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Thursday, June 3, 2010
NCAA preview: Fort Worth Regional

By Josh Davis

1. TCU

46-11, 22-5 Mountain West, 9-1 last 10

At their best: In three-game series. The starting rotation of Purke-Winkler-Maxwell helped TCU to an undefeated record in weekend series, and the Frogs hope to use those three to get out of the region undefeated. They have a couple trusted veteran relievers in Trent Appleby and Tyler Lockwood and a good closer in Kaleb Merck. If any combination provides three good pitching performances, the offense should be there and the Frogs should have little trouble advancing on their home field.

At their worst: Against good opponents outside of their top three starting pitchers. TCU lost a lot of midweek games against NCAA Tournament teams. If they get into that situation, the Frogs can’t be trusted to hold off a team like Baylor or Arizona, if either of those teams also has a quality starter remaining. The Frogs' losses to Air Force probably cost them a national top-eight seed, exposing their occasional problem of driving runners in.

Biggest strength: The TCU rotation and bullpen have been among the very best in the NCAA until stretched thin. The Frogs' team ERA is 3.54 (ninth in NCAA). Also the team slugging percentage is fifth in the nation at .565. The Frogs have hit their way out of a jam more than once (17th most hits in NCAA).

Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (Super Regional)

2. BAYLOR

34-22, 15-14 Big 12, 8-2 last 10

At their best: The Bears are a near-mirror image of TCU. Baylor has four quality starting pitchers, and the bullpen is very capable of getting the job done. Offensively, the Bears -- again -- are versatile and are similar to TCU. If Baylor can win its first two games, and TCU drops one, the Bears may be able to hold a pitching advantage in a potential Monday night finale.

At their worst: They’re an okay Big 12 team. Until winning three of four Big 12 tourney games, the Bears had a 12-14 record against conference opponents. Had they beat Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game, the Bears would have had something to hang their hat on. But as it stands, Baylor was swept by Texas and Kansas State, and their best series win was against Texas State. Their momentum at the end of the year pushed them to a two seed, but even that is false hope. Three of those wins came against Big 12 doormat Oklahoma State, and a fourth came against Dallas Baptist.

Biggest strength: Starters Logan Verrett (3.09 ERA) and Willie Kempf (3.11) have scrapped together 13 combined wins and can keep the Bears in contention in a double-elimination situation if used correctly. Both need to be used to get wins (preferably in their first and third games) and hope to outlast TCU to a regional win. It’s not impossible thanks to those pitchers.

Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (Regional)

3. ARIZONA

33-22, 12-15 Pac 10, 3-7 last 10

At their best: The Wildcats were truly great during a 15-game win streak though most of March, beating bad teams by wide margins along with crushing quality teams (Cal State Fullerton, New Mexico and Oregon). Starting pitcher Kurt Heyer is a workhorse (3.28 ERA, 96 IP), but Arizona lacks pitching depth. The Wildcats are capable of winning a couple games in the regional but would be hard-pressed to string together three wins.

At their worst: Right now. It’s hard to believe Arizona was being talked about as a possible regional host earlier this year. They haven’t won a weekend series since mid-April, thanks to both the strength of the Pac-10 and maddening series losses to Cal State Bakersfield and USC. They’ve been routinely outplayed, and the losses haven’t been close more often then not. They’ve allowed too many runs and aren’t producing on offense like they were early this season. The Cats will need a 180-degree turnaround to stay in the region until Sunday.

Biggest strength: OF Steve Selsky leads the Wildcats in runs (56), hits (85), triples (6, tied), home runs (8, tied), RBIs (51) and slugging percentage (.622). The sophomore won’t be enough to will the Wildcats to a regional win, but he could be the jewel of a nice regional performance for a team desperate for something positive.

Last NCAA appearance: 2008 (Super Regional)

4. LAMAR

35-24, 20-17 Southland Conference, 7-3 last 10

At their best: Right now. The Cardinals, a seventh seed, shocked everybody at the Southland Conference tournament by outscoring opponents 40-20 over four games. Lamar completed the run by bursting Texas State’s bubble hopes with a 17-7 victory in the championship game.

At their worst: Most of the season. The Cardinals had a losing conference record before the tournament and were only noteworthy for an early season victory against Rice. Their pitching is grossly overmatched and their offense isn’t deserving of a letter home, either. It would be a big surprise if they won a game in Fort Worth.

Biggest strength: Does survival count? Aaron Buchanan (.349) and Andy Mena (.340) are two pretty solid hitters, but the Cardinals' only hope is to ride the momentum and build on the confidence gained from winning the Southland tourney title.

Last NCAA appearance: 2004 (Regional)