
1B Brian Hall (.297, 5 HR, 41 RBI) Hall will likely continue to man first for the Cardinal during the College World Series. His speed (17 stolen bases), versatility, and defense were critical to the Cardinal's success this season. He has struggled during the postseason, both during his career (9 for 44) and this season (4 for 22) but is an important piece of the offensive puzzle for Stanford. Hall may play this College World Series with a chip on his shoulder --he went undrafted in this year's Major League Baseball draft and certainly has something to prove.
RF Carlos Quentin (.398, 10 HR, 56 RBI) Historically, Carlos Quentin has struggled in the College World Series, but through 20 at bats in this year's postseason, Quentin is positively sizzling. The junior outfielder is hitting .550 (11 for 20) with 2 homeruns and 6 RBI, putting to rest concerns about his health and his ability to hit postseason pitching. While Quentin's homerun totals are a bit disappointing, his 23 doubles and on-base prowess (.491 OBP, 34 BB, 13 HBP) have given Garko and Putnam their many RBI opportunities.
C Ryan Garko (.411, 18 HR, 88 RBI) Yes, those numbers are for real. After going undrafted in 2002, Garko returned for his senior season and put up monster numbers, including an RBI total that would be impressive for a 162 game Major League schedule, let alone the 61 games that the Cardinal have played thus far. Garko may not possess the incredible bat speed or athletic tools that scouts traditionally look for, but he has proven that he can flat out hit just about anything. Major League Baseball finally agreed, and Garko was drafted with the 78th pick (third round) of this year's First-Year Player draft by the Cleveland Indians. Garko has an incredible eye and amazing plate coverage, leading to his stunning 18 homeruns against only 15 strikeouts on the year. Expect Garko to continue to put up huge numbers for the Cardinal during the College World Series.
DH Donny Lucy (.300, 2 HR, 18 RBI) Sophomores Donny Lucy and Chris Carter have been splitting time at DH recently. Lucy, a right hander, will likely start on Friday against the left handed David Marchbanks. Lucy put together a very solid second half of the year after starting the season cold. He possesses very good speed and gap power. Carter, a big homerun threat but less of a complete hitter than Lucy, may start against right handers during the series.
LF Danny Putnam (.355, 14 HR, 57 RBI) Danny Putnam has been one of the team's most productive hitters in the postseason, with a team leading 12 RBI. He also shares the team lead in homeruns at three with Ryan Garko. He had two huge hits in the Super Regionals, a three run homerun in the 8th to seal Friday night's victory and a 2 RBI single in the 7th on Saturday to give Stanford the lead. Putnam's hitting is a major factor in what kind of pitching Garko and Quentin will see during the College World Series. If Putnam continues at this pace, teams will not be able to pitch around Quentin and Garko.
2B Jed Lowrie (.304, 0 HR, 26 RBI) While Lowrie's college decision didn't make as much noise as some of his freshman teammates, his consistency with the bat and his solid defense at second have kept him in the lineup day-in and day-out. Lowrie has started 45 of the team's 61 games and is currently fifth on the team in batting average. Lowrie does not have a lot of extra base power (no homeruns, 12 doubles), but he has hit over .300 in the postseason thus far (6 for 19).
3B Jonny Ash (.296, 0 HR, 23 RBI) Johnny Ash has redeemed his season after struggling at the beginning. He began the year as the starter at second base before struggles at the plate and a shoulder injury cost him playing time. However, as the season progressed, Ash has seen more and more time at third base. Now, as the College World Series gets underway, the junior has the position pretty much locked up. Ash is the prototypical team player, someone who Coach Marquess is comfortable calling on to sacrifice runners over. Ash brings good speed and solid defense to the Cardinal offensive unit.
SS Tobin Swope (.278, 1 HR, 29 RBI) Senior Tobin Swope has started every one of Stanford's games this season and has provided solid defense for the team. However, Swope has struggled for the past several weeks, dropping his average from above .300 down to its current level. He is only hitting .190 during the postseason this year. For Sam Fuld to get many RBI opportunities, Swope needs to begin to hit.
