St. John's The Underdogs
Tornado alley looms large for the St. John's baseball team yet again as they continue post-season play. Coming off of an undefeated Big East tournament and cementing themselves as the toast of the conference, the Red Storm were awarded with a 4-seed in the Stillwater regional, hosted by the Oklahoma State Shooty Guys with Big Hats, who the Red Storm just so happen to face for their first game. Others attending this festival of pearly white baseballs in the heart of the country include the Arkansas Razorbacks; a Razorback team who has made 12 straight NCAA tournament appearances and came into Omaha and walloped the Creighton Bluejays 6-2 on May 12th and Oral Roberts, who won the Summit League and posted a 41-14 record.
Let us start out with a little introduction for the teams in attendance.
1. Oklahoma State - Big 12 (47-18 overall, 14-8 in conference, No. 11 RPI)
First, let me say that Allie P. Reynolds Stadium is absolutely gorgeous. It seats around 4,000 individuals at full capacity and measures out to 331' in left, 398' to straight away center and 330 to right field. The ballpark has hosted 12 regionals in its history, features natural grass and sits on the outer edge of campus. If you're looking to take a road trip to see the heart of the country and some fantastic baseball in an incredible venue, head down to Stillwater.
The Shooty Guys with Big Hats have some really good wins on their record, sweeping Big 12 tournament champion Texas, taking the home-and-home series against Dallas Baptist while taking 3 of 4 against B1G champion Michigan and taking the lone series against TCU. The one glaring omission on Okie State's record is their inability to beat Oral Roberts, which I'll have more on later. Statistically speaking, the Shooty Guys with Big Hats stack up like this:
|Runs Per Game||36th||6.7|
|DP Per Game||T-115th||.82|
Scouting reports say that one should pay close attention to Gage Green, a utilitiy player who can roam the outfield as well as catch behind the plate and posts a delectable .284 average, has been beaned 16 times and has mashed 5 dingers while collecting 29 RBIs. Dustin Williams meanwhile holds a .494 SLG% and has managed to get on base quite a bit as he holds a .412 OBP. Offensively, the team is solid top to bottom, but their true strength comes in the form of their majestic hurlers on the mound.
Michael Freeman happens to be one of the hurlers for Okie State. I sincerely hope you're sitting down because when I read this dude's statline I fell face first onto my keyboard and immediately went into convulsions. Are you ready for this? Please, for the love of God, sit down. Just rest those weary legs while you read the following sentence. Ahem, Michael Freeman has tossed 102.2 innings this season while recording a 1.05 ERA, allowing only one homerun, one triple and 6 doubles while striking out 92 poor souls who attempted to swing a round bat through a strike zone, keeping his opponent's batting average at a soul crushingly low .183 while surrendering only 25 free bases to opponents. The dude has 4 complete games under his belt and stands at a 'oh-my-lord he's a monster' 6'8. He's also left handed. The Big 12 rejoiced following the completion of the season as Mr. Freeman will graduate because he's a senior and will most definitely play in the MLB.
Okie State is the clear favorite to advance to the next round to face the winner of the Springfield, MO regional. Well, that's if the Shooty Guys with Big Hats can advance past our savior St. John's and the next two teams I'm about to preview.
2. Arkansas - SEC (35-22 overall, 17-12 in conference, No. 35 RPI)
Arkansas is good. Not like 1950's Yankees good, but still respectable in their own right. They've got some quality wins on their resume, taking two of three against Ole Miss, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. I know, those are all SEC teams, and you're probably thinking, "Ugh I'm sick and tired of hearing about the SEC." Well you know what? Me too. Here's some stats for Arkansas:
|Runs Per Game||79th||6.0|
|DINGERS! Per Game||T-34th||.86|
Scouting reports say that one should pay close attention to Andrew Benintendi who posts an unreal .391 average with 52 RBIs, has walked 40 times and has a jaw dropping SLG% of .738 and an OBP of .492. The dude has only struck out 29 times this season and has started in all but one game this year. BUT before you write off Mr. Benintendi as some schlub who has a little pop, I need to let you know something about him. Andrew has hung dong 18 times this season. For a college player, that's insane. It's the equivalent of busting 40+ dingers in a major league season. My lord what an incredible specimen. Tyler Spoon is another bat to watch as he's currently sitting at .325 for his average on the year and has collected 46 RBIs. In order to beat the Razorbacks you'll need to shut their bats down, mainly because it'll be relatively easy to score on them. Here's why:
There's only two pitchers currently on staff who have an ERA lower than 3. Take it up a notch, and you'll find 7 on staff with ERAs over 4. Live by the longball, die by it. Keep in mind, however, that Allie P. Reynolds has a short porch in both right and left which will definitely come into play for Arkansas as well as their opponents. Good luck scoring on Michael Freeman, though!
