San Diego State
The Aztecs make their second consecutive visit to a regional and this one has a distinct Cajun flavor. The Aztecs were the regular season third place finisher in the Mountain West Conference and then won the conference tournament to get the automatic bid to get sent half way across the US to Louisiana. West coast mid major baseball teams don't travel well and home attendance is no great shakes either. Figure around 400-600 a game. That's pathetic but that's life on the left coast.
The Aztecs were third in conference hitting at .291 and had only a few home runs with 25. Pitching was ok too but not great. Team ERA was a respectable 3.70 which was second behind only UNLV. With that being said, this team had the most wins of any team in the conference at 42 which was 5 more than co-regular season champ New Mexico and 7 more than UNLV. They had to be doing something right.
The leader on the offensive side of the ball were Ty France (.358 and 5) and he was one of five .300 hitters. The threat with power is Brad Haynal with 12 home runs which was among the leaders in the MWC. Top pitcher was Bubba Derby at 8-3 and 2.69. He had 103 IP with 99 strikeouts with 36 walks. To me, that is a little high on the walks as he gave up 90 hits to go along with the walks which adds up to a WHIP of 1.26. He's still pretty good but I hate walks even more than hits. The other starters are Mark Seyler (8-5 and 3.99), Mike Robards (5-4 and 4.59), TJ Kendzora (5-1 and 3.25), and Cody Thompson (5-3 and 2.93). Derby, Robards, and Seyler have the most starts so the experience factor is there for them. The real ace up the sleeve of the coaching staff is closer Michael Cederoth (6-2 and 2.28). He had 20 saves this year and struck out 55 in 51 IP. He walked 28 which is a ratio of 2:1 which is fine but you read what I said about walks. He ran into a couple of bumps the last few times on the mound but has been pretty much lights out this year.
Who have they played? In OOC the biggest wins for them have been taking two of three from UC Irvine (another tournament team, by the way) on the road. They also took two of three from the Big 12's West Virginia at home. Their schedule was not all that glorious but few teams in the MWC have great OOC schedules. The SOS (on boydsworld.com) was 53rd which says a lot. Their RPI is 39 which ain't bad.
The Aztecs are a pretty balanced team that can't brag too much about their hitting or their pitching but Cederoth is a big light on the national stage and he's one worth watching. Brad Haynal is also a threat to knock one out of the park at any time. This team can beat you in many ways.
When I think of the Bulldogs I think of the CWS of the 1980s. I forget which year but I remember watching Jeff Brantley and Will Clark. I also remember saying to myself that the Giants ought to draft this Clark kid and they did. The rest is history. Why the Giants ever let him walk is beyond me. What this suggests is that Mississippi State is close to a fixture in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. They have a history. That history includes last year as the Bulldogs battled UCLA to the last out of the NCAA finals as the Bruins won the national championship over the Bulldogs. They're back again this year to give it another shot. This team doesn't match up as well to last year's team as last year's team was an astounding 51-20 but an average 16-14 in the SEC. Back to the present. The Bulldogs got here on the strength of beating Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC Tournament and losing to Kentrucky and Florida. For a tournament team they are an ok 37-22 but the SEC always seems to place a bunch in the tournament and this year is no different. For you Bulldog fans reading this please excuse the little rant here. The Bulldogs are suffering from what I call the LSU syndrome. They played 19 OOC games at home (or nearby) as they only hit the road for four games at an Arizona tournament where they lost 3 of 4. You guys and all warm weather teams need to test yourselves a bit more and hit the road. Even if it's to another warm weather team. I always find it hard to take a winning record seriously when the team has an abundance of home games. I'll quit now. The mwcconnection.com readers know I have this soap box I drag around wherever I go and I started that with my own blog when I followed the WAC and the WCC.
The team is led by Brett Pirtle who is hitting .341 with a home run. He is one of four .300 hitters as the team hit a pretty good .275. One of the players that jumped out at me was C.T. Bradford as he he had 5 triples. You'd then guess that he led the team in steals but he didn't. Derrick Armstrong did with 13 in 15 attempts. Anyway, that's a lot of triples. This doesn't appear to be a power team as they hit only 15 with Wes Rea leading with 4. Pitching is strong. Trevor Fitts is the leading starter at 4-3 and 2.51 with 15 starts and 64 IP. That's not many innings for that many starts and he didn't relieve. Ross Mitchell is 8-4 and 2.10 in 107 IP. Preston Brown has 9 starts and is 4-3 and 3.00 in 45 IP. None appear to be power pitchers as strikeout numbers don't seem to hop off the page. Oops, then again they do for this guy. Jacob Lindgren is 6-1 and 0.88 in 51 IP and has 93 strikeouts. That's positively mind boggling. That's 2 an inning. Why does he have only 3 saves and no starts? If they are leading late in the game, expect to see him on the mound. The guns will be out and so will the scouts. The Bulldogs have a good RPI of 32 and a SOS of 40. Finalizing, it seems pitching is the strength of this club and if they're leading late in the game, they will probably win. Gotta get this team early.
Let the arguments commence!
Jackson State and Louisiana covers coming up.