Wolfpack Baseball (34-21, 18-15 ACC) missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season for only the 2nd time in the last decade, but their last post-season (’13) took them all the way to the College World Series.
After overcoming a lackluster first half of 2015 the Pack seemed to put things together the last month of the season and come on strong, winning 13 of their final 16 games and earning their way to the ACC Championship Game last weekend, as well as moving up to a solid #2 seed in the baseball version of the big dance. This year the Pack9 returns to the NCAA Baseball Tournament, and will head west as the #2 seed in the Fort Worth Regional (AKA Forth Worth Regional) to begin their quest to return to the Omaha.
Lupton Baseball Stadium and Williams-Reilly Field (link)
3700 Berry St.
Ft. Worth, TX 76129
Official Capacity: 4,500
- LF – 330ft
- LCF – 370ft
- CF – 390ft
- RCF – 370ft
- RF – 330ft
The Horned Frogs regularly draw top-20 yearly attendance figures nationally, and once jammed as many as 6,099 fans inside. With its smaller dimensions (as compared to Doak Field) to straightaway center and the power alleys, Wolfpack hitters may be drooling.
Fort Worth Regional Team Capsules (Note: Because I’ve had some time constraints this week, all team previews are courtesy of Aaron Fitt at D1Baseball.com. Formerly with Baseball America, the always reliable Mr. Fitt knows his stuff, and his D1Baseball.com site also happens to have the Pack ranked #24 this week. Not to mention a lot of nice things to say about the Pack in general of late. Hopefully, if you follow one of those links to his site, he’ll forgive my nearly wholesale ripping off of his preview…hint hint.)
2015 Fort Worth Regional Preview (D1Baseball.com)
With a loaded pitching staff coming off an Omaha run, TCU entered the season ranked No. 8 and spent the entire spring in the top 10, a testament to its impressive consistency. The Frogs ran away with the Big 12 regular-season title by 3.5 games, and they lost back-to-back games just once – in the Big 12 tournament, where they went 0-2. If there is a concern for the Frogs heading into the NCAA tournament, it is that ace Preston Morrison was shellacked in the conference tourney, allowing seven runs (five earned) over 3.1 innings, and he did not show the same quality of stuff he did early in the season, when his lively fastball reached 88 mph.
The Frogs are also an elite defensive team, ranking 11th in the nation in fielding percentage (.978). Senior Keaton Jones (.988) might be the most sure-handed shortstop in college baseball, anchoring the veteran infield defense. TCU has another standout defender in center field, where the speedy Cody Jones roams. Jones had a breakout season at the plate, hitting .376/.476/.507 with 25 steals to earn Big 12 player of the year honors. TCU’s second leading hitter, Big 12 freshman of the year Connor Wanhannen (.339), is an athletic former high school quarterback with a short lefthanded stroke and an advanced middle-away approach.
The Wolfpack flew under the radar for much of the season, largely because while it was competitive in just about every series, it had a hard time getting over the hump and winning series in the first half. As late as April 24, NC State looked like a long shot for regionals, with a 21-18 overall record and a 9-12 mark in the ACC. Then everything clicked with a series win against Virginia, and the ‘Pack surged to a 15-14 mark in the ACC, followed by a 3-0 showing in ACC tournament pool play to reach the championship game. Coach Elliott Avent gives a lot of credit to NC State’s clubhouse chemistry and veteran leaders, particularly hard-nosed seniors Logan Ratledge and Jake Fincher. Ratledge (.330/.433/.549, 8 HR, 11 SB) made a huge leap as a senior, becoming one of the best all-around players in the ACC, with some power, some speed, more walks than strikeouts, and quality defense in the middle infield (first at second base, then at shortstop).
Freshman Brian Brown (7-3, 1.72), a low-slot lefty with a superb changeup, emerged as NC State’s most reliable starting pitcher, but the rotation is otherwise not a strength. When sophomore righty Cory Wilder (2-5, 3.39) is on, he has the stuff to dominate, with a 90-95 mph fastball and three quality offspeed pitches, but his strike-throwing ability is erratic. Six-foot-8 righty Johnny Piedmonte, the third starter, seldom works deep into a game, but has some feel to pitch with his 88-90 fastball and 77-78 slurve.
The Seawolves are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since their magical 2012 run to Omaha. Last year’s team went 18-5 in the America East to win the regular-season title but was upset by Binghamton in the conference tournament. Most of the remaining stalwarts from the CWS team departed after last season, but not Cole Peragine (.302/.451/.374), a four-year starter who made a successful conversion from shortstop to catcher this year. Peragine is also a very tough out thanks to his plate discipline, drawing 47 walks and striking out just 19 times. As usual, rock-solid defense is one of SBU’s calling cards – the Seawolves rank 10th in the nation with a .978 fielding percentage, led by exceptionally consistent second baseman Rob Chavarria (.990 fielding percentage).
Stony Brook isn’t particularly deep on the mound, but it has a nice veteran one-two punch atop the rotation in lefties Daniel Zamora (7-2, 3.03) and Tyler Honahan (7-3, 3.98). Zamora, a high school teammate of UCLA closer David Berg, bounced back very strong from Tommy John surgery and returned to his standout 2013 form, striking out more than a batter per inning.