3. Oral Roberts - Summit League (41-14 overall, 25-5 in conference, No. 37 RPI)
At first glance you chuckle at the name of a school with the world 'Oral' in it. I know I did the first time I saw it when Creighton played the Golden Eagles in a 2008 Bracket Buster game. A lot has changed since then as I can now grow facial hair and can legally purchase alcoholic beverages, both of which I'm still skeptical of, but I still chuckle when I see 'Oral Roberts'. It's gotta have one helluva dentistry program, right? Yes, yes it does. The Golden Eagles baseball team of 2015, however, are no laughing matter. The Christian College of Tulsa, Oklahoma is a serious darkhorse in the 2015 tournament, as they've beaten up on their big brother across the way and team in this regional in Oklahoma State. They demolished the Summit League but fell victim to a sweep by the hands of Dallas Baptist. Despite getting swept by arguably the best team in college baseball, the squad went 19-2 in the middle stretch of the season, claiming the Shooty Guys with Big Hats during the stretch. This team is for real, but how do they stack up statistically in a pretty weak Summit League? Here's your answer!
|Runs Per Game||11th||7.3|
|DBLS Per Game||10th||2.31|
Scouting reports say you need to look out for... the entire lineup. Audie Afenir is hitting .340 with 42 RBIs and 3 dingers, Matt Brady is batting .316 with 6 dingers, Anthony Sequeira is batting .343 with 10 dingers coupled with 54 RBIs and Derrian James is batting .342 with 44 RBIs. All of these guys are Seniors, so the lust for a Super Regional berth and eventually a CWS appearance is incredibly strong. These guys just do not mess around. Freshman Matt Whatley is batting .343 with 5 dingers and 44 more RBIs. Everyone I mentioned above has an OBP of .400+ and all but one have 15+ doubles. These guys can seriously knock the ball around.
On the defensive side of things, junior Xavier Altamirano is the staff ace, pitching 85.2 innings and only allowing 28 earned runs for a 2.94 ERA. He's also struck out 81 batters and rarely gives up walks. Next in the pecking order is Guillermo Trujillo, a junior who threw 82.2 innings while riding a 4.03 ERA. Then, you've got the senior on the staff in Kurt Killer. Starting in 8 games this season, Kurt has only given up 28 earned runs, striking out 39 through 42.1 innings pitched. The superstar, however, is Anthony Sequiera. The lockdown closer has only allowed 5 earned in 30 innings pitched, good for a 1.50 ERA. He's struck out 38 and only walked 11 - while collecting 11 saves. That's one man allowed a base per save. His best buddy and setup man Hayden Holley has equally impressive numbers, throwing 21.2 innings and holding a .83 ERA. If the Golden Eagles have a lead going into the 8th, you may as well call your mother and tell her you've lost the game and that you miss her and her delicious home cooked meals. Did I say that Okie State was the favorite in this regional? I'm going to change my vote, right now, and say that Oral Roberts is now my favorite. These guys are damn good.
4. St. John's Red Storm - BIG EAST (39-14 overall, 14-3 in conference No. 67 RPI)
Ah, St. John's. My familiar face, the team that has stolen my baseball heart and ran around the bases with it. I saw you lift the Big East Championship trophy while standing just a few feet away. I know you didn't see me, but I saw you. Now, I get to write about you. I hope you come back to Omaha. Your presence was warm and fulfilling, like a full moon lighting your weird neighbor's goatee while he hands you the first beer you'll ever drink. What is there to say about you? You beat everyone in the Big East. You beat the piss out of the last-place team in the Missouri Valley. You even got swept by Oregon. You beat up on the little teams that sprinkle the Northeast, like St. Peter's, Albany, Iona and Marist. Hell, you even took Princeton to the woodshed and beat them to a pulp. Now, you have to face real opponents. I love you, St. John's, but your competition is... really good. You can only pitch Ryan McCormick once, you know? Maybe twice if you make it to a 3rd game. Anyways, here's how
your our stats stack up against your opponents:
|Runs Per Game||105th||5.7|
|DBL Plays Per Game||82nd||.87|
Scouting report says you've gotta look out for leadoff hitter and man-on-fire center fielder Alex Caruso. He's batting .387 with 75 hits, 16 of those doubles, a .472 OBP and 22 RBIs. He's got a .433 SLG % and has taken 84 total bases. Caruso can flat out hit, we know that, and he'll need to be the catalyst that churns the St. John's machine. Robbie Knightes is another guy to keep your eye on, as usual, batting .326 with 35 RBIs and 46 hits. Lauricella is the powerful weapon that St. John's tends to break out at the most opportune times, as he's got 3 dingers coupled with a .459 SLG % and a .395 OBP.
Going with the format above, we're now going to talk about pitchers. Obviously, Ryan McCormick is the pitcher to watch, as he's only lost once in 14 games started. He's only given up one dinger and currently holds a 2.81 ERA. Ryan also has 2 complete games under his belt. He wasn't Big East Pitcher of the Year for nothin'! Tommy Hackimer struggled mightily in the Big East Tournament, but still has a 1.89 ERA and 15 saves. Cody Stashak is a brilliant #2 pitcher, with a 3.32 ERA in 81.1 innings pitched, coupled with 66 strikeouts.
I'm biased towards St. John's, and that's why I write for this site. On the other hand, I'm a realist, and I know that if the Red Storm are going to make it out of this regional alive they're going to need a gift from the baseball Gods. Alex Caruso quickly became one of my favorite players in the Big East as I compared the amount of pine tar on his helmet to my childhood hero Alex Gordon. It's a very similar amount. Anyways, McCormick will eventually work his way to becoming a household name in Major League Baseball, but unfortunately I don't think there's a whole lot of hope for the Johnnies. Regardless, I want them to win. I want them to win big. I want them to beat the snot out of a Big 12 and SEC team and move on to a Super Regional that'll likely be in the heart of America... again. A Red Storm is coming and hopefully it wreaks havoc in tornado alley.