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Card Chronicle CWS Preview (Part One)

The first part of the Card Chronicle CWS Preview is dedicated to providing you with the essential information on the four teams in the top-half of the bracket.

RICE OWLS (54-12)

Brief Overview

The top-ranked Owls came to Omaha as the favorites a year ago, and by most accounts are the team to beat again in 2007. The potent Rice offense (no player in their starting lineup has an average below .300) has been held in check since the Conference USA Tournament, as the Owls have hit just .275 a team and averaged just 4.4 runs in their five NCAA Tournament games. A further look back, however, reveals scores of 20-9 and 16-8 in their last two C-USA tourney wins.

The big bats haven't had to come out yet for the 2003 National champs because of a pitching staff that has allowed just eight runs in five games. In the big dance, reliever Bobby Bramhall has 11 strikeouts and one hit allowed in 6 2/3 innings, while Matt Langwell is 2-0, 0.68 in two starts with 15 strikeouts in 13 1/3 frames.

Rice, which tied the all-time record for most players drafted from one team with 14, has won 27 of its last 28 games and 35 of its last 37.

Coach

Wayne Graham (738-282, 16th season)

How They Got Here

Record: 5-0

Houston Regional

Rice 5, Prairie View A&M 0
Rice 6, TCU 3
Rice 3, TCU 1

Super Regional

Rice 3, Texas A&M 2
Rice 5, Texas A&M 2

Starting Lineup

  1. Brian Friday (SS), .342
  2. Jared Gayhardt (RF), .338
  3. Tyler Hensley (CF), .308
  4. Joe Savery (1B), .360
  5. Aaron Luna (2B), .315
  6. Jess Buenger (DH), .307
  7. Diego Seastrunk (3B), .303
  8. Jordan Dodson (LF), .302
  9. Danny Lehmann (C), .305
Standout

Joe Savery, the #19 overall selection by the Philadelphia Phillies, is the best hitter in the Owl lineup at .360, and is also 10-1 with a 2.78 in 17 starts on the mound. He was named Conference USA's Player of the Year three weeks ago.

Game One Starter

Right-handed Ryan Berry (11-2, 2.71 ERA) has been the Owls' go-to guy all year, and with good reason, he was named National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. Opponents are hitting just .240 off of Berry, who has allowed four earned runs in 13.2 innings of work thus far in the NCAA Tournament.

Team Offensive Statistics

Average: .310
Home Runs: 57
Slugging %: .465
On Base %: .406
Stolen Bases: 51

Team Pitching Statistics

ERA: 2.83
Walks: 217
Strikeouts: 529
Home Runs: 28
Opponents Average: .232
Shutouts: 5

CWS Appearance

Sixth (8-9 all-time, '03 National Champs)

Record Against '07 CWS Teams

1-2 (dropped 2 of 3 in a series at Cal State Fullerton)

Quotable

"I think we all understand that winning a super regional against a great team like A&M is huge, but ultimately we all want rings that say 'National Champions.' There is something more than just winning a super regional. We want a national championship." (Tyler Hensley)

Card Chronicle Odds To Win It All

4-1

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (46-22)

Brief Overview

The first Big East team to make it to the College World Series since 2002, the Cards are widely considered to be the biggest underdogs to make the final eight since Southwest Missouri State came to Omaha in '03. Louisville had never won an NCAA Tournament game before this season and now first-year head coach Dan McDonnell has them playing on the biggest stage in college baseball.

Although pitching carried U of L for most of the regular season, the Cardinal bats apparently woke up when they heard their names called on Selection Monday. The team is hitting .362 in eight tournament games and has won by scores of 13-7, 16-6, 9-0 and 20-2.

If the Cards hope to have any chance of making it through the first weekend, they're going to need quality starts from Big East Pitcher of the Year Zack Pitts and Big East Freshman of the Year Justin Marks. The duo was tremendous in last weekend's Super Regional, but not so much in the Columbia Regional where Pitts was chased after just an inning and a third against Miami and Marks lasted only five innings in a loss to Missouri.

