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The Second Act: Complete guide to the College Station Regional

May 31, 2012

If Omaha is the goal, the season starts now

No matter the level, the sport of baseball is one of ups and downs; it tells a tale of growth, from a team's beginnings to the final product it evolves to at season's end. The high volume of games in between are a stage rightfully perceived as the rising action. A team's climax isn't at midseason, or even in the conference tournament. It begins right now.

That was the sentiment echoed by all four College Station Regional participants at their respective press conferences on Thursday, in both their words and, for most, the examples they set. Rob Childress' Aggies recovered from an 0-4 skid against Rice and Baylor to surge back into a regional host spot; TCU closed with eight wins in nine games prior to the Mountain West Conference Tournament; and Dayton finished with six straight wins, part of a run of nine in 10 games, to earn its bid.

And now, along with Ole Miss, they're all sitting at 0-0. The season as we all knew it is over. The climax is in the second act. It starts now. This is important to note, with the hand-wringing that went on after the way A&M exited the Big 12 Tournament.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs Rob Childress, as he's done nearly every year, brings another top-notch rotation into postseason play. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Rob Childress, as he\u0027s done nearly every year, brings another top-notch rotation into postseason play.","MediaItemID":18633}
But perhaps TCU's Jim Schlossnagle, second behind Childress among coaches in this regional in most recent College World Series appearance, put it best.

"Sixty-four head coaches all gave the same speech this week," he noted. "Coach Martin from Florida State, on the selection show, said it doesn't matter how you came into the tournament. You spend all those weeks trying to get to this point, then it's just about what you do. You get a fresh start, you feel rejuvenated."

Yet, all four teams do not have an equal chance.

These Aggies have the pieces. It's simply a matter of putting them together. They did it last year, and they can do it again this time around.

The postseason is all about pitching, which is why you'll see an overwhelming amount of starters discussed in the following preview. Look at the staffs (and the No. 1 guy) that have led South Carolina to the past two national titles, or the combination of Wacha and Stripling that won a regional without John Stilson in 2011, then won two games in Tallahassee to take the Aggies to the promised land for the first time since 1999. Of course, at the time, the idea of finding a third guy without Stilson was daunting.

Wacha and Stripling, as it turns out, haven't gone anywhere. After anchoring an titillatingly deep rotation all season long, they both had off games in Oklahoma City. The odds of that happening again are minute. But more than that, no team in this regional can match A&M's one-two punch. Nor (by an even further margin) can any of them roll out a No. 3 like Rafael Pineda or, if needed, a No. 4 like Daniel Mengden.

It's never as simple as it seems on paper, but that's a great hand to sit down at the table with. Talks of a super, or Omaha, are on hold for now. A&M will cross that bridge when it comes to it. It's a one-game season from here on out, and you have to like the Aggies' chances in that scenario.

No. 1 Texas A&M (42-16; 16-8 in Big 12)

The Aggies closed the season on a tear, winning 13 of 15 and seven straight to hit the Big 12 Tournament with a bang; when freshman Daniel Mengden opened the postseason with 6.2 innings of five-hit, one-run ball in an easy win against Kansas, the Aggies' roll began to look too strong to stop. Two nights later, it ended in an ugly fashion after back-to-back losses against eventual tournament champ Missouri and KU (in a rematch).

Matt Sachs, TexAgs A&M's lauded rotation, fronted by Michael Wacha, is the most dominant force any team in the regional has going for it.
Despite that, A&M is hosting a regional for a reason. Rob Childress' squad lost four of five games in a span against Cal State Fullerton, UTPA and Kansas State and four in a row against Rice and Baylor, but rebounded both times for another streak.

Michael Wacha, Ross Stripling, Rafael Pineda and Mengden comprise an unfathomably deep rotation; Mikey Reynolds, Tyler Naquin, Matt Juengel, Jacob House and Troy Stein go one through five in an order that is intimidating, if inconsistent.

