1. Purdue (44-12, 17-7 Big Ten): Big Ten regular-season & tournament champion
2. Kentucky (43-16, 18-12 SEC)
3. Kent St (41-17, 24-3 MAC): MAC regular-season & tournament champion
4. Valparaiso (35-23, 22-8 Horizon): Horizon regular-season & tournament champion
Purdue is making just their second regional appearance in school history, and their first since 1987, after winning their first Big Ten regular-season title in 103 years. The Boilermakers went 44-12 despite playing just 16 home games due to delays in construction on their new 1,800-seat facility that was supposed to open before the start of the season. Conflicts at minor league parks in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend forced officials to settle on U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, IN, home of the independent Gary Railcats, as the host site for the regional.
Purdue comes into NCAA Tournament hitting a Big Ten best .318 as a team. They are led at the plate by Jr. C Kevin Plawecki (.365, 7 HR, 45 RBI), who has only struck out a remarkable 8 times all year, and Jr. 3B Cameron Perkins (.358, 9 HR, 58 RBI). Sr. 2B Eric Charles is hitting .364 on the year, but will be suspended for the opener against Valpo for his role in a bench clearing brawl in the Big Ten Championship Game against Indiana.
The Boilers pitching staff also ranks at the top of the Big Ten with a league best 3.10 ERA. It is not an overpowering staff as Purdue finished in the middle of the conference in strikeouts, but they do not allow a lot of base runners as they finished first in the league in hits and walks allowed. They are led on the mound by weekend starters Sr. RHP Joe Haase (10-1, 3.41) and Sr. RHP Lance Breedlove (8-5, 2.82). Breedlove has allowed less than a base runner per inning with 79 hits and just 15 walks in 95 2/3 innings pitched. The bullpen is anchored by hard-throwing Jr. RHP Nick Wittgren (3-0, 1.89, 10 SV) and versatile Sr. LHP Blake Mascarello (8-1, 1.72). Mascarello is 3rd on the team in innings pitched with 68, despite not making a start during the season.
Kent St. is by far the most experienced team in the Gary Regional, and by far I mean the only team among the four that has that players with NCAA postseason experience. The Golden Flashes are making their fourth strait regional appearance, including pushing Texas to the brink of elimination in the Austin Regional a year ago, before falling to the Longhorns in the regional final. They come into the regional with the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games.
Kent St. is the only team from the MAC to hit over .300 as team on the season, with a league best .308 average. Jr. 1B George Roberts (.368, 7 HR, 57 RBI) leads the Flashes in hitting and hit an incredible .393 during MAC play. Sr. SS Jimmy Rider (.361, 5 HR, 49 RBI) is the anchor for the offense and defense, committing just five errors throughout the regular season. Sr. C David Lyon (.288, 10 HR, 40 RBI) leads the Flashes in home runs and has thrown out 41 percent of attempted base stealers.
The Kent St. pitching staff is a deep and talented group, leading the MAC in ERA, hits allowed, runs allowed and strikeouts. In Friday afternoons opener, Kentucky will face one of the most accomplished pitchers in MAC history in Sr. LHP David Starn (10-3, 1.77). Starn, the 2012 MAC Pitcher of the Year and the first two-time MAC Tournament MVP, leads the conference in ERA by almost a full run and has allowed only 76 hits in 101 2/3 innings, while striking out 112. He is followed in the weekend rotation by Jr. RHP Ryan Bores (8-2, 3.32) and So. RHP Tyler Skulina (10-2, 3.94). Skulina is the hardest throwing of the group, sitting at 89-93 and has touched 96 this spring according to Baseball America. The bullpen is led by Fr. LHP Brian Clark (4-0, 0.44), who has allowed just nine hits in 20 innings pitched, and by part-time starter Sr. RHP Ryan Mace (2-3, 3.40), who is fourth on the team with 53 innings pitched.
Valparaiso is making its first appearance in NCAA post season play in 44 years after winning its first Horizon League regular-season title. The Crusaders began the season just 8-18, but flipped the switch and won 27 of its last 32 games, tying the school record for wins. Valpo’s head coach is former major leaguer and former Louisville Redbird, Tracy Woodson.
Valpo hit a respectable .292 as team, but did so with very little power. The Crusaders have hit just 14 home runs and no one on the roster has more than two. As you can imagine, they are forced to play a lot of small ball, ranking second in the nation with 84 sacrifice bunts on the season. The other three teams in the region combine for only 108. Fr. SS Spencer Mahoney has hit a team leading .355 batting average and has steadied the Crusaders in the field, while Jr. 2B Tanner Vavra is second on the club hitting at a .333 clip.
Valpo is led on the mound by their weekend rotation of Sr. RHP Kevin Wild (6-3, 2.91), Sr. LHP Tyler Deetjen (8-2, 3.22) and Jr. RHP Kyle Wormington (6-6, 3.28). The bullpen is anchored by closer Sr. RHP Jerad Miller (5-2, 2.06, 8 SV) and Jr. LHP Sean Kennedy (2-0, 3.63).
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