The Pioneers might be the most unlikely regional participants in the field of 64 this year. SHU is a good program – it made back-to-back regionals in 2011 and 2012. But nobody would have been on Sacred Heart to find its way into the postseason on March 25, when the Pioneers fell to 1-14 after losing a midweek game to Stony Brook. The Pioneers played better once conference play began, but they still had ups and downs, losing six straight games and eight of nine between April 25 and May 8. But all that matters in the NEC is winning the conference tournament. Sacred Heart went 13-11 in the regular season to earn the No. 3 seed, then won its first two tourney games against Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson behind great pitching from James Cooksey (9 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) and Jason Foley (9 IP, 2 H, 0 R). That set up a showdown against top-seeded Bryant in the finals, and the Bulldogs won the first game to force a decisive winner-takes all rematch. The Pioneers trailed 4-3 heading into the ninth inning, when they surged ahead with a pair of runs to win 5-4. Dan Wertz threw 5.1 innings of no-hit relief to earn the win.
On paper, Sacred Heart stacks up very poorly against the rest of this field. The Pioneers are not offensive, ranking 255th in the nation in scoring (4.3 runs per game) and 279th in batting (.246). They’re not great on the mound, ranking 196th in ERA (5.10). Their defense is mediocre, ranking 131st in fielding percentage (.968). To have a chance to pull off an upset or two, SHU needs Cooksey (7-2, 3.50), Foley (3-6, 4.93) and Wertz (4-1, 2.31) to repeat their conference tournament magic.
Most Exciting Player: Logan Ratledge, ss, NC State. The heart and soul of the Wolfpack, Ratledge plays at full speed all the time and also owns a diverse skill set, with some pop, some speed, a disciplined offensive approach and good defensive skills.
Best Hitter: Cody Jones, of, TCU. Thanks to his plus-plus speed, Jones also has a strong argument for the “Most Exciting Player” category. His bat took a big jump this year, when he led the Big 12 in hitting.
Best Defensive Player: Keaton Jones, ss, TCU. The pride of Laguna Beach, Calif., doesn’t have elite range or arm strength, but he might be college baseball’s steadiest shortstop, and his instincts make his tools play up.
Best Pitcher: Preston Morrison, rhp, TCU. Morrison struggled in his last two starts, but he still deserves the nod here based on his incredible four-year track record. The wily low-slot righty has impeccable command (when he’s on) and feel for pitching.
X-Factor: Corey Wilder, rhp, NC State. I saw Wilder when he was at his best against Florida State in early April – he struck out 10 and allowed just a run on three hits over seven innings, mixing a 90-95 fastball with three good offspeed pitches. I also saw him at his worst in the ACC tournament, when he walked four and couldn’t get out of the third inning against Miami. If Good Wilder shows up, NC State has Omaha potential.
Best Starting Rotation: TCU. There isn’t a better four-man rotation in college baseball than Morrison, Alex Young, Tyler Alexander and Mitchell Traver.
Best Bullpen: TCU. And there are few (if any) better bullpen trios than Riley Ferrell, Trey Teakell and Brian Howard.
Best Offensive Team: NC State. There aren’t any juggernaut offenses in this regional, but the top half of NC State’s lineup (Ratledge, Andrew Knizner, Preston Palmeiro, Joe Dunand, Ryne Willard) is capable of doing real damage, so the Wolfpack gets the nod.
Best Defensive Team: TCU. Stony Brook is an elite defensive outfit too, but we’re going with the Frogs because they’ve got the best shortstop (Keaton Jones), two other very solid veterans at second (Garrett Crain) and third (Derek Odell), and a burner with serious range in center field (Cody Jones).
No. 1 Seed Win Probability (1-10): 8. NC State is a solid challenger playing its best baseball of the season late, but Stony Brook is the softest 3-seed in the tournament with a 2-8 record against the top 100, and Sacred Heart is a very soft 4-seed with a 23-30 overall mark. TCU has too much pitching and too much postseason experience to stumble here.
Other Reading Material
2015 Regional Previews: Fort Worth (BaseballAmerica.com)
Fort Worth Regional preview (TCU360.com)
A look at the four baseball teams competing in Fort Worth Regional (Star-Telegram.com)
Wolfpack Baseball Centric
#Pack9 Earns At-Large Bid, Fort Worth Regional (GoPack.com)
— NC State Baseball (@NCStateBaseball) May 28, 2015
— adidas Baseball (@adidasBaseball) May 28, 2015
The Important Stuff – TV and The Bracket
There’s been a lot of talk this week about where one can view the Pack’s games this weekend. The bad news is that Friday’s game, as far as I can determine, will NOT be available over any broadcast/cable/satellite TV channel.
The Pack’s Friday game WILL be available via streaming on ESPN3, and ESPNU will be broadcasting all day whiparound coverage, allegedly of all NCAAT games on Friday, but we already know how that can sometimes go.
Saturday’s game (regardless of whether the Pack moves to the winner’s or loser’s bracket) appears that it WILL be available on regular TV, either on ESPN2 or ESPNU, depending upon which side of the bracket the Pack moves into. Winner’s Bracket: 8pm ET, ESPNU…Loser’s Bracket: 3:30pm ET, ESPN2.
Then after Saturday, it looks to be back to ESPN3 for the remainder of the weekend.
Below is the bracket, game times (CDT), and TV coverage for the weekend:
Interactive 64 Team Bracket (NCAA.com)
So it all gets going Friday at 3:30pm ET. And while it’s sometimes (often) an overused cliché, the Pack9 is playing with house money and has nothing to lose. If they play loose and with confidence as they have for the past month, anything can happen.
Go FORTH (hee hee….get it?) and CONQUER!!!!!