2010 season could have new bag of surprises
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Surprises are a special part of college baseball.
Just two seasons ago, no one outside of Fresno, Calif., thought Fresno State could win the national title with an incredibly difficult postseason draw. After all, the Bulldogs were the No. 4 seed entering the Long Beach Regional.
Fresno State did the unthinkable. It won the national title.
The drama that engulfed the nation two seasons ago wasn’t as common last season. But there were still plenty of surprises.
Virginia dominated throughout the postseason and made its first trip to the College World Series. Southern Mississippi, meanwhile, made a trip to Omaha in coach Corky Palmer’s final season before retiring.
Now, a new year is here and more surprises are destined to be on the way.
In the next month leading up to Opening Day, which is Friday, February 19, Yahoo! Sports will break down every conference and bring you intriguing features about many of the great players and teams in college baseball.
We also will unveil our preseason top 25 on Monday, February 1 and our annual Preseason All-America team on Monday, February 15.
With 2010 the last year Rosenblatt Stadium will host the CWS before the event moves to downtown Omaha and into a sparkling new 24,000-seat facility, many teams such as East Carolina – which has never been to Omaha – are aiming for a chance to win the last national title in the stadium that helped make college baseball what it is today.
It’s only fitting to begin the 2010 Yahoo! Sports College Baseball Preview with an in-depth look at the eight teams expected to end the season in Omaha.
What’s expected. The Longhorns almost won their seventh national title last season but came up just short against LSU. Now Texas hopes to return to the College World Series to finish the job. There’s a good chance it accomplishes that goal. The ‘Horns have some key offensive cogs to fill with the departures of Brandon Belt, Travis Tucker, Michael Torres and Preston Clark. However, they also welcome back plenty of hitters with a wealth of potential. Then there’s the pitching staff. UT had one of the nation’s best pitching staffs last season, and it could be even better this spring. Taylor Jungmann, Cole Green and Chance Ruffin formulate a fantastic weekend rotation. Austin Dicharry and Brandon Workman spearhead the bullpen. It definitely would be a surprise if the Longhorns weren’t in Omaha at the end of the season.
What’s expected. Texas has the better pitching staff, but Virginia has the most balanced club. The Cavaliers finished last season on a high note with a trip to Omaha. Now they’re expected to compete for the national title, and with good reason. The Cavaliers welcome back weekend starters Danny Hultzen and Robert Morey. They also are ecstatic about the addition of pitcher Cody Winiarski. Winiarski’s addition to the club will allow the Cavaliers to keep Tyler Wilson – who previously was expected to move to the weekend – in the bullpen. Offensively, the Cavaliers return every key position player and several players who could earn All-American honors at the end of the season. This is by far the best club coach Brian O’Connor has had at Virginia.
What’s expected. The Paul Mainieri era at LSU is in fantastic shape. The Tigers have made back-to-back CWS appearances and hope to earn a second-straight national title this spring. Accomplishing that goal is always difficult for any team, but the Tigers have a strong nucleus of players back this season. Anthony Ranaudo and Matty Ott spearhead a pitching staff that is strong despite some question marks. Austin Ross also is expected to rise to the occasion. Offensively, the Tigers lost some key cogs in Ryan Schimpf, Jared Mitchell and D.J. LeMahieu. The lineup, though, still is in good hands with the return of senior slugger Blake Dean and a host of other talented hitters. The Tigers still need to nail down a No. 3 starting pitcher for the weekend rotation, but otherwise they are in great shape.
What’s expected. Florida State narrowly missed a trip to Omaha last season but hopes to return to Rosenblatt Stadium for the final event in the venue. The Seminoles should feel great about their chances of accomplishing the goal. They welcome back several key hitters from a lineup that finished last season with a .321 batting average. Returning hitters include Tyler Holt, Mike McGee, Stephen Cardullo and Stuart Tapley, among others. FSU also feels good about its weekend rotation with the return of ace pitcher Sean Gilmartin in addition to potential starters Brian Busch and Mike McGee. If Geoff Parker, Hunter Scantling and John Gast rise to the occasion in the bullpen, FSU will have a phenomenal club. This team is more than capable of winning the national title.
What’s expected. The Anteaters were No. 1 for several weeks last season but failed to make the CWS after running into red-hot Virginia in the Irvine Regional. Now seniors such as left-handed pitcher Danny Bibona and reliever Eric Pettis hope to end their careers with a trip back to Omaha. Bibona spearheads a fantastic weekend rotation that includes Christian Bergman and Crosby Slaught. Pettis highlights a bullpen that could use some help this spring. Kyle Necke, Nick Hoover and others must rise to the occasion. The Anteaters return several key hitters from a lineup that finished last season with a .317 batting average. UCI has the tough chore of replacing leader Ben Orloff but should be fine with their talented returning hitters.
Cal State Fullerton
What’s expected. The Titans are still embarrassed about how they played in Omaha last season. They’re using that as motivation this spring. The Titans have some key bats to replace but still welcome back talented hitters such as Christian Colon, Gary Brown and Nick Ramirez. Also keep an eye on Corey Jones and Carlos Lopez, who missed last season because of injuries. The pitching staff, though, is the strength of this team. The Titans welcome back weekend starters Daniel Renken, Noe Ramirez and Tyler Pill. They also welcome back relievers Kyle Mertins and Nick Ramirez. In not so much of a surprise, the Big West title once again is expected to come down to either the Titans or the Anteaters. Let the games begin.
What’s expected. The Owls once again were close to returning to Omaha last season but ran into a rolling LSU team in the Baton Rouge Super Regional. The Owls welcome back one of the nation’s best offensive lineups. They batted .320 last season and return nearly every key hitter, including All-America third baseman Anthony Rendon. Also, the Owls are very confident in freshman Michael Ratterree’s ability to adequately replace Brock Holt, who hit .348 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs last season. The pitching staff is the only question mark. The Owls welcome back a solid starting pitcher in Taylor Wall but aren’t expecting senior Mike Ojala to be back in the rotation until May because of an injury sustained last season. That puts much pressure on starters such as Anthony Fazio and Tony Cingrani to establish consistency.
What’s expected. The Pirates have been haunted by in-state rival North Carolina the past few seasons, but perhaps this is the year they finally get over the hump. The Pirates took care of South Carolina in the Greenville Regional last season but were dominated by North Carolina in the Chapel Hill Super Regional. ECU must replace a few key offensive pieces but also returns several outstanding hitters, including Kyle Roller, Devin Harris and Dustin Harrington. The pitching staff also is in great shape with the return of talented arms Brad Mincey, Kevin Brandt, Seth Simmons, Seth Maness and Patrick Somers. The Pirates could use more pitching depth. If there’s a year when ECU can control the Carolinas, it’s this campaign. We’ll find out plenty about ECU when it plays host to Virginia and South Carolina the first two weekends of the season.