U of L's speed will garner a lot of attention in the media this week, but the Cardinal defense doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves, especially the up-the-middle combo of Chris Cates and Logan Johnson which turned a trio of double plays in the deciding game of the Super Regional.

Coach

Dan McDonnell (1st season, 46-22)

How They Got Here

Record: 6-2

Columbia Regional

Louisville 13, Miami 7
Missouri 7, Louisville 5
Louisville 8, Miami 7
Louisville 4, Missouri 3
Louisville 16, Missouri 6

Super Regional

Louisville 9, Oklahoma State 0
Louisville 2, Oklahoma State 3 (12 innings)
Louisville 20, Oklahoma State 2

Starting Lineup

  1. Boomer Whiting (CF), .367
  2. Logan Johnson (2B), .364
  3. Daniel Burton (1B), .309
  4. Isaiah Howes (LF), .392
  5. Jorge Castillo (DH), .307
  6. Chris Dominguez (3B), .262
  7. Pete Rodriguez (RF), .292
  8. Derrick Alfonso (C), .278
  9. Chris Cates (SS), .294
Standout

Louisville native Isaiah Howes has hit eight home runs in 12 postseason games, and leads the Cards in average (.292), homers (18) and RBI (67). The Super Regional MVP was selected in the 11th round of last week's draft by the New York Yankees.

Game One Starter

Big East Pitcher of the Year Zack Pitts (10-3, 2.23 ERA) was phenomenal in his last start, holding the potent Oklahoma State scoreless into the seventh inning as he combined with reliever Kyle Hollander to blank the Cowboys in game one of the Super Regional. The Cards are hoping that Pitts shows up on Friday, and not the one that gave up seven earned runs in an inning and a third against Miami in game one of the Columbia Regional.

Team Offensive Statistics

Average: .312
Home Runs: 70
Slugging %: .472
On Base %: .383
Stolen Bases: 153

Team Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.02
Walks: 230
Strikeouts: 496
Home Runs: 36
Opponents Average: .217
Shutouts: 7

CWS Appearance

First

Record Against '07 CWS Teams

0-0

Quotable

"I've always said you can't back your way into Omaha and we definitely went through the front door. And I've had some people tell me we knocked the front door down to get in." (Dan McDonnell)

Card Chronicle Odds To Win It All

15-1

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (38-20)

Brief Overview

Most people assumed that an SEC team would be playing in the College World Series, they just didn't think it would be MSU.

The hard-hitting Bulldogs average .316 as a team and have driven in 375 runs, which is a good thing since their pitching staff's 4.76 ERA is easily the worst in the field. MSU lost eight of its last ten regular season games, but hasn't dropped a decision since a 3-2 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.

Cleanup hitter Mitch Moreland has been on fire since the NCAA Tournament started, blasting four homers and two doubles while contributing to an .810 slugging percentage in five games.

Mississippi State has played, and defeated, an ACC opponent in their last four games. They'll go for five straight against North Carolina Friday night at 7 p.m.

Coach

Ron Polk (1,116-555-2, 28th season)

How They Got Here

Record: 5-0

Tallahassee Regional

Mississippi State 6, Stetson 3
Mississippi State 3, Florida State 0
Mississippi State 9, Florida State 4

Super Regional

Mississippi State 8, Clemson 6
Mississippi State 8, Clemson 5

Starting Lineup

  1. Jeffrey Rea (CF), .338
  2. Joseph McCaskill (LF), .320
  3. Edward Easley (C), .363
  4. Mitch Moreland (RF), .338
  5. Brandon Turner (2B), .397
  6. Brian LaNinfa (1B), .300
  7. Russ Sneed (3B), .304
  8. Connor Powers (DH), .306
  9. Jet Butler (SS), .253
Standout

It's a tough call between Rea (the school's all-time leader in hits), Turner (flirting with .400), Moreland (postseason hero) and Easley (best hitter for most of the year). I'm going to have to go with First-Team ALL-SEC catcher Edward Easley who hasn't had a great postseason, but still leads the team in home runs (12) and RBI (63), and has to be productive in Omaha if MSU is going to compete in the loaded top-half.

