UC Santa Barbara ace Dillon Tate returns to the mound Friday. (Shotgun Spratling)

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2015 Lake Elsinore Regional Preview

Lake Elsinore Regional Participants

UC Santa Barbara

Gauchos

Santa Barbara, CA

40-15-1

16-8 (2nd Big West)

At-Large

Roster

Statistics

USC

Trojans

Los Angeles, CA

37-19

18-12 (T-3rd Pac-12)

At-Large

Roster

Statistics

Virginia

Cavaliers

Charlottesville, VA

34-22

15-15 (2nd ACC Coastal)

At-Large

Roster

Statistics

San Diego State

Aztecs

San Diego, CA

40-21

19-10 (2nd Mountain West)

Automatic

Roster

Statistics

Regional Superlatives

Most Exciting Player: Bobby Stahel, of, USC. Stahel is a player you don’t want to take your eyes off because he’s always in the middle of something. Whether it’s in the batter’s box, where Stahel flirted with .400 for more than half the season during a hit streak that reached 22 games, or in the field, where he’s made several Superman layout diving plays, he’s the guy to watch. Even more entertaining may be Stahel on the basepaths, where he has been in a handful of rundowns, but has been known to get caught sleeping and get doubled up on flyouts as well.

Best Hitter: Matt Thaiss, 1b/c, Virginia. Power and contact. That’s a rare combination in baseball, but Thaiss has struck out just 20 times in 210 at-bats and he’s launched nine homers to go along with 16 doubles and 55 RBIs.

Best Defensive Player: Garrett Stubbs, c, USC. The Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year isn’t like your normal catcher. He’s lean and has a small frame, but he’s super athletic (as evidenced by his 19 stolen bases). He also has a great arm. He’s thrown out 54 percent of attempted basestealers this season. He’s caught 66 runners stealing and picked off another 10 in his career.

Best Pitcher: Dillon Tate, rhp, UC Santa Barbara. His plus fastball that ranges from 91-97 mph and his slippery slider that breaks with Ginsu-knife sharpness make him incredibly difficult to hit, but when his changeup is on and diving in on righthanded hitters, he’s virtually unhittable. He also can flip in a solid curveball when he needs to throw a batter off just a little bit more.

X-Factor: Josh Sborz, rhp, Virginia. The Cavaliers had hoped ace lefty Nathan Kirby (recovering from a lat strain and mono) could be back on the mound this weekend, but Thursday it was revealed that he will not pitch, leaving the third starter spot in question. Sborz threw a seven-inning one-hitter in a spot start in the ACC tournament, but coach Brian O’Connor said last week that he planned to put him back in the bullpen for regionals. Sborz’ power slider and 91-94 fastball make him well suited for the back-end, but he could have a major impact on this regional in an extended outing if necessary.

Best Starting Rotation: UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos’ quadruplet of Dillon Tate, Justin Jacome, Shane Bieber and Domenic Mazza all have ERAs below 2.70, helping UCSB to the third-best team ERA (2.39) in the country. Bieber is second in the nation in walks per nine innings (0.73) and fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.56).

Best Bullpen: Southern California. The Trojans have the deepest pitching staff with Tyler Gilbert and Brent Wheatley able to come out of the bullpen and provide a variety of options from specialist to long reliever to closer. Both have started this season, and that versatility along with stellar lefty Marc Huberman at the back end make USC very good even without Kyle Davis in the pen.

Best Offensive Team: San Diego State. Twelve SDSU players have homered this season. Eight Aztecs have driven in at least 20 runs with four bringing home 45+. The red-hot Seby Zavala leads the way with 14 homers and 64 RBIs and raised his average nearly 30 points in the final three weeks of the season.

Best Defensive Team: Southern California. The three West Coast teams all sport very similar fielding percentages, but the Trojans provide the potential for the spectacular grab. Timmy Robinson has caught a plethora of balls whilst leaping on the warning track or into the fence. Bobby Stahel flies everywhere and Garrett Stubbs is a defensive stalwart behind the plate.

No. 1 Seed Win Probability (1-10): 3. The Lake Elsinore Regional may be the toughest in all the land. Even though it’s a No. 4 seed, San Diego State is a team hungry for its first regional win. It’s all the Aztecs have talked about since winning the Mountain West tournament last weekend. Virginia, the national runner-up last year, was plagued by injuries all year but is is getting healthier at the right time. USC wants to avenge a pair of one-run losses to Santa Barbara. It should be a fun weekend, but it’ll be a difficult regional to win — for any team, including the No. 1 seed Gauchos.

