Maryland has to travel cross-country for their NCAA Tournament Regional round in Los Angeles, CA. The Terps are seeded #3, which means they open up play against #2 seed Ole Miss. UCLA, ranked No. 2 in the nation, is the host team. The Bruins will face #4 seed UC-Bakersfield in Friday's second game. Unfortunately, Head Coach John Szefc has been suspended for the first two games due to events that occurred during last Sunday's B1G Championship game.
Here's a quick rundown on the teams in the Los Angeles bracket.
There was a time when Southern California was synonymous with NCAA baseball titles. USC, under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, put together an incredible string of CWS championship teams in the 1970's. Indeed, USC will be playing in somewhat nearby Lake Elsinore in this year's tournament. However, the big kid on the block in Los Angeles for the past decade has been UCLA. The Bruins are hosting a Regional for the fifth time in six years, and won the CWS just two years ago. UCLA went 42-14 this season, and won the PAC 12 title with a 22-8 record. (The PAC 12 does not hold a conference championship.) They have an RPI = 4 and are 25-6 at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The name of the game at UCLA is pitching, and the Bruins' staff has a combined era of 2.16, which leads the nation. If UCLA and the Terps both win on Friday, then Maryland will most likely face junior LHP Grant Watson (8-4, 2.16 era). UCLA arguably has the best closer in the country in RHP David Berg (7-1, 0.73 era, 12 saves), although the fans in Champaign would disagree. Berg was recently named as PAC 12 Pitcher of the Year for the second time. However, if UCLA starts Watson in game 1, then Maryland/Ole Miss will be up against one of the best starters in the country: RHP James Kaprelian (9-4, 1.94 era, 107 so in 97.2 ip).
The Bruins aren't shabby on offense either. Left fielder Ty Moore (.335 avg, 5 hr, 47 rbi), shortstop Kevin Kramer (.328 avg, 49 runs, 6 hr, .478 slg pct; incidentally, on my All-Names list) have some power, and outfielder/DH Brett Stephens provides a speedy leadoff hitter (11 sb - 13 sba) who also can hit for power (11 2b, 4 3b, 2hr). Third baseman Chris Keck (.306, 45 rbi, 7 hr) is also a dangerous hitter.
Although they went to the CWS last year, the Rebels (30-26, RPI = 31) are a surprise #2 seed in many analysts' minds. Their record isn't noteworthy, unless one considers that they played the toughest schedule in the country. Still, Ole Miss was a combined 17-24 against top 100 RPI teams, not exactly stellar.
The Rebels have two solid weekend starters in junior LHP Christian Trent (7-6, 3.70 era) and RS sophomore RHP Brady Bramlett (7-3, 3.84 era, 78 so in 77 ip), as well as a good closer in sophomore LHP Wyatt Short (4-1, 10 saves, 1.42 era). Trent has had a somewhat disappointing 2015, as he went 9-0 last year with a 2.05 era as the Saturday starter. Recently Ole Miss' pitching has been a sore spot, something Terps batters will surely like to see.
Outfielder and JuCo transfer Connor Cloyd was inserted into the starting line-up as the season progressed. Batting leadoff, he's hit .400 and has helped Ole Miss down the stretch. (Cloyd has miissd the last few games due to an injury, but is likely to see action in Friday's game against the Terps.) Although 1B Sikes Orvis (.267 avg, 16 hr) has seen a dip in average, his power numbers have gone up from 2014, when he was a first-team All-SEC selection. His 16 home runs is tied for tenth nationally. Cameron Dishon (17sb - 23 att) and Kyle Watson (13 sb - 16 att) supply most of the team's speed on the base paths. Prior to them being bounced in the SEC tournament, the Rebels had won six of their last seven games, including a split of a two game series against No. 7 Texas A&M.
The Roadrunners placed third in the Western Athletic Conference, but won the conference's tournament to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Bakersfield had an overall record of 36-22, but played a very weak schedule and ended up with an RPI = 126. They're led by 2B David Metzgar (.358 avg, 46 runs, 42 rbi, 10-13 sb). Metzgar was named a first-team All-WAC selection. The Roadrunners have only 16 home runs all year. In terms of pitching, senior RHP Hayden Carter (8-3, 2.55 era) and sophomore RHP Stephen Gee (5-3, 2.66 era) are the pitchers the Terps will most likely face if the two teams meet. Carter was selected as the Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year (Roadrunner head coach Bill Kernen was named WAC Coach of the Year). In his previous start, Gee pitched a complete game shutout of Sacramento State in the WAC Tournament.
Tradin' questions with Ole Miss
1. How healthy is Connor Cloyd? If he can't play, does that have a big impact on your team's offense?
Just kidding, kind of.
We're told that if the Rebels would have gone deeper into the SEC Tournament that he would have given it a shot. Ole Miss' early exit in the tournament didn't allow us to see how healthy Cloyd actually is. Having a healthy Connor Cloyd back in the lineup would be big for Ole Miss, there's no doubt about it. It does beg the question.. how healthy is he? It looks like we will unfortunately just have to wait and see.
2. Last year was a successful one for Ole Miss. Why has this year's team not performed nearly as well?
Losses, losses, losses. From last years team that made the magical run to Omaha they lost 5 starting position players, most notably C Will Allen (.339 avg, 7 hr, 64 rbi), CF Austin Bousfield (.336 avg, 6 hr, 50 rbi), and 3B Austin Anderson (.323 avg, 5 hr, 41 rbi). In addition Ole Miss' ace Chris Ellis (10-3, 2.55 era, .261 b/avg) and three impact bullpen arms are gone. There has been some growing pains with a ton of young guys being thrust into roles they probably weren't ready for. All things considered, Bianco has done a heck of a job coaching this team to a 2-seed.
3. I've heard rumblings about Ole Miss' pitching being suspect. Is that accurate?
Its pitching DEPTH is more than suspect, it's a downright problem for this team. They have 3 good starters:
Christian Trent, who the Terps will likely see on Friday night, hasn't had as good of a year as last. Part of that, in my opinion, is because the lack of run support he has received which caused him to "press" (as I like to call it). He does have a ton of starts under his belt, has thrived in pressure situations, and when he is on he's very very good.
Brady Bramlett has been a pleasant surprise for Ole Miss fans this season on Saturdays. They weren't sure what kind of impact he was going to have after coming off shoulder surgery that caused him to sit out last season, but he has been very good. He's a strikeout machine that fills the zone with his "heavy" fastball.
Long time reliever Scott Weathersby has been a huge commodity out of the bullpen, including emergency starts. He does just about everything well and pitches his best under pressure.
After those three is where it gets dicey. Wyatt Short (who has the most unfortunate last name in history because he is not blessed vertically) has been the Rebels go-to out of the pen. He's been very good and has 10 saves on the year.
In my opinion, Ole Miss cannot win this regional if they lose Friday night, they simply do not have the pitching depth.
How to Follow
Friday, 7 p.m. EDT: Maryland's Mike Shawaryn (12-2, 1.67 era) vs. LHP Christian Trent (7-6, 3.70 era).
Audio: Maryland Baseball Network
Twitter: @terpsbaseball and @mercator88