The Aggies swept tournament participants Michigan State, Pepperdine and Oklahoma and beat Sam Houston State and regional counterpart TCU 4-1 (in Fort Worth) in starts made by Mengden. While it enters after two consecutive losses, A&M has lingered in the RPI top 15 all season and ranks among the national leaders in a number of pitching categories. As we all know, if the Ags are going to make a run, that's how they'll do it.

The 2012 Tournament marks A&M's sixth consecutive regional appearance — and second straight regional host bid. Dayton will take to Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park against the Aggies at 6:35 p.m. on Friday.

Team ERA: 2.86 (5th nationally)
Team WHIP: 1.12 (1st)
Team OBP: .373 (76th)
Team SLG: .391 (106th)
Fielding %: .971 (69th)
Stolen Bases: 127 (4th)

Key players: RHP Michael Wacha, C Troy Stein & LHP Estevan Uriegas
On Wacha, the bottom line is simple: Childress is expected to throw his No. 1 guy, as he always does to start a regional, and the Aggies will lean on the big All-American to come out with a vengeance after making a few mistakes too many in the loss to Missouri. Until the next one, no game is as important as the first. After giving up a very uncharacteristic eight earned runs in A&M's loss to Kansas State, Wacha threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout a week later at Pepperdine; after allowing four runs to Mizzou in the teams' earlier matchup, he went eight innings with eight strikeouts. A similar rebound against Dayton and the Ags are off and running.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs Stein is one of the Aggies' best hitters, and Dayton will test his arm on the bases.
The Flyers run even more than A&M. Opposing players have successfully stolen base 26 times in 40 attempts against Stein. His play behind the plate will obviously be a key subplot in the first game. He also went 1-for-6 in the two Big 12 Tournament losses. When Stein, one of A&M's best hitters since conference play began, is on, the Aggie lineup is greatly strengthened.

As for Uriegas, the dependable senior carved a remarkable final year out for himself, setting an A&M single-season record for appearances (37) and finishing with a 4-0 record and 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings. But his importance is most greatly stated in his position as the Aggies' only lefty. From the season's beginning to its end, Rob Childress called on Esty to face left-handed batters in relief with no southpaws backing him up, and he has overwhelmingly delivered not only in that role but as an eighth-inning guy.

The Aggie bullpen has struggled periodically throughout the year, but Uriegas has been as consistent as they come. His name will be an important one in postseason play.

X-factor: RHP Kyle Martin
Regardless of which side of the K-Mart debate one stands on, there isn't a more interesting guy on A&M's roster to follow in this regional. Martin can be great, much like he was against both Oklahoma schools in long relief stints that stretched into extra innings. He can also be scarily ineffective, as he was in blown saves and losses against Texas and Baylor.

Martin had a wild appearance against Missouri, putting three men on and failing to record an out, and didn't get another chance to pitch in Oklahoma City. That only serves to magnify the duality of his potential in this regional, especially as he'll likely be asked to pitch more than once. Childress has identified him as 'the guy' for the majority of the year, and depending on how close the contests are in the late innings, which Kyle Martin the Aggies get from game to game can swing the outcome of the regional.

No. 2 Texas Christian (36-19; 18-6 in Mountain West)

TCU also enters the regional on the heels of two losses and an early exit from its conference tournament. The Horned Frogs had won 13 of 15 since the loss to A&M on May 24 and they sit in a similar position to the Aggies at the postseason's outset. During that streak, they gave up more than three runs in just three games and themselves scored at least 10 runs on five separate occasions.

On its road to the Tournament, Jim Schlossnagle's club went 1-1 against Ole Miss to open the season, took one game out of two from Baylor, beat Cal State Fullerton once in three tries, swept Oklahoma in two contests and tied New Mexico for the MWC regular season crown. The Frogs also lost to Texas State (twice), Dallas Baptist and A&M in midweek contests. Most notably, they went a mediocre 13-11 away from home, a boon to the host Aggies.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs TCU and A&M met once already this season, in a 4-1 Aggie victory that launched Daniel Mengden's impressive run.
The Horned Frogs are built similar to the Aggies in that they're not out to beat a team with the bats. This is a roster founded on pitching, the kind that shut A&M out for seven innings in Fort Worth until eighth- and ninth-inning rallies made it a 4-1 final in favor of the Aggies. For TCU to win the regional, it will need to string multiple strong performances together in the rotation.