Team Breakdowns

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts. (Shotgun Spratling)UC Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts (Shotgun Spratling)

The Gauchos (40-15-1) enter the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 2001, and for the first time in the program’s history they are hosting a regional. Of course, without lights and adequate seating at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium to meet the NCAA’s requirements, UC Santa Barbara is “hosting” far away from Santa Barbara. It’ll only take you 9 1/2 hours to take public transportation from Caesar Uyesaka Stadium to The Diamond at Lake Elsinore. The craziest part is that The Diamond is closer to USC and San Diego State combined than it is to Santa Barbara.

Give the UCSB administration credit for stepping up and coming up with this creative solution for their head coach and team. That point surely will be pointed out by the school when other schools come calling for Andrew Checketts in the offseason. How did the Gauchos earn a host spot though? Despite an early series loss to Oregon and the loss of its eventual closer to a season-ending injury, Santa Barbara pushed out to a 30-10-1 record before dropping two of their last three series to end up second in the Big West.

One of the biggest developments of the college baseball season was the blossoming of Dillon Tate into a potential No. 1 overall pick and guaranteed top 10 selection. Tate was slated to once again begin the season as UCSB’s closer after a successful summer stint with Team USA in that role. However, when Domenic Mazza went down with an ankle injury on opening weekend, it was Tate thrust into the role and excelling with his electric stuff. But the starting rotation is more than just Tate. Both Justin Jacome (7-4, 2.53) and Shane Bieber (8-4, 2.26) are capable of tossing a complete game (eight total for the three-man rotation). UCSB’s pitching ranks third nationally in ERA and in the top 12 in hits allowed per nine innings, walks allowed per nine innings, strikeout-to-walk ratio and WHIP.

The question for the Gauchos is, can they score enough runs? They are hitting .291 as a team, but sometimes struggle with situational hitting. It does help that they have a lethal pinch-hitting weapon in Billy Fredrick, who has a .520 on-base percentage in a primarily pinch-hitting role.

Southern California

USC senior Garrett Stubbs' speed can cause problems.  (Shotgun Spratling)USC senior Garrett Stubbs’ speed can cause problems. (Shotgun Spratling)

Welcome back, USC!

It’s amazing that the most prolific college baseball program in history with 12 national championships hasn’t even made the NCAA tournament since 2005. The Trojans have been through four head coaches since that last appearance, but they seem to have settled on a strong leader in Dan Hubbs, who has the program heading in the right direction. Last year, USC fell one game shy of making a regional, being the selection committee’s first team out. This season, the Trojans were not worried about making the tournament, but were instead focused on trying to earn a regional host bid.

One of the biggest reasons for this team’s success is the veterans on this year’s squad, such as Dante Flores, Timmy Robinson and Blake Lacey, have really taken their game to the next level. Guys have lived up to their lofty billings and potential. The Trojans have also put a greater emphasis on aggressive baserunning. After having just 39 stolen bases last year, they have swiped more than twice that many, nabbing 93 bases in 125 tries. Robinson and catcher Garrett Stubbs lead the team with 19 steals. The development of Bobby Stahel, he of the .379 batting average and many diving catches in left field, has really propelled the offense as well.

There has been some trial and error with the weekend rotation as five different guys have been given shots. And that’s not just switching out the Sunday starter. There have been three different Friday starters. Former closer Kyle Davis is finally healthy and has taken over the role. His first two outings were near spectacular with a shutout and one run through his first seven innings in his second start. After a rocky outing last week in the first inning, USC needs him at his best against Virginia.

Virginia

Virginia’s Josh Sborz will transition back to the closer role. (Shotgun Spratling)

This wasn’t how the 2015 season was supposed to go for the Cavaliers. After going 53-16 last season and losing the championship series finale, 3-2, this was going to be UVa.’s opportunity to take that next step. Instead of putting its best foot forward, the preseason No. 3 team has been limping around on a foot encased in a medical boot.

Freshman infielder Jack Gerstenmaier missed the first two months after a hamstring injury in the fall. Star outfielder Joe McCarthy had back surgery in January and started the season on the shelf. Infielder John La Prise, the team’s leading hitter a year ago, needed hip surgery and missed the whole season. Catcher Robbie Coman had a banged up knee early. Then ace Nathan Kirby went down with, thankfully “just” a lat strain. Freshman Derek Casey had taken over the midweek role until he was felled by an arm injury just days after Kirby. The fact that the Cavaliers still made the tournament is a testament to the talent on the squad and to head coach Brian O’Connor, who maintained his streak of taking UVa. to the postseason every year of his tenure. And just maybe they are getting healthy at the right time.

McCarthy and Coman are back healthy and have taken back over their positions, allowing others to rotate back to their more natural positions — but Kirby isn’t quite ready to return. Sophomore Connor Jones (5-2, 3.05), owner of a power sinker and slider, has been solid since moving into the Friday role vacated by Kirby’s injury. Josh Sborz is heading back to the bullpen after making three starts, but could be a potential Game 3 or Game 4 starter, if he’s not needed out of the bullpen previously. Lefty Brandon Waddell has had a down season, but he’s an ultra-seasoned veteran with good stuff and competitiveness.

