The Hurricanes are a classic 2 seed — they’ve done some good things for their resume, but they haven’t been quite up to the standard when going up against top competition to secure that top 16 status. There is a series win over Georgia Tech on the resume, but the Hurricanes lost series with North Carolina and Louisville, plus a sweep at the hands of N.C. State. Going on a run at the end of the season against the bottom half of the ACC — sweep Virginia Tech, series wins over Wake Forest and Duke — stacked the win total to 39-18, 18-12 ACC.
The Hurricanes have two well-rounded bats, one mostly power bat and one mostly contact bat. It makes for a strong heart of the order, but really what happens around them isn’t all that shabby, either.
The two best bats are right fielder Adrien Del Castillo and third baseman Raymond Gil. Both are hitting over .310 and both are slugging over .540; Del Castillo has done it mostly with doubles, 20 compared to nine home runs, but Gil has shown more top-end power, with 11 home runs to 14 doubles.
The power-or-nothing bat is first baseman Alex Toral, this dude has 22 long balls this year. Eleven of them did come in non-conference play, but that’s still a dinger per weekend in the ACC. Designated hitter JP Gates has been hitting for average, coming to Starkville with a .346. His numbers are smaller sample, having just 34 starts, but 21 of those starts came on ACC play and he hit .320, so it’s a legit hit tool.
Much like Mississippi State, Miami has the bats around its stars to pile runs up against a pitching staff. Shortstop Freddy Zamora is hitting .302 and has 45 RBI; Jordan Lala and Anthony Vilar have played every day and bring .284 and .282 batting averages to center field and second base, respectively, and Lala is fourth in the ACC with 58 walks.
All told this is a Hurricanes lineup that leads the ACC in slugging and has done a good bit of running, too, with 75 stolen bases. It’s had to be that good with its pitching staff.
The Hurricanes have four main starters — Brian Van Belle, Slade Cecconi, Evan McKendry and Chris McMahon — and none of them have ERAs better than 3.25. The best of them by ERA — Van Belle — has a WHIP of 1.213. The bullpen has its clear go-to guys but none of them have a batting average allowed under .200.
Miami ended the season 13th in the ACC in ERA and ninth in batting average allowed.
The Chippewas dominated the MAC this year, winning the tournament after going 22-5 in the regular season. They ended the season on an 18-game winning streak that included a midweek game over Michigan State.
Much like Miami, hitting is what has CMU in the tournament. CMU scored 10.6 runs per game in its MAC Tournament run and hit double-digit runs in three of its final six MAC games, plus that midweek game against Michigan State.
The Chippewas have three batters bringing an OPS of better than 1.000 to Starkville: Zavier Warren (.356 average with 22 doubles, two triples and eight home runs), Griffin Lockwood-Powell (.353 with a MAC-best 11 home runs, 17 doubles as well) and Jacob Crum (.332 with eight triples, how about that?)
Pat Leatherman and Cameron Brown are the two best starters, both of them having taken 15 starts and managed to get through it with a 2.56 and 2.72 ERA, respectively.
But the real calling card is the bullpen, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a college bullpen constructed like this one.
Most of the time you see a college bullpen find its four to six primary guys, the ones that go at last once a weekend and at times take two, depending on the midweek game needs or a special situation in a weekend series. Those guys tend to see their appearances number creep into the 20s and there’s a divide between them and that second class, which can see appearances around a dozen at the end of the regular season.
This team has one guy at 25 appearances and eight more between 17 and 14, with just three below that.
Most teams have certain patterns they follow that can give hitters a little head-start on the adjustments they’ll have to make, for example Jared Liebelt almost always relieving Ethan Small. CMU’s opponents don’t seem to have that luxury, and it could be useful for them — four of those relievers have sub-3.00 ERAs.
The Jaguars had to be pretty pleased with how the SWAC Tournament broke down for them: a matchup with a poor Arkansas-Pine Bluff team before three games against Texas Southern, a team Southern beat in both regular-season series and did it again in the SWAC Tournament. A 15-0 win over Alabama State sent the SWAC’s best lineup to the NCAA Tournament.
Southern leads the SWAC in batting average, doubles, triples, slugging and on-base percentage. A good bit of it is on the back of Tyler LaPorte (.389 batting average) and Javeyan Williams (.388), and they do the team in favor in bringing themselves in after all that hitting: LaPorte has 21 stolen bases and Williams has been successful in all 26 stolen base attempts. It’s not a heavy power lineup, with just one player at 10 home runs (Coby Taylor), but the SWAC isn’t a big home run league, either: only six players have double-digit bombs.
Let me put it this way, folks: In SWAC games, the Jaguars had a 6.53 ERA, a .297 batting average allowed and allowed 5.39 walks per game.
If Southern does what most teams in this situation do — play two games and get out — it’ll be because they lose their games 13-2.