Probable Starting Pitcher
RHP John Hudgins (11-3 record, 3.18 ERA, 19 GS, 7 CG) The junior right hander's last start was vintage John Hudgins. He allowed only one run on seven hits and two walks in the complete game, his seventh of the season, good for first in the PAC-10. In addition to complete games, he leads the conference in innings pitched, strikeouts, starts, and is second only to teammate Mark Romanczuk in wins. Hudgins was rewarded for his superb season by the Texas Rangers, who drafted him in third round of this year's draft. Hudgins is a very polished pitcher -- he throws four above average pitches and is completely comfortable throwing his breaking ball and changeup when he is behind in the count. His fastball was clocked by the ESPN radar gun at a consistent 88 MPH -- certainly not overpowering in itself, but when combined with Hudgins' intelligence and his confidence, certainly enough to succeed.
South Carolina also enters the College World Series unbeaten during the NCAA tournament (5-0). The Gamecock's offense exploded in the Super Regionals, scoring 19 runs in two days against the lesser pitching of North Carolina. Overall, the team's offense has been inconsistent throughout the season despite a few standout offensive performers. Still, the Cardinal pitching staff will need to be cautious -- the team has significantly more extra base power than the Cardinal's last opponent, Long Beach State. While the two teams have similar batting averages (USC's .308 to LBSU's .298), the Gamecoks have out-homered Long Beach 63 to 34. The team's offensive unit is averaging about six and a half runs per game. Cardinal fans should expect good pitching from the Gamecocks, whose team ERA is a sparkling 3.27. Overall, the pitching staff has been solid. As a staff, South Carolina has allowed 534 hits in 561 innings pitched (8.5 hits per innings pitched, .253 opposing batting average) but is stingy with the walks (2.9 BB/9 IP). Indicative of their good stuff, the team has struck out 466 opposing hitters, good for a 7.5 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. The staff has also allowed only 40 homeruns this season.
South Carolina is an experienced team with nine seniors on their roster. The team was also last year's CWS runner up to the Unversity of Texas. Perhaps most indicative of the health of South Carolina's program is the number of players who were drafted by Major League Baseball clubs. A total of seven current Gamecocks were drafted this year: Brian Buscher, David Marchbanks, Steven Bondurant, Justin Harris, Jon Coutlangus, Landon Powell, and Chris Hernandez. In addition, six of their signees were drafted by Major League ballclubs: the Los Angeles Dodgers selected RHP Chad Billingsley with the 21st overall pick, LHP Darin Downs went to the Cubs in the 5th round/Chicago Cubs, catcher Matt Pagnozzi went to St. Louis in the 8th round, RHP Billy Buckner went in the 9th round to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, INF Steven Reinhold went in the 13th round to the Cleveland Indians and C Rob Johnson was drafted in the 18th round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
RF Steven Tolleson (.295 batting average, 2 HR, 15 RBI) Freshman outfielder Steven Tolleson came into the Gamecock program projected as an infielder, but he has made almost all of his stars in right field. Tolleson has good gap power and has nine doubles and two homeruns in only 129 at bats. He'll likely move back into the infield at some point in the future, but look for him to start in right during the College World Series.
SS Justin Harris (.358, 3 HR, 32 RBI) Justin Harris is hitting .524 in the NCAA tournament, including a 5 for 9 showing at the Super Regional. He leads the team in hits and runs in the postseason. Harris improved his batting average significantly from last season, when he hit .295, but his power numbers did not improve as projected. Instead, Harris' homerun totals decreased from five in his junior season to three this year, and his doubles slipped from 18 to 13 in 40 more at bats. Harris has good speed, although his stolen base totals also decreased this season. In addition, he struggled in the field, making 16 errors (.943 fielding percentage).
3B Brian Buscher (.390, 14 HR, 64 RBI) Brian Buscher is without a doubt the offensive leader on this ballclub. The senior leads the team with a .633 slugging percentage, total bases, homeruns, and RBI, and he is second to Landon Powell with 17 doubles. His average leads the SEC and he has had 32 multi-hit games. Buscher had an incredible NCAA tournament thus far: he is batting .455. In his last game (6/7 against North Carolina), Buscher hit two homeruns and drove in six. For all of his offensive prowess, Buscher is a liability at third base: his .923 fielding percentage is worst of any regular on the team.
