South Carolina will begin its quest for a third consecutive National Championship Friday afternoon in the Columbia Regional. The eighth and final national seed went to the Gamecocks, who have been tough to beat in the NCAA Tournament. Carolina has not lost a postseason game since dropping a 4-3 decision to Oklahoma in the first game of the 2010 College World Series, winning 16 consecutive games. It has been especially tough to knock off Carolina in Columbia where it has yet to be defeated at Carolina Stadium. In fact, the Gamecocks have not been beaten in Columbia in NCAA Tournament play since dropping a 5-2 decision against Miami in game two of the 2002 Super Regional. South Carolina rebounded for a 6-4 victory in game three of that series to begin the home winning streak that currently rests at 19.
The first team to take aim at breaking both streaks will be the Jaspers of Manhattan College. Manhattan is a small Roman Catholic college of approximately 3,500 students. On the diamond, Manhattan just wrapped up its second consecutive MAAC Championship and is no stranger to a hostile environment. The Jaspers were sent to the Gainesville Regional last season where it dropped a 17-3 decision to Florida in the first game and ended their season with a 5-4 loss to Jacksonville the following day. Manhattan last won an NCAA Tournament game in 2006, where it upset Nebraska en route to the Lincoln Regional finale, losing to Miami. In all Manhattan is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Manhattan is under first-year head coach Jim Duffy. Duffy is a young coach, graduating from Seton Hall in 1996, where he earned three All-Big East awards. Duffy spent four seasons in the Houston Astros organization before returning to Seton Hall as an assistant coach in 2001.
The 2012 edition of Manhattan baseball features just four seniors, all of which are pitchers. The top hitter for the Jaspers is outfielder Anthony Vega. Vega is one of just two players to play in all 58 games this season and leads the team with a .356 average. Vega has tremendous speed, stealing 32 bases on 35 attempts, and is also second on the team in RBI (31) and homeruns (5). Preseason All-MAAC catcher Ramon Ortega is tops in RBI (51) and homeruns (7). Nick Camastro and Joe Rock are the only other Jaspers with a batting average of over .300. Camastro is hitting .319 in 2012 and Rock is batting .305.
Carolina will likely see Junior John Soldinger on the mound, a 6'3 right-handed pitcher. Soldinger had a tremendous 2011 season, going 10-3 on the year with a 3.57 ERA. Those numbers were good enough to earn Soldinger MAAC Pitcher of the Year awards, and he earned MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year his freshman year in 2010. While Soldinger's record is down this season (6-5) he has brought down his ERA to 3.43. Soldinger doesn't possess a lot of velocity or a nasty breaking ball – striking out just 53 batters in 94.1 innings – and his control isn't always spot-on – walking 38 batters, but he has the ability to get out of innings and hang around late into the ball game.
If the Gamecocks don't have much success against Soldinger, it won't get any easier in the late innings. Soldinger would likely give way to Senior Taylor Sewitt, a right-handed sidearm pitcher. Sewitt is fresh off a "Louisville Slugger" National Pitcher of the Week honor after leading the Jaspers to the MAAC Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. He pitched 22 scoreless innings over three games in three days to lead Manhattan through the loser's bracket and to the championship, getting the win in all three appearances. Sewitt does an excellent job of mixing his pitches and has struck out 83 batters in 90 innings while walking just 20. Depending on how far the Jaspers go in the Regional, Sewitt could potentially start a Sunday or Monday game.
If things go the Jaspers way on the mound, Soldinger would at least pitch into the sixth before giving way to Sewitt to pitch late into the game. If Manhattan manages to get into a save situation, look for Jacob Marchus to take the mound. Marchus has seen action in 20 games, pitching 20.2 innings with eight saves and an impressive 1.31 ERA. Marchus has given up just three earned runs and has 14 strikeouts against five walks. He has given up 19 hits – nearly one per inning – so he regularly sees runners on base. The Jaspers could also run out Michael Martin (4.74 ERA) or Nick Girardi (6.48 ERA) if the game begins to get away from Manhattan and they need to just eat up some innings.
South Carolina will be the heavy favorite to win the opening game, but if Soldinger has a solid outing and Manhattan can scrape out a few runs, things could get interesting.
Projected starting line-up
cf Anthony Vega .336
2b Nick Camastro .319
1b Kyle Murphy .233
c Ramon Ortega .274
dh Matt Troisi .296
3b Joe McClennan .276
rf Joe Rock .305
lf Chris Kalousdian .208
ss Yoandry Galan .293
Regional Preview: Manhattan
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