Brandon Finnegan, who started the A&M game, has served as a Tuesday starter and quality long reliever. Ahead of him, the Frogs throw Andrew Mitchell (5-3, 3.62), freshman sensation Preston Morrison (9-1, 1.73) and Stefan Chrichton (8-2, 3.56). Finnegan, Morrison and Mitchell, however, enter the regional after three lackluster starts in the MWC Tournament.

TCU, which lost its best hitter, OF Jason Coats, to an ACL tear two weeks ago, has made nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and went to the College World Series in 2010. It will square off against Ole Miss at 12:35 p.m. on Friday.

Team ERA: 3.17 (27th)
Team WHIP: 1.24 (36th)
Team OBP: .359 (154th)
Team SLG: .374 (166th)
Fielding %: .964 (173rd)
Stolen Bases: 50 (T-157th)

Key players: RHP Preston Morrison, C Josh Elander, RHP Kevin Allen
The MWC Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, Morrison began the season in a relief role and transitioned to the weekend rotation as TCU's Saturday guy. And he's been phenomenal. He's 6-1 as a starter with an overall ERA below two. After throwing 98.2 innings, the most on the Horned Frogs' staff, his WHIP rests at 0.80 for one big reason: The man never walks anybody. Eight base-on-balls to his name on the season, along with a .201 batting-average-against, make him a very dangerous weapon.

He's also the kind of pitcher A&M struggles to hit, because his success stems from his command and his off-speed pitches. Schlossnagle plans to throw him on Friday, leaving (if TCU and A&M win) Andrew Mitchell to face the Aggies — something that would greatly benefit A&M, which hits hard throwers like Mitchell and struggles against control, off-speed pitchers of the Morrison mold.

Elander is in a similar situation to Stein, set to face the running games of either Dayton or A&M (or both) after the Frogs' first game. Runners have a 69.6% chance of stealing against him, a rate higher than Stein's. But there's another reason Elander is noteworthy — his bat. The junior and former Freshman All-American regularly hits in the two-hole for TCU and has started in the three-hole. He runs a .314/.442/.505 line with a team-leading eight home runs for the season and has stolen 12 bases of his own in 19 attempts, along with starting every one of the Horned Frogs' games. But he also holds the second-highest strikeout rate on the team.

Closer Kevin Allen carries an ERA of 2.40 in 30 innings pitched, striking out 42 in that span on the strength of his breaking ball. The Aggies hit him for two runs on four base knocks in 1.2 innings pitched in the teams' prior matchup, tagging him with his second loss of the season. {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"Closer Kevin Allen carries an ERA of 2.40 in 30 innings pitched, striking out 42 in that span on the strength of his breaking ball. The Aggies hit him for two runs on four base knocks in 1.2 innings pitched in the teams\u0027 prior matchup, tagging him with his second loss of the season.","Author":""}
Because TCU often involves itself in close, low-scoring affairs (despite a few offensive explosions in the last two weeks), a select few members of its bullpen are all keys to the Frogs' success. Allen finished the year as the team's closer and brings a 5-3 record and five saves into the regional. The JUCO transfer carries an ERA of 2.40 in 30 innings pitched, striking out 42 in that span on the strength of his breaking ball. The Aggies hit him for two runs on four base knocks in 1.2 innings pitched in the teams' prior matchup, tagging him with his second loss of the season.

X-factor: The three-hole in the order
Coats occupied that spot all season, as a team's best hitter should. In the three MWC Tournament games he missed after the injury, the Frogs tried Kevin Cron and Elander. Cron went 2-for-5, including a home run, with five RBIs in the first game and 0-for-4 the next day. Schlossnagle bumped him back to four in order to try Elander on Sunday, and it couldn't have worked better. Elander picked up two hits and two RBIs in six at-bats and Cron went 3-for-3 with another pair batted in.