Game One Starter

Chad Crosswhite has been Polk's number one guy all year, but he's going with junior lefty Justin Pigott (7-6, 4.40 ERA) on Friday night because North Carolina has five left-handed hitters. He isn't going to impress anyone holding a radar gun, but he gets by with placement and junk. In his last start, Pigott gave up four earned runs on nine hits over six innings in the Bulldogs' second win over Clemson.

Team Offensive Statistics

Average: .316
Home Runs: 49
Slugging %: --
On Base %: --
Stolen Bases: 42

Team Pitching Statistics

ERA: 4.76
Walks: 160
Strikeouts: 483
Home Runs: --
Opponents Average: --
Shutouts: 1

CWS Appearance

Eighth (7-14 all-time)

Record Against '07 CWS Teams

0-0

Quotable

"We achieved our goal to go to Omaha. Let's don't feel like that's it, we're done. We'd like to play for the national championship." (Ron Polk)

Card Chronicle Odds To Win It All

11-1

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (53-13)

Brief Overview

No team will come to Omaha with more focus than UNC, which was an error away from a national championship a year ago.

The Tar Heels have put last season's loss to Oregon State in the Championship Series behind them by fielding a starting lineup that consists of eight hitter who have averages of .300 or better. They lost aces Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard from last year's squad, but field another stellar starting rotation with Robert Woodard, Alex White, and Luke Putkonen.

Opponents in Omaha shouldn't get excited if they get on top of the No. 2 team in the country early. The Heels have come from behind to win four times already this postseason, and outscored South Carolina 20-4 in innings six through nine during the Super Regional.

Coach

Mike Fox (394-173-1, 9th season)

How They Got Here

Record: 5-1

Chapel Hill Regional

North Carolina 6, Jacksonville 0
North Carolina 11, East Carolina 10
North Carolina 6, Western Carolina 5

Super Regional

North Carolina 9, South Carolina 6
South Carolina 8, North Carolina 6
North Carolina 9, South Carolina 4

Starting Lineup

  1. Reid Fronk (LF), .327
  2. Tim Fedroff (RF), .344
  3. Dustin Ackley (1B), .416
  4. Tim Federowicz (C), .357
  5. Josh Horton (SS), .331
  6. Chad Flack (3B), .251
  7. Kyle Seager (DH), .311
  8. Seth Williams (CF), .301
  9. Garrett Gore (2B), .333
Standout

Collegiate Baseball's National Freshman of the Year, Dustin Ackley has led UNC in just about every category besides home runs for the vast majority of the season. His 111 hits tied a UNC freshman record, and he was named an All-American by numerous publications. Ackley has struggled in the postseason, however, hitting just
.211 over the last five games, and .256 in the last ten.

Game One Starter

Senior right-hander Robert Woodard (10-2, 3.01 ERA) is UNC's all-time winningest pitcher who chose to return to school for one more year to chase a national championship. Woodard tossed a complete-game three-hit shutout of Clemson in last year's CWS, but was roughed up by the Tigers for six runs in his last start.

Despite their vaunted starting rotation, the story for UNC in the postseason has  been the bullpen. Rob Wooten has been the star of stars, grabbing three of the Heels' five wins and striking out 14 in 9 2/3 scoreless innings. The Tar Heels are 45-1 when leading after seven, and 50-1 when ahead after eight.

Team Offensive Statistics

Average: .321
Home Runs: 65
Slugging %: .477
On Base %: .390
Stolen Bases: 46

Team Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.30
Walks: 245
Strikeouts: 489
Home Runs: 37
Opponents Average: .246
Shutouts: 7

CWS Appearance

Sixth (6-10 all-time)

Record Against '07 CWS Teams

0-0

Quotable

"We just wanted another chance. I've been telling guys that I'm just trying to get back to that Promised Land. That's Omaha to us, and now that we have that opportunity I think we're going to relax and enjoy it and give everybody out there our best shot for sure." (Reid Fronk)

Card Chronicle Odds To Win It All

4-1