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2009 NCAA Men's College World Series Preview (Updated)

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Growing up, baseball was a game that always had a special place in my heart. I wasn't the most adept little-leaguer or high school athlete, but baseball is a passion that has never left me, whether I viewed the game from inside the white lines or out. (This would be a good time, if you haven't, to read my profile. I've updated it fairly recently.)

My passion for the game, especially the college game, intensified following my trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series in 2007. The fact that the Beavers were playing in the tournament made the deal even sweeter (and was the catalyst for the trip in the first place), but the magnitude of the event is tremendous. The modern television set paints a crystal-clear picture, but it's an entirely different event in person.

Once my dad and I arrived in Omaha on the second day of the tournament (the day of OSU's first game), we didn't miss a game. Oregon State won the tournament with five consecutive wins, but we saw thirteen games. The College World Series is addictive. I mean, why go tour the Zoo across the street or take a trip to a Cabela's store (well, we did do that) when you can sit in the sultry sunshine and watch baseball. 

That trip gave me a greater appreciation for the Greatest Show On Dirt-- and motivated me to take a look at the eight teams that fill out this year's bracket.

First Round Game #4 - Texas vs. Southern Miss

Texas

The Longhorns are back in the the College World Series after a three year hiatus. They're still the national leader in trips to Omaha--33-- and they have half a dozen national championships to go along with. The Longhorns won their regional in the minimum amount of games, but it included the 25-inning epic against Boston College. 

Texas is carried by their pitching staff, which runs deep, and generating offense has been their weakness all year. They don't have a player who has hit more than ten home runs on the year, and only three of their starters hit over .300. First baseman Brandon Belt hits for the highest average at .336. 

Chance Ruffin is 10-2 on the year on the mound, Cole Green is 5-3, and Taylor Jungmann is 8-3. Senior closer Austin Wood-- who pitched 13 hitless innings in Texas' 25-inning game-- is the usual closer, and has 15 saves on the year. 

Southern Miss

The Golden Eagles, under Corky Palmer, are making their first ever trip to Omaha after defeating Florida in two games in the Gainesville Super Regional.

Southern Miss may not be the favorite to win the College World Series, but they've gotten to Rosenblatt by doing things right. They've also had to rise to the occasion numerous times-- they've trailed in every post-season game they've won. 

Center Fielder Bo Davis leads the way offensively for Southern Miss with a .371 average and 14 home runs. Six of their nine normal starters are hitting over .300, and all of them have at least three home runs. 

Sophomore Todd McInnis is their leader on the mound, and carries a 9-4 record into the CWS. 

First Round Game #3 - North Carolina vs. Arizona State

North Carolina

The pressure is on head coach Mike Fox and the Tar Heels to win a championship, after eight unfruitful trips, notably four straight. In 2006 and 2007, North Carolina lost in consecutive championship series' to Oregon State. 

North Carolina is led by the best hitter in baseball, first baseman Dustin Ackley. Ackley, a career .410 hitter, was drafted No. 2 overall in the recent MLB First Player draft by the Seattle Mariners. Third baseman Kyle Seager boasts a .386 average, and catcher Mark Fleury is hitting .315 with 12 home runs. 

Junior Alex White anchors the pitching staff with an 8-4 record, and senior Adam Warren is a solid number two with a 9-2 record and 3.23 ERA. Bryan Moran has a 7-1 record, but also has recorded 4 saves on the season and brings a 1.95 ERA to Omaha. 

Arizona State

The Sun Devils will be looking for their sixth College World Series title, and enter the series as the No. 5 national seed. Their road will begin with a daunting first round matchup with North Carolina, and they could easily meet up with Texas in the second round. 

The Sun Devils hit the ball very well, yet have a great pitching staff as well. Mike Leake, who has a 16-1 record with a 1.36 ERA, is one of the biggest competitors on the team, and does not let his team lose. Josh Spence is also a very good pitcher, varying speeds masterfully to catch hitters off guard. He has a 9-1 record and a 2.33 ERA. 

Offensively, Jason Kipnis in center is their most viable threat, bringing a .385 average and 16 home runs into the series. Catcher Carlos Ramirez leads the team in home runs with 18. 

First Round Game #2 - LSU vs. Virginia

LSU

What would a College World Series be without the boys from Baton Rouge? The Tigers will be making their fifteenth trip to Omaha, and are looking to pick up championshp ring number six. Their last championshp came in 20o0, but the last time they were in Omaha was just last season. 

Their road to Omaha? Also unblemished. LSU defeated Minnesota in the final of their regional to advance to Super Regional, where they defeated Rice in two games. 

Offensively, Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and shortstop Austin Nola lead the team in batting average, both at or near .340. Left fielder Ryan Schimpf is LSU's most dangerous power hitter, with 19 home runs on the season. 

LSU has a few dominant starters, but their bullpen doesn't run that deep. Anthony Ranaudo and Louis Coleman anchor the starters, and have both won ten games or more this season. Also, their ERA's are both under 3.00, something that's hard to find on the balance of their pitching staff. One other guy who does have an ERA under 3.00 is closer Matty Ott, a freshman who has picked up 16 saves on the year. 

Virginia

Two years removed from a loss in their home regional to Oregon State, the Cavailiers are making theri first trip to Omaha this season under head coach Brian O'Connor. 

Second baseman Keith Werman is their most dangerous hitter, as he brings a .367 batting average into the series. Center fielder Jarett Parker, a sophomore, is also a threat with a .364 average and a team-best 16 home runs. On the mound, Freshman Danny Hultzen leads the team with a 9-1 record and 2.09 ERA. Senior Andrew Carraway has and 8-1 record with a 4.13 ERA, and Sophomore Kevin Arico has 11 saves on the year. 

First Round Game #1 - Cal State Fullerton vs. Arkansas

Cal State Fullerton

The post-season has been a breeze this far for Cal State Fullerton, who has made quick work of Utah, Gonzaga, and Lousiville to advance to the College World Series. They've scored over ten runs in all but one of their post-season games to date, and the only time they didn't was also their smallest margin of victory-- a 7-3 win over Gonzaga. The Titans cruised through MWC play under second-year head coach Dave Serrano with a 22-2 record, and carry a 47-17 overall record into Rosenblatt Stadium. 

All but one starter for Cal State Fullerton is hitting under .300, and boast a .330 team batting average. They're led by Josh Fellhauer at .339 as well as Jared Clark and Joey Siddons, who are both hitting above .360. Fellhauer, a standout center fielder, was drafted in at 209th by the Cincinatti Reds in this week's MLB First Year Player Draft. 

Where the Titans are lacking though, is depth in the bullpen, which is a big reason why teams will be trying to punish their starting pitchers-- namely Renken, Ramirez, and Pill. Renken has been Fulleton's most effective starter this season, racking up an 11-2 record and 2.36 ERA. 

Arkansas

Arkansas? That's right folks. If you like to root for underdogs, here's your team. The Razerbacks are the lowest seeded team to win a Super Regional, so they must immediately become favorites, right?

Arkansas knocked off Florida State in their own Super Regional to punch a ticket to Omaha, which is an accomplishment in itself. The Razerbacks also have an unblemished post-season record, sweeping the Norman Regional, and taking two straight from Florida State to nab the Tallahassee Regional crown. 

Sophomore Andy Wilkins carries the best average into the tournament (.326), but senior Ben Tschepikow (.310) is the leader on offense. The scouting report on the Razorbacks says that you need to pitch well to stymie their offense, something that Cal State Fullerton isn't guranteed to do, especially if the Razorbacks can get into the Titan bullpen.

--Jake (jake.buildingthedam@gmail.com