Kenny Towns and Matt Thaiss have picked up the slack in the heart of the lineup, combining for 14 homers and 110 RBIs, while shortstop Daniel Pinero and Pavin Smith have six homers each. And maybe, just maybe, Virgina has a little history working on its side. One of the program’s biggest steps was finally getting to a super regional for the first time — in 2009, when it went through three local teams in a Southern California regional with the potential No. 1 overall draft pick (Stephen Strasburg) pitching against them. They’ll avoid UCSB’s Dillon Tate, but everything else lines up.

San Diego State

San Diego State catcher Seby Zavala takes a massive swing. (Shotgun Spratling)San Diego State catcher Seby Zavala isn’t afraid to swing away. (Shotgun Spratling)

The Aztecs know that if they want to take the next step toward being a national program, they have to win a regional. The back-to-back-to-back Mountain West champions have to start with winning a game. Virginia may have the College World Series experience, but no team is used to being against the ropes like San Diego State has been. All three Mountain West championships have taken a route through the loser’s bracket. This year, it played six games in four days, using a couple of pitchers on one day of rest in the championship.

Mark Martinez said the team has rested up after the long weekend of action and will be ready to go on Friday. The Aztecs getting hot seemed far fetched after they had fallen terribly short of the pace set by their 22-6 start. But as it has done each of the last three years, San Diego State got some clutch unexpected contributions, including a complete-game three-hitter from freshman Jacob Erickson in his first career start.

Or how about the MWC tournament performance of MVP Seby Zavala? The catcher scrapped his entire offensive approach shortly before the end of the season and it worked wonders. He launched five homers and drove in 11 runs. Zavala, D1Baseball Preseason All-American Ty France and Steven Pallares provide some formidable pop in the lineup. While France is a gap-to-gap doubles hitter, Zavala (14 HR) and Pallares (8 HR) aren’t afraid to take some big hacks.

Shortstop Danny Sheehan is one of the most intriguing players because the sure-handed shortstop has hit 18 doubles, six homers, driven in 45 runs and only struck out 24 times in 245 at-bats. While SDSU is capable of winning a slugfest, it doesn’t have a bevy of reliable bullpen arms. Starters Bubba Derby and Mark Seyler need to give them quality innings.

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Beavbb
Beavbb
5 years ago

Lake elsinore university never heard of them. Who are these guys the one eye trouser trout? USC is going run this regional.

jdgaucho
jdgaucho
5 years ago
Reply to  Beavbb

that USC team which was swept by UCSB is going to run this regional. Right.

brian
brian
5 years ago
Reply to  jdgaucho

USC actually played the Big West a lot this year… They played home and homes with UCI, UCSB, and CSUF plus a weekend series @ Poly. They are 3-6 in those games. Against the top three in the conference USC is a splendid 1-5.

Those numbers, the actual results we saw on the field, make me think they would have been a middle of the pack Big West team, probably 4th maybe 5th depending on the home/road schedules. Either way finishing worse than the T-3 they achieved in the PAC-11. The PAC is definitely a better, deeper conference, but the top of the Big West is pretty good.

Beavbb
Beavbb
5 years ago
Reply to  brian

Hmmm. You see PAC 12 teams don’t throw their good pitching on weekdays and generally don’t put the same effort into non league games, but you found out today.

brian
brian
5 years ago
Reply to  Beavbb

Throwing a midweek starter and resting guys non league is not PAC 12 thing. It’s a college baseball thing. Literally every team does it.

What we found out today is that when you give up 7 unearned runs in the 9th inning, you lose. But I think everybody already knew that too.

Big West
Big West
5 years ago
Reply to  Beavbb

How many PAC teams made it to Omaha?

Beavbb
Beavbb
5 years ago
Reply to  jdgaucho

I can’t stop laughing.

Wise Guy
Wise Guy
5 years ago
Reply to  Beavbb

Oh really?

Beavbb
Beavbb
5 years ago

The groutchoes are so good that the selection committee just had to give them a host site even if meant traveling 200 miles. The selection committee chairman Heeke, screwed OSU out of host because he was the former ast. AD at Oregon for 18 years and he hates the Beavs. Well Mr. Heek, stick that in your ass. Love it.

jdgaucho
jdgaucho
5 years ago
Reply to  Beavbb

leave it to beaver to also lose to a 4 seed. The Big West has a representative in Omaha, again. The Wac-12 didn’t make it out of the regionals.

Beavbb
Beavbb
5 years ago

Little Andy Checketts is punk.

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