UNLV tied for the regular season championship of the MWC and ended up second in the MWC tournament to San Diego State. They were then picked as an at-large participant and placed in the Corvallis Regional along with host Oregon State, UC Irvine and North Dakota State. This is the first appearance by UNLV since they played in a 2005 regional. I would consider them rookies as none on the team have any post-season experience. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn't count for much.
UNLV has been paced all year by their outstanding starting pitching. Erick Fedde (8-2 and 1.76), John Richy (11-3 and 2.78), Bryan Bonnell (6-5 and 3.01), and Kenny Oakley (4-7 and 3.25) have been as steady a bunch as you can imagine. However, Fedde is out after needing Tommy John surgery in early May.
If one had an off game, one of the other three picked them up to continue the winning. These guys started 54 of the 58 games played and all were aces. Brayden Torres (2-1 and 2.05 with 8 saves) closed out games when the opportunity presented itself so the team had strength at both ends of the game. Middle relief was OK at best but with a good closer and excellent starting pitching, it didn't hurt. Missing Fedde makes UNLV's chances of advancing to the Super Regional round a difficult task.
Hitting was also pretty good. The team hit .293 which was near the top of the MWC. Morgan Stotts was the leader at .346 and there were 6 other .300 hitters to back him up. Power was average with Patrick Armstrong leading the way with 8 dingers.
I chose this team to win the MWC at the beginning of the year based on their pitching and returning hitters. The pitching will be pressed in the tournament and Oregon State has just about the best pitching in the west if not the nation. For those who care about such things the RPI for UNLV is 27 which is pretty good and the SOS is 24 which is also pretty good. UNLV is a solid team but it's always hard to compete at such a high level with and with such high stakes.
The Anteaters (35-22) are a member of the Big West Conference and most consider the conference one of the premier baseball leagues in the nation. Having four teams in the tournament lends credence to that belief. UC Santa Barbara could have (should have?) been picked also as they were very good all year.
The ‘Eaters didn't have what I feel were signature victories during the season. Their season seemed to be more defined by streaks. They had a 9-game winning streak and a 10-game streak also. The season ended for them on a losing note as they lost 6 in a row to Fullerton and Long Beach. If you think about it, that losing at the end could have spelled death for them but it didn't as here they are. It's a case of "show us we weren't wrong in choosing you".
The offense is led by Connor Spencer (.361 and 1) with only two other .300 hitters on a team that hit .272 with only 10 home runs. Still pretty good.
The team was defined by excellent pitching as a team ERA of 2.82 attests. The Big West Pitcher of the Year for 2014 is Andrew Morales and, boy, did he deserve it. He was 9-2 and 1.56 in 109 IP. He had 119 strikeouts which places him among the elite at the national level. Expect to see him in game one. The other starters are Elliot Surrey (6-4 and 2.12), Evan Manarino (3-3 and 2.94), and Evan Brock (8-5 and 2.95). The closer will be Sam Moore (0-3 and 1.90) as he has 23 saves which suggests shut down stuff.
He strikes out a little less than one an inning but gave up only 9 walks which adds up to a WHIP of 1.00. Middle relief is pretty good, too, as Kyle Davis and Jimmy Litchfield had good BA against numbers. So, yeah, it's all about the pitching with the Anteaters. The ‘Eaters RPI is a pretty fair 43 and the SOS is 20 so, in this regard, they are very similar to their opponent.
So, both teams have good pitching with an edge to UNLV in the offense. I haven't covered the other teams but we all know that Oregon State is drop dead gorgeous on the mound. North Dakota State's pitching doesn't measure up well against the three other teams but I always hold cold weather teams up to another light when judging them.