I would expect that formation to be the case again on Friday. But whoever it is, production from this spot will be essential for a Horned Frog lineup already lacking a serious punch. Without it, the rotation might be strained past the point of being able to keep TCU in the postseason.

No. 3 Mississippi (35-24; 14-16 in SEC)

The instinctive thing to say is that the Rebels simply got 'SEC'd this year. This is a good ball club that doesn't dominate in any one thing but has the guns to beat just about anyone. But a look at their schedule reveals that Ole Miss wasn't a good team finishing just behind some of the nation's best, but rather a club that lost six of 10 SEC series, including to underwhelming Auburn and Georgia teams and a sweep at the hands of Vanderbilt.

At the same time, the Rebels took two of three hard-fought games from overall No. 1 seed Florida and went 2-2 against SEC champ Mississippi State. What does it all amount to? A dangerous 3-seed.

The Rebels have a strong team WHIP and a very solid rotation. That group goes Bobby Wahl (6-3, 2.26), Mike Mayers (5-3, 3.52) and R.J. Hively (5-5, 2.88). Even with a bullpen where only two guys with more than 10 appearances have an ERA below 3.98, Ole Miss is 29-4 when leading after six innings. Closer Brett Huber, a junior righty with 10 saves, a 90-91 fastball and 26 strikeouts in 23.1 innings, leads the back end. They can win a game with pitching, and they can score. The problem has been doing both at the same time, an inconsistency which led to no winning streak longer than six and a losing streak that reached five.

(The storyline of already having played TCU) is just something to write about. It was 60 games ago. We're two totally different teams now. - Head Coach Mike Bianco {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"left","Quote":"(The storyline of already having played TCU) is just something to write about. It was 60 games ago. We\u0027re two totally different teams now.","Author":"Head Coach Mike Bianco"}
In the lineup, Ole Miss has two multi-digit home run hitters and five guys with averages above .300. Top to bottom, it's struck out at a much lower rate than any of its three regional counterparts. If there's one thing to watch, it would be that playing on the road was a problem for the Rebels, who finished 7-14 away from home.

In their own friendly confines, they split a pair of games with TCU to open the season. But like Schlossnagle moments before him, Head Coach Mike Bianco was clear on Thursday: "(The storyline of already having played them) is just something to write about. It was 60 games ago. We're two totally different teams now."

Ole Miss missed the NCAA Tournament in 2011 after eight straight appearances, and last went to the College World Series in 1972.

Team ERA: 3.57 (63rd)
Team WHIP: 1.18 (12th)
Team OBP: .370 (91st)
Team SLG: .414 (54th)
Fielding %: .976 (20th)
Stolen Bases: 38 (T-226th)

Key players: RHP Bobby Wahl, 2B Alex Yarbrough, 1B/DH Matt Snyder
Wahl entered the season as a prime candidate to start for the Rebels after making his living as a reliever and part-time closer in 2011. When he earned the Friday role to begin the year, few could have pictured it would turn out like this. In 15 starts, he's compiled a 6-3 record with an ERA of 2.26 and a .211 batting-average-against. He has issued 31 walks, however. The Rebels will pit him against Morrison with the winner's bracket on the line, and likely bring him back on short rest later in the regional if needed. He's a front-line starter, a Second Team All-SEC pitcher to watch for more reasons than the glasses he wears on the mound.

Yarbrough is not only an All-SEC player himself, but an All-American as named by Louisville Slugger. Ole Miss' best hitter went .389/.442/.517 this season and started every game but one, putting up 17 doubles, three home runs — including one against TCU — 41 RBIs and stealing four bases. He also fielded at a .992 clip, bats second in the Rebel lineup, leads the team in multi-hit games and ran up a 22-game hit streak this season. Reminiscent of Tyler Naquin yet? With one exception: He's struck out 13 less times in five more at-bats. An absolute sparkplug for this offense and a player capable of winning a game.

