baseball

The journey to Omaha begins

For the Aggies, the College Station regional is a chance for the nation's #1 team to make a statement in its quest to return to the College World Series. But Minnesota, Wake Forest and Binghamton stand in the way.

The hosts: Texas A&M Aggies

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Nick Banks was the MVP of the SEC Tournament.

Record: 45-14 (29-5 at home), 20-10 SEC

How they got here: Ranked #1 in the nation; won the SEC Conference Tournament

Likely starters: Friday, RHP Kyle Simonds (9-3, 2.79 ERA); Saturday, RHP Brigham Hill (8-1, 1.88 ERA); Sunday, RHP Andrew Vinson (4-2, 2.45 ERA). If necessary: RHP Turner Larkins (2-0, 3.03 ERA)

Closer: RHP Mark Ecker (4-2, .43 ERA, 6 saves, 4 BB, 47 K in 41.1 innings)

Possible starting lineup:

LF J.B. Moss (.332, 5 HR, 42 RBI and 10 steals)

RF Nick Banks (.300, 9 HR, 45 RBI)

3B Boomer White (.395, 4 HR, 42 RBI)

2B Ryne Birk (.318, 7 HR, 41 RBI)

C Michael Barash (.321, 4 HR, 36 RBI)

DH Jonathan Moroney (.310, 2 HR, 17 RBI)

CF Nick Choruby (.291, 0 HR, 21 RBI, 13 SB)

1B Hunter Melton (.309, 11 HR, 65 RBI)

SS Austin Homan (.360, 1 HR, 22 RBI)

The Aggies are loaded offensively from top to bottom, and became more dangerous last week when Nick Banks hit his stride and destroyed the SEC Tournament after a relatively average season. White is a Golden Spikes semifinalist, Birk has been an excellent second baseman and Moss has been a huge threat out of the leadoff spot. The Aggies have their biggest power hitter, Melton, batting down in the order, a luxury only a few teams have.

A&M's pitching staff has been good all year, with Hill and Simonds being the reliable starters. Vinson has been pressed into service as a third starter of late as part of Rob Childress' search for consistency and has performed well. A&M has big arms in the bullpen, but none are bigger than Ecker who has been dominant all season.

Fundamentally sound, good on defense and probably the best offensive team in college baseball, the Aggies are overwhelming favorites in their regional.

The 4 seed: Binghamton Bearcats

Record: 30-23 (13-22 on the road), 19-5 America East

How they got here: Won the America East regular season and tournament titles

Likely starters: Friday, RHP Mike Bunal (8-3, 3.45 ERA); Saturday, RHP Jake Cryts (7-4, 5.05 ERA); Sunday (or Saturday if needed), LHP Nick Wegmann (2-0, 3.49 ERA); if needed, RHP Jake Wloczewski (4-0, 3.21 ERA)

Closer: Rob Hardy (1-3, 3.58 ERA, 7 saves)

Possible starting lineup:

CF CJ Krowiak (.322, 0 HR, 27 RBI, 16 SB)

3B David Schanz (.264, 2 HR, 34 RBI)

2B Reed Gamache (.367, 7 HR, 46 RBI)

1B Brandon Skidmore (.315, 9 HR, 42 RBI)

C Eddie Posavec (.316, 0 HR, 23 RBI)

DH Jason Agresti (.291, 7 HR, 38 RBI)

SS Paul Rufo (.315, 2 HR, 36 RBI)

RF Chris McGee (.269, 1 HR, 24 RBI)

LF Daniel Franchi (.299, 1 HR, 8 RBI)

A&M's only certain opponent comes into the College Station regional white hot, having won 15 of its last 18 games and sweeping the three games of the America East Tournament. The Bearcats have gone on a 28-10 clip since starting the season 2-13. They definitely rely on their bats to win games, with Gamache, Skidmore and Agresti putting up huge numbers. Their pitching staff is less stellar, with nobody sporting an ERA under 3.21.

The #3 seed: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Record: 34-25 (12-15 on the road), 13-17 ACC

How they got here: 5th in the Atlantic Division; lost to Clemson in the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament

Likely starters: Friday, RHP Parker Dunshee (9-5, 3.27 ERA); Saturday, RHP John McCarren (7-3, 3.74 ERA); Sunday (or Saturday if needed), RHP Drew Loepprich (3-1, 4.22 ERA); if needed, RHP Connor Johnstone (2-5, 5.70 ERA)

Closer: Will Craig, (2-0, 2.42 ERA and 7 saves in 26 IP)

Starting lineup:

RF Joey Rodriguez (.254, 2 HR, 26 RBI)

2B Nate Mondu (.303, 3 HR, 34 RBI)

CF Stuart Fairchild (.303, 5 HR, 47 RBI)

3B Will Craig (.392, 16 HR, 62 RBI)

1B Gavin Sheets (.323, 9 HR, 43 RBI)

LF Kevin Conway (.260, 7 HR, 40 RBI)

C Ben Breazeale (.249, 3 HR, 31 RBI)

SS Johnny Aiello (.230, 5 HR, 19 RBI)

DH Jonathan Pryor (.252, 1 HR, 17 RBI)

One of the weaker teams to make the tourney, Wake Forest is dancing for the first time in seven years. Their team revolves around their stars, Craig, Fairchild and Sheets. Otherwise, they're pretty pedestrian. Dunshee is the ace and he'll start against Minnesota. If the Deacs win tonight, A&M will see McCarren, who was lit up in the ACC Tournament by Louisville.


The #2 seed: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 34-20 (18-11 on the road), 16-7 Big 10

How they got here: Won the Big 10 regular season title; lost two straight games in the Big 10 Tournament

Likely starters: Friday, LHP Dalton Sawyer (7-6, 3.15 ERA); Saturday, RHP Matt Fielder (7-3, 4.10 ERA); Sunday (or Saturday if needed), RHP Toby Anderson (7-1, 3.28 ERA); if needed, RHP Tyler Hanson (4-2, 4.70 ERA)

Closer: Jordan Jess (no record, 9 saves in 20 appearances)

Starting lineup:

CF Dan Motl (.338, 3 HR, 30 RBI)

2B Conner Schaefbauer (.316, 5 HR, 36 RBI)

DH Matt Fiedler (.377, 7 HR, 36 RBI)

C Austin Athmann (.361 11 HR, 39 RBI)

3B Micha Coffey (.332, 7 HR, 39 RBI)

SS Terrin Vavra (.375, 1 HR, 18 RBI)

1B Toby Hanson (.292, 5 HR, 24 RBI)

LF Jordan Smith (.286, 1 HR, 31 RBI)

RF Alex Boswell (.333, 1 HR, 15 RBI)

There's no secret to how Minnesota got here: they rake. Their pitching is nothing impressive, but the middle of their order is one of the best in the country. They did, however, flop in the Big 10 Tournament, scoring 4 total runs against Iowa and Michigan in going two and barbecue. The Gophers are a wild card because they're playing with a purpose: pitching coach Todd Oakes died of cancer and was buried just three days ago, so the Gophers can either be playing fire or be emotionally flat.

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