C Landon Powell (.338, 10 HR, 59 RBI) Catcher Landon Powell is the other big bat on the Gamecocks. Powell's power numbers increased as the season went along -- he only hit three homeruns between the start of the season in February and the beginning of May, and he's hit seven since, ending the season with 22 doubles and 10 HRs. Powell also comes into the World Series hot. Powell hit three homeruns against North Carolina in the Super Regional last weekend, including two on the decisive Saturday game. He's reached base safely in his last 19 games and has 11 hits in his last 15 at bats. Powell took his GED when he was a junior in high school so that he could graduate early and make himself eligible for the draft, but no one drafted him. Teams said that they didn't know he was eligible, but some have suggested that baseball clubs were afraid of drafting him because they didn't want to establish a precedent for high school players. This year, Powell was drafted in the 5th round by the Chicago Cubs, but he's made it clear that it will take a million dollars to sign him. The Cubs have drafted two other catchers before Powell, so its unlikely they will pay that much for him. Scouts have mixed opinions on Powell -- while no one questions his ability to hit, there are concerns that he is too heavy and will only get bigger as time goes on, hurting his receiving abilities. Further, some scouts thought that his power numbers were only so-so for someone of his size.
1B Bryan Triplett (.311, 6 HR, 45 RBI) Bryan Tripplet had a solid if unspectacular year. The junior has seen time at second base and left field in addition to first base. On the season, Triplett has 14 doubles and 6 homers (.462 SLG%). The right hander crowds the plate and isn't afraid to take one for the team -- he's been hit by 10 pitches this season, tops on the Gamecocks.
2B Kevin Melillo (.323, 11 HR, 42 RBI) Redshirt sophomore Kevin Melillo packs a lot of power for a middle infielder. In 217 at bats this season, Melillo has 16 doubles and 11 homeruns, as well as 40 walks, good for a near .900 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He has struggled at times with his defense, but has mostly been solid at second for the club. He's patient at the plate and takes a lot of pitches -- he is second on the team in walks and first in strikeouts with 54.
DH Nick Gardiner (.260, 0 HR, 11 RBI) San Jose native Nick Gardiner has started four out of the last six games at DH for South Carolina, and will likely see time a lot of time there during the College World Series. McDaniel and Riddle have also started at DH recently, so be on the lookout for them as well, although both have struggled this season.
CF Jon Coutlangus (.335, 3 HR, 24 RBI) Senior Jon Coutlangus is a speedy outfielder with gap power. He has stolen 14 bases this season and his average is fourth on the team. He covers good ground in centerfield. He has nine doubles and three triples on the season. He was drafted in the 19th round by the San Francisco Giants.
LF Michael Campbell (.274, 5 HR, 30 RBI) Freshman Michael Campbell drove in the tying and winning runs in South Carolina's 5-4 victory over North Carolina last Friday night. Campbell has a very strong, accurate arm and leads the team with nine outfield assists. He has the lowest batting average of the regulars on the club and doesn't draw many walks (only a .333 on base percentage) but has a bit of pop in his bat (9 doubles, 3 triples, 5 homeruns).
Probable Starting Pitcher
LHP David Marchbanks (15-2 record, 2.39 ERA, 18 GS, 3 CG) David Marchbanks was the SEC Pitcher of the Year and a first team All-American selection by Collegiate Baseball. The junior left hander leads the SEC in wins, innings pitched (132) and earned run average. Marchbanks gives up his share of hits (141 hits, 9.61 hits per 9 innings pitched) but limits the walks (only 23 walks all season long, 1.5 walks per 9 innings pitched). He struck out 97 batters and gave up seven homeruns this season. Marchbanks is a finesse lefty -- he rarely touches 90 MPH with his fastball and has been very effective in developing a good cutter/slider and a changeup. Marchbanks was drafted in the 7th round of the First-Year Player Draft by the infamous Florida Marlins.