Mike Mayers came back in the fall as an entirely different guy. He can throw three pitches for strikes. R.J. Hively has one of the best breaking balls I've ever seen. Our freshmen have great talent too. - Bobby Wahl {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"Mike Mayers came back in the fall as an entirely different guy. He can throw three pitches for strikes. R.J. Hively has one of the best breaking balls I\u0027ve ever seen. Our freshmen have great talent too.","Author":"Bobby Wahl"}
Sitting right behind Yarbrough in the order is Snyder, Ole Miss' other All-SEC selection, who has hit 12 home runs this season and driven in 57. He's a dangerous power hitter boasting a .568 slugging percentage and a team-leading 17 multiple-RBI games. In the Rebel's SEC Tournament-opening 2-0 loss, he went 4-for-4 but Yarbrough was hitless; in the defeat at LSU's hands, Yarbrough picked up two hits and Snyder none. When the two work in tandem, this is a dangerous offense.

X-factor: Pitchers not named Bobby Wahl
Fellow sophomore Mike Mayers has pitched behind Wahl all season, handling the Saturday starter spot with mixed success. If the Rebels advance to face A&M (should the Aggies beat Dayton), however, he'll have to toe the rubber against Ross Stripling. If they don't, the threat of elimination will fall on his shoulders. How he fares — whether against an experienced, All-American co-ace or one of Dayton's experienced starters — will help determine Ole Miss' ultimate fate in the regional.

R.J. Hively has took over Sundays after an up-and-down junior season that followed his transfer from JUCO and gave the Rebels some quality innings. The problem — he hasn't given enough of them. He averages 10.68 strikeouts per nine innings, but only 4.69 IP per start and has only worked to the seventh inning twice ... and to the sixth just one time in his last five starts. He'll have to perform well to avoid putting stress on the bullpen.

Tanner Bailey has made the occasional spot start, including Ole Miss' third game of the SEC Tournament, and will throw two to four innings before the bullpen takes over. Dylan Chavez transferred in from a JUCO and now fills the exact same role for the Rebels as Uriegas does for the Aggies, and he's important for the same reason. The difference? He hasn't been nearly as effective as A&M's lefty. Both are names to watch.

No. 4 Dayton (31-28; 17-7 in Atlantic-10)

By virtue of winning the A-10 Tournament, the Flyers made it to their first NCAA regional in program history. They did it with a run nearly on par with A&M's, with even better timing. Dayton won nine of its last 10 games, including a three-game sweep through the conference tournament, to make program history.

The deal with Dayton should be fairly clear by now: It has a passable lineup — the A-10's best, though probably less intimidating against rougher competition — with a great deal of speed. If the Flyers can get on base, they'll put pressure on any pitcher they're facing and threaten to manufacture enough runs to overcome their pitching deficiencies. They lead the nation in steals and show no signs of slowing up.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs The Flyers' most pressing concern is the lineup's ability to work against Wacha, who represents a sharp jump in the level of talent they've faced. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"The Flyers\u0027 most pressing concern is the lineup\u0027s ability to work against Wacha, who represents a sharp jump in the level of talent they\u0027ve faced.","MediaItemID":18635}
Head Coach Tony Vittoro made no bones about it on Thursday either, stating bluntly, "We try not to look at (the intimidating environment), play our own game, do what got us here — get on base and get to the next base."

Five Flyer starters finished the season with .300+ averages and all but one hit at least one home run, with the outfielders combining for 17 among them. Though he's not listed below, CF Bobby Glover (.331 average) led the team with nine home runs, started the season on a 21-game hitting streak and ranked only behind Brian Blasik in hits. On the pitching side, all three starters are upperclassmen and so is the club's top reliever. The remainder of the oft-used bullpen guys have ERAs over 5.00.

