Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Columbia regional preview

The teams
No. 1 seed South Carolina (42-16). 2. Maryland (36-21). 3. Old Dominion (36-24). 4. Campbell (40-19)

* South Carolina is making the 30th NCAA Tournament appearance in school history and is in the tournament for the 15th consecutive season.

* Maryland is making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance all-time, but its first since 1971.

* Old Dominion is making its eighth NCAA appearance all-time, but first since 2000.

* Campbell won the Big South Conference Tournament championship to earn the school's third NCAA appearance and first since 1990.
Why South Carolina might win
* No place like home --The Gamecocks traditionally have been close to unbeatable in postseason home games. USC has 58-8 at home and has won 27 straight NCAA Tournament home games dating back to 2002. Carolina is 16-0 in NCAA play since Carolina Stadium opened in 2010.

* NCAA experience --The spectacle, schedule and pace of an NCAA regional are something USC's players are accustomed to.

* Pitching -- The Gamecocks still have gaudy numbers (2.37 ERA) despite their pitchers getting roughed up three of the past five games.  If USC can get five to seven innings and a lead out of its starters, its deep bullpen figures to be in position to close things out.

Why South Carolina might lose
 * Offensive issues -- South Carolina score-by-innings in recent game has resembled binary code: a lot of  0's and 1's. The Gamecocks entered the SEC Tournament believed to have a national seed within reach with a good performance. Instead, they were outscored 19-2, hit .135 as a team and had a string of ineffective pitching appearances in an 0-2 performance.

* Brain cramps -- In their SEC Tournament debacle the Gamecocks ran themselves out of a couple of innings with poor base-running decisions. In addition to the mental errors there were physical mistakes such as not covering bases and not making what appeared to be routine plays. Those things can be killers in tight games.

Why Maryland might win
* Starting pitching -- The Terrapins have four starters with ERA's of 2.77 or less. While Jake Stinnett's 7-6 record is somewhat pedestrian, he is rated by Baseball America as the No. 24 right-handed pitcher prospect for the 2014 MLB draft. He struck out 123 batters and allowed a total of 99 hits and walks in 104 innings. Stinnett pitched a no-hitter against Massachusetts and struck out 14 batters in eight innings against N.C. State,

* Confidence -- In addition to a sweep of N.C. State, Maryland had wins over Florida and Florida State in the regular season. The Terrapins won 11 straight games in May to charge into the ACC at-large picture. They wound up playing in the ACC Tournament championship game.

* Base running - The Terrapins have stolen 84 bases. That can put pressure on opposing defenses.

Why Maryland might lose
How hot is it? -- Columbia in the late spring can have brutally oppressive heat and humidity, much worse than the more temperate climes of the middle Atlantic states. Maryland's coaches should learn something about their players' conditioning this weekend.

 Why Old Dominion might win
Defense -- The Monarchs' .977 fielding percentage is best among the four teams. They've also turned 65 double plays - 20 of which were NOT groundout double plays..

* Offense -- ODU's .283 batting average also is tops in the regional. The Monarchs are averaging almost 10 hits per game. That means opposing pitchers may working from the stretch a lot.

Why Old Dominion might lose
* Close, but no cigar -- The Monarchs are 13-14 in games decided by two runs or less. 

Why Campbell might win
* Momentum -- The Camels came out of the losers bracket in the Big South Conference Tournament with five straight victories.

* Ryan Thompson -- Campbell's closer has a 6-2 record, a 1.22 ERA and 17 saves. He also has 81 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings.

Why Campbell might lose
* Middle relief -- Other than Thompson, the Camels' bullpen hasn't put up overly impressive numbers.

* Jerry Meyers is in his second stint as USC's pitching coach. In between he served as head coach at Old Dominion for six seasons.

* Maryland's last NCAA bid came when it won the ACC Championship in 1971. That was South Carolina's final year in the ACC before becoming an independent. The Gamecocks later had a stint in the Metro Conference before joining the SEC in 1992.

The schedule (all games on ESPN3):
Game 1: Maryland. vs. Old Dominion, 1 p.m.
Game 2: South Carolina vs. Campbell, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 6; Game 5 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 4 winner (if both teams have one loss), 7 p.m.

Palmetto State Baseball prediction: South Carolina advances to the super regional round, but the home winning streak may come to an end.

Next: Nashville regional (Clemson)

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