On Sunday, UCLA learned they were a Regional host. Early on in Monday's selection show they learned they were the number two national seed. Everything was looking rosy for the Bruins. They would play their Regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium and, if they won that, they would also play their Super Regional in Westwood. Perfect.
With home field in the bag, the Bruins turned their attention to who they would play in the Regionals. In the past two seasons they have been dealt incredibly difficult Regionals. In 2010, the NCAA sent LSU out to Westwood in 2010, but the Bruins still cruised. They weren't so lucky in 2011, getting arguably the deepest Regional in the country and falling victim to it as they were upset by San Francisco and UC Irvine. This time around UCLA really wanted was a fair Regional and that's what they got: San Diego, New Mexico and Creighton.
San Diego Toreros (40-15, 2nd West Coast Conference)
Usually, the Toreros are all pitching, no hitting. So what do we call this year's San Diego team, which is hitting .310 and slugging .440? How about just good. The Toreros spent much of the season in the top 25 and only just missed out on the conference title, finishing a game behind Pepperdine in the regular season and dropping two of three in the championship series. The pitching may not be as dominant as it has been in the past, but with a more powerful offense, this is the most balanced team that San Diego has had in years.
San Diego's rejuvenated offense is led by Kris Bryant, who might be the best hitter in the Regional. The sophomore hit .359 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI while chipping in eight stolen bases. Add in five more Toreros hitting above .300 and there is more than enough offense to go around, but it is the absence of another that could be the difference. Corey LeVier, the Torero's top hitter at .367, is likely going to miss the weekend with a jaw injury, taking away the team's cleanup hitter.
Even with an improved offense, the Toreros are not completely dependent on it. They have arms, starting with Paul Sewald leading the way. The senior went 8-3 with a 2.83 ERA, while Calvin Drummond and Dylan Covey have been good behind him. All three have racked up the wins and have sub-3.40 ERA's so there is no shortage of quality, but they are right-handers, which the left-handed heavy Bruins will have a much easier time against.
The big wild card for the Toreros is Michael Wagner, their lights out closer who has 19 saves and could be devastating at the end of games, but who San Diego may move into the rotation with a fourth and fifth game of the weekend possibly looming. Wagner is a good pitcher, so that is not the wildcard aspect of things, but it is how it affects the San Diego bullpen. They have other arms, but he is the anchor and in moving him to the rotation, the Toreros could end up with a hole at the end of games. Still, they need another starter from somewhere.
The biggest concern for the Toreros is the way they finished, losing their last two series of the season. For those who believe in momentum, that's a major problem for San Diego. Then again, some don't put any stake in it.
New Mexico Lobos (36-22, T-1st Mountain West Conference)
The postseason is becoming old hat for New Mexico. This is the third straight season that the Lobos have qualified for a Regional, but this season isn't quite like the others. This has been a special year for the Lobos, who after years of being in TCU's shadow, finally topped their Mountain West Conference rivals.
After tying for the conference's regular season title, the Lobos took the top seed in the conference tournament by way of their series win over TCU. Then in the MWC Tournament, New Mexico knocked off TCU before a 22-3 thrashing of San Diego St. in the tournament title game to make their ascension to the top of the conference complete and send them to the postseason with nine straight wins in which they have outscored the opposition 115-39.
The Lobos have built their program on powerful offenses and this year is no different. Their .333 batting average is the fourth best in the country, led by DJ Peterson's mind-boggling .418 batting average, 16 home run, 76 RBI line. Mitchell Garver has been almost as good, hitting .391 with 10 home runs and four more Lobos are hitting .330 or better. Even taking into account the very pitcher friendly ballpark that New Mexico plays in, that is one impressive offense.
What has haunted the Lobos in recent years is their pitching, but that isn't the case this year. Austin House is a legitimate ace with a 2.92 ERA, but there is a drop off after that. Josh Walker is a solid number two, but then things get a little dicey. The bullpen has similar depth problems, with Hobie McClain and Gera Sanchez giving them two lights out relievers, but then not much after that. As scary as the Lobos offense is, and it is very scary, a team like UCLA that works pitchers and can grind out at-bats is exactly what could give the Lobos problems.
Creighton Blue Jays (26-28, 8th Missouri Valley Conference)
The one thing the Bruins didn't want to see was a fourth seeded team with a left-handed ace who could dominate so, naturally, that is exactly what they got. Creighton was sent to Los Angeles as the four seed, meaning that the Bruins would have to open the postseason against the Blue Jays and, more importantly, Ty Blach.
Blach is a junior southpaw who enters the weekend with a 2.64 ERA, a .218 batting average against and 77 strikeouts to just 28 walks on the season. He has been utterly dominant at times, as he was in last week's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament when he tossed a complete game one-hitter against Indiana St., who got an at-large bid to a Regional.
There is no doubt that Blach can dominate a game, but his pitching incredibly is hardly a guarantee. He was knocked out of games in the first inning on multiple occasions and struggled through conference play, compiling a 4.07 ERA and failing to win a game. The Blue Jays aren't exactly sure what they are going to get from Blach. He could get absolutely rocked, but there is a chance he could be dominant and against the left-handed heavy Bruins, dominant becomes a little more like so they've got a shot. As a four seed, can you ask for anything more?
In reality, Creighton really, really can't ask for anything more. This is a team that is under .500 and finished dead last in the Missouri Valley Conference. The only reason they got into a Regional is because they ran through the conference tournament 4-0 to win the conference's automatic bid. They hit .248 as a team and had just 15 home runs in 54 games this season. The Blue Jays are a four seed through and through, but they have that ace, and a left-handed one at that.
For a review of UCLA, check out the Bruins' season review.