Dayton lost to Kentucky, then ranked No. 1, 19-6 on the road and played little other clubs of note in the non-conference. The Flyers became the first team to sweep Charlotte in its own park with three wins from April 6-8; they went 15-16 on the road and finished 186 in the NCAA's RPI.

Team ERA: 4.73 (186th)
Team WHIP: 1.51 (172nd)
Team OBP: .368 (100th)
Team SLG: .399 (86th)
Fielding %: .957 (240th)
Stolen Bases: 162 (1st)

Key players: SS Brian Blasik, RHP Mike Hauschild, OF Mike Coughlin
Blasik was the only A-10 position player named to Louisville Slugger's All-American team, making it as a Third Team selection. He's stolen 35 bases this season, a Dayton record and good for seventh in the nation. It's difficult to explain how good the senior was for the Flyers this season. On top of his speed, he hit .344, recorded 84 hits, scored 50 runs, doubled 21 times and hit three homers. Dayton bats him leadoff and he makes the offense go. One more notable: He's struck out 14 times in 244 at-bats, the 18th-lowest rate in the nation.

Hauschild, the regular Friday starter, will be asked to take on a 6-foot-6-inch-tall challenge, starting for Dayton against A&M and Michael Wacha. The senior went 7-2 with a 4.29 ERA in 15 starts this season; the Flyers are 11-4 in games he starts. He utilizes a low-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a splitter as his primary pitches. Hauschild has thrown four complete games this season and struck out 87 in 113.1 IP. Dayton will need a herculean effort from him, barring another uncharacteristic start from Wacha, to move to the winner's bracket.

(Mitchem) ... has been outstanding. When I say outstanding, I mean he hasn't given up a run in 20 innings. He has experience as a starter, he's been in a long relief role ... We feel comfortable having a late lead. If our pitcher's stuff isn't there, we will go to Burny. - Tony Vittoro {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"(Mitchem) ... has been outstanding. When I say outstanding, I mean he hasn\u0027t given up a run in 20 innings. He has experience as a starter, he\u0027s been in a long relief role ... We feel comfortable having a late lead. If our pitcher\u0027s stuff isn\u0027t there, we will go to Burny. ","Author":"Tony Vittoro"}
Coughlin is a part-time starter at DH/OF and carries a .231 average overall with five RBIs and five runs scored, but the fifth-year senior is something of a pinch-hit specialist, bringing a .625 average as a pinch-hitter to the regional. He's a right-handed, 6-3, 225, situational guy, but with Dayton likely to pull all the punches, the Aggies could see him in a tight spot — perhaps against Uriegas — where he suddenly becomes dangerous.

X-factor: RHP Burny Mitchem

If the starters can't keep Dayton within striking distance, Vittoro has no qualms with quickly going to Mitchem, who embodies a jack of all trades for the Flyers. It was he who earned the W in relief in the 13-inning victory against St. Joseph's to open the A-10 Tournament, throwing 4.2 scoreless innings to close the game. He then returned in both of the following games, both against Richmond, to pick up a pair of saves with another combined four scoreless innings.

With Dayton's fate hanging on the first two games, as an underdog, Mitchem will come in sooner than later, no matter the situation, and if nothing else he has the ability to keep the Flyers in a game. He works primarily with a fastball, which he said he throws "85 percent of the time," but will reach back for a slider to get strikeouts.
Discussion from...

Complete guide to the College Station Regional

aggiejz, who I have a great deal of respect for as a baseball fan, already did a fantastic job with a preview earlier in the week, so for you dedicated Raggies this is just a supplement. Still, hope y'all enjoy.
Aw shucks, thanks Beau! And great stuff as always.
Did I hear right at the end that Blake will be out again this weekend?
Great, great work on this, Beau! You're a huge asset to our baseball coverage!
614...yes. Blake has mono and will be out at least through this weekend.
Thats a shame, hopefully he is back sooner rather than later.
Good story, but you left out the part where the Aggie bus drives off the road, rolls into a ditch and catches fire. The only good thing is everyone survived with only a mental scar for life.
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