Cardinal Baseball Headed To Texas

The Cardinal were a last-place team just five weeks ago. However, a strong final month of the regular season, despite a difficult last weekend, proved to be just enough to get Stanford into the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal are headed to Austin, Texas as a #3 seed and will take on N.C. State Friday in their opening contest. Here is a quick rundown of what's ahead for Stanford.

The Cardinal had just enough.  Stanford earned their 13th consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament this morning after being named as the #3 seed in the Austin Regional.  The Cardinal will take on 2nd seeded North Carolina State in their opening contest on Friday (11 am CT/9 am PT), with top-seeded Texas and #4 Texas-Arlington completing the regional.  All games in the regional will be televised live by ESPNU.

It was a difficult final weekend for Stanford falling twice to the lowly UC Davis Aggies to drop their overall record to 30-25.  The losses also resulted in a significantly lower RPI rating entering Selection Day that many thought would knock the Cardinal out of contention for an at-large bid.  But at least according to the selection committee, Stanford had just enough.

An impressive non-conference resume and a relatively strong finish to the season is what got the Cardinal into the field of 64.  Series wins over the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Texas, and Fresno State - three clubs also invited to the NCAA Tournament - were huge factors for Stanford's inclusion.  And a solid second half of the conference season also was a huge benefit.  Going from a last place team at the midpoint of the Pac-10 campaign (3-9 record) to a fifth-place finish (11-13) was a remarkable turnaround.

Looking ahead, the Cardinal are placed in certainly one of the toughest regionals in the field.  The Wolf Pack of N.C. State are up first in what should be one of the more exciting #2 versus #3 seed matchups in the tournament.  N.C. State had an excellent final weekend as they reached the ACC Tournament championship game before falling to eventual #1 national seed Clemson.  The final weeks of the regular season though weren't nearly as kind for the Wolf Pack dropping three of their final four series' (North Carolina, Miami, Florida State).  N.C. State was also swept in a three-game, home series by Pac-10 foe UCLA in March.

The Wolf Pack will pose a very difficult test for the Cardinal pitching staff as they boast one of the top hitting teams in the country.  N.C. State is currently leading the ACC with a whopping .337 team batting average while they also have shown the ability to draw walks at an impressive rate in addition to having solid power across the board.  They also score a staggering 8.8 runs per game.  Matt Camp (.391, 2 HR, 41 RBI, 9 SB), Caleb Mangum (.370, 4 HR, 34 RBI), Ramon Corona (.366, 6 HR, 57 RBI), and Jon Still (.352, 6 HR, 53 RBI) give this team four regulars batting over the .350 mark.

On the pitching side, the Wolf Pack sport a solid 4.38 team ERA.  The main starters have been Eryk McConnell (7-6, 4.20 ERA) and Gib Hobson (9-1, 4.60 ERA).  Hobson has been the #1 starter.

Clearly N.C. State thrives off of their hitting and the matchup against Greg Reynolds on Friday should be fun to watch.  On the mound, the Wolf Pack are no pushovers, but the Cardinal have faced much tougher competition in the pitching-rich Pac-10.

The Texas Longhorns are the top seed having won the Big 12 regular season title with a spectacular 19-7 record.  Their overall mark sits at 40-19 which was enough to garner the #3 national seed.  Texas is clearly the favorite in this regional and will be supported by over 6,000 burnt orange clad fans in Austin. 

Pitching is the name of the game for the Longhorns with their 3.76 team ERA.  It's not quite as dominant as last year's staff, but still one of the best in the country.  Kyle McCulloch (8-4, 2.98 ERA) and Adrian Alaniz (7-3, 4.00 ERA) headline the rotation.  Stanford defeated McCulloch at Sunken Diamond in a game last Februrary while Alaniz handcuffed the Cardinal bats in the series opener.  At the plate, Texas scores 6.4 runs per game and is known for playing a small ball type of offense.

Stanford did enjoy plenty of success in that series taking two-of-three games from the visiting Longhorns.  The rubber contest saw the Cardinal plate nine runs in the third inning en route to a 13-9 victory. 

#4 seed Texas-Arlington comes out of the Southland Conference and are under .500 for the year with a 29-34 overall record.  Their 16-12 conference record was good for just fifth place, but the Mavericks earned the automatic bid after a surprising victory in the postseason tournament. 

UT-Arlington has had a very difficult year on the mound (5.64 ERA) and aren't much better at the plate (.287 AVG, 5.6 runs/game).  One of the worst teams in the field, it would be the shocker of the tournament if the Mavericks were to knock off the defending national champions in the opening round.

Stanford reached the NCAA Tournament despite a sub-.500 conference record (11-13).  It was a tense half-hour for the Cardinal faithful as 15 regionals went by the board before the Austin one came up.  It was certainly a bad sign to see Mississippi State's name called very early in the show despite a ninth-place finish in the SEC Conference regular season.  Then to get down to the final regional announcement and not have LSU's name pop up looked to signal the end for the Cardinal.  LSU finished a 1/2 game better than Mississippi State during the regular season and actually picked up a win in the conference tournament last week.  But fortunately, it went Stanford's way and so the Cardinal's season continues.  All that's ahead now is a game with possibly the best hitting team in the country.  And if they get by that, likely a matchup with the defending national champions in their own ballpark.  All the madness starts Friday.

The Bootleg will have full coverage of the Austin Regional with game previews, recaps, and commentary throughout the week.

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