So how bout that regional draw, huh? Ole Miss did end up getting a two seed, but they got plunked down in Los Angeles with the tournament's top overall seed, UCLA. The other two teams are Maryland, who got all the way to the Big Ten championship game, and Cal State Bakersfield, who won the WAC. So yea, this ain't gonna be easy.
Which is fitting for a team that finished the season with the country's most difficult strength of schedule. The good news is that if anybody's battle tested enough to go into L.A. and leave with a win, its a Rebel group that's already trekked to Louisville, Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, Nashville and Columbia.
Maryland is first up on Friday. Mike Bianco hasn't said who his starter will be, but I'd expect he's sticking with Chrisitian Trent. There's a school of thought that says throw Brady Bramlett on Friday so you have Trent for UCLA, but that's too risky of a move. The Rebs don't have the pitching depth to survive an extended five-game regional, so dropping to the losers bracket after a loss to Maryland would be a death sentence. Gotta win the first one.
So let's get to know our regional mates a little better, shall we?
UCLA, 1 seed
Record: 42-14 (22-8 Pac-12)
Strength of schedule: 11
Head coach: John Savage
SBN blog: Bruins Nation
Pitching is what makes this team great. They lead the country with a 2.16 staff ERA and have seven(!) guys with at least 30 innings pitched and a sub-3 ERA. Savage has announced he's sticking with Friday night ace James Kaprielian for the opener, which means Ole Miss would see Grant Watson (8-4, 2.08 ERA) if they were to meet the Bruins on Saturday.
But the real strength of the staff is in the bullpen with David Berg, the best closer in the country. He's racked up 12 saves and carries an insane 0.71 ERA. He and fellow bullpen monster Grant Dyer have only allowed 16 combined earned runs over 115 innings. That's just stupid. If you fall behind these guys, it's pretty much over -- only five times all season has a team come back to beat UCLA after the Bruins took the lead.
But this isn't the same UCLA that won the championship two years ago despite an anemic offense. These bros can bash. Their .286 team batting average isn't anything to write home about, but they lead the Pac-12 in doubles and total bases. They don't lean on the long ball all that often (their 31 homers are fifth in the conference), but eight guys in the everyday lineup have at least two dingers this season. Ty Moore (.335, 47 RBI) and Chris Keck (7 homers, .505 slugging percentage) are the ones to look out for.
And oh yea, they went 25-6 at home in Jackie Robinson Stadium this season.
Maryland, 3 seed
Record: 39-21 (14-10 Big Ten)
Strength of schedule: 82
Head coach: John Szefc
SBN blog: Testudo Times
Maryland is the scariest kind of three seed: one with a legit ace. The Terps are throwing Mike Shawaryn, who's 12-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 124 strikeouts to just just 23 walks (gulp). The team as a whole doesn't necessarily terrify you, but with Shawaryn on the mound, they could easily drop the Rebs into the losers bracket.
The rest of the rotation isn't all that impressive, but the bullpen is pretty salty. The top three relievers (Kevin Mooney, Ryan Selmer and Alex Robinson) all have ERAs under 2.
Maryland only hit .265 as a team, but they're second in the B1G in runs scored because they get 'em on (.371 OBP and B1G-leading 266 walks) and bring 'em in (.409 slugging percentage, second in the conference in RBIs). They can also send it over the fence: they've hit 50 homers, 11 of which came off the bat of third baseman Jose Cuas.
They don't have a ton of marquee wins, but they did hammer Arkansas in an early-season tournament and grabbed two of three from Cal State Fullerton in mid-April. Then they ran through Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois in the B1G Tourney before falling to Michigan in the championship.
CSU Bakersfield, 4 seed
Record: 36-22-1 (17-9-1 WAC)
Strength of schedule: 219
Head coach: Bill Kernen
Bakersfield is here because they got an auto-bid by winning the WAC Tournament. They obviously don't have much of a shot to win this thing, but they did beat Cal State Fullerton earlier this season, so they have it in them to throw a wrench into this regional by pulling off an upset (pleeeeeeease let it be against UCLA).
The top of the rotation is pretty strong (their top two options are sub-3 ERA), but they don't have much depth behind it and the bullpen is weak. The lineup lacks power (they've hit a measly 16 dingers and have a .365 slugging percentage), but they still lead the WAC in runs scored. The name to watch in the lineup is David Metzgar, who leads the team in batting average (.358), slugging percentage (.467) and doubles.