Previewing the Columbia Regional

Kendall Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

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The Road to Omaha continues this weekend with NCAA regional action.

We take an in-depth look at all 16 NCAA regionals.

THE TEAMS
Team Conference Record Berth Last NCAA appearance
1. South Carolina SEC 43-15 At-large 2009 (Greenville Regional)
2. Virginia Tech Atlantic Coast 38-20 At-large 2000 (Fullerton Regional)
3. The Citadel Southern 42-20 Won SoCon 2004 (Columbia Regional)
4. Bucknell Patriot 25-33 Won Patriot 2008 (Tallahassee Regional)
THE BREAKDOWN
The favorite: South Carolina
1. South Carolina
2. Virginia Tech
3. The Citadel
4. Bucknell
The Gamecocks should win this regional if their offense decides to show up. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner wasn't very pleased with the fact his offense didn't do much in the SEC tournament last week. It'll be interesting to see which offense shows up this weekend. The Gamecocks enter the postseason with a .299 batting average. Jackie Bradley Jr. (.372,9,43) and Whit Merrifield (.329,12,36) are the key offensive cogs to watch. On the mound, the Gamecocks have been a pleasant surprise this season and enter the weekend with a 3.62 ERA. Cooper leads the charge on the mound, but also keep an eye on Sam Dyson (3.92,82 2/3 IP) and relievers Michael Roth and Matt Price.
The dark-horse contender: Virginia Tech
Don't be surprised if the Hokies give South Carolina a run for their money. The Hokies have had a fantastic season and won't be intimidated this weekend. In addition to hitting at an impressive .322 clip, the Hokies also have a trio of solid weekend starters in Justin Wright, Jesse Hahn and Mathew Price. Wright has a 3.59 ERA in 92 2/3 innings, Hahn has a 3.86 ERA in 70 innings and Price has a 4.59 ERA in 84 1/3 innings. The Hokies also have the ability to turn things over to Ben Rowen late in games. Rowen has recorded five saves in 35 appearances and has a 3.02 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.
Best hitter: Virginia Tech OF Austin Wates
The Hokies have been a huge surprise this season in large part because of their offense. The Hokies enter the postseason with a solid .322 batting average and Wates leads the way at the plate. Wates is hitting .373 with 14 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 51 RBIs. He also is slugging .593 and has a .486 on-base percentage. Additionally, he is 17-for-20 in stolen bases. Tech will have a successful weekend if Wates and others are clicking on all cylinders.
Best pitcher: South Carolina RHP Blake Cooper
It's a close race between Cooper and The Citadel's Asher Wojciechowski for the best pitcher label in this tournament. But Cooper gets the nod after dominating great competition for much of the season. Cooper enters the postseason with fantastic numbers. He has started 15 games and has a 2.94 ERA in 104 innings. He also has struck out 88 and walked 29 and opponents are hitting just .227 against him. Cooper has thrown one complete game this season. Cooper is a great success story after dropping several pounds last summer.
The buzz
Though South Carolina ace pitcher Blake Cooper has earned a plethora of headlines for such an impressive turnaround this season, fellow right-hander Sam Dyson also deserves a wealth of credit. Dyson entered the season as a highly touted MLB draft prospect. He didn't start the spring on a positive note, but has been much better down the stretch. Dyson enters the weekend with a 3.92 ERA in 82 2/3 innings. But most impressive is the fact he has limited opposing teams to a .245 batting average … Austin Wates may lead the Hokies at the plate, but keep a close eye on Steve Domecus, Ronnie Shaban, Tim Smalling and Buddy Sosnoskie. Domecus is hitting .371 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs, Shaban is hitting .355 with eight homers and 63 RBIs, Smalling is hitting .354 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and Sosnoskie is hitting .346 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs. It's easy to see why the Hokies have such a productive lineup … The Citadel ace pitcher Asher Wojciechowski is a guy to watch this weekend. The talented right-hander will be a first round selection in the MLB draft next week and has had a fantastic campaign. He has the ability to jump start the weekend for the Bulldogs. Wojciechowski has started 16 games and has a 12-2 record and a 3.25 ERA in 119 innings. He also has struck out 144 and walked 31 and teams are hitting just .228 against him … Bucknell is best known for upsetting Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional a couple of seasons ago. The Bison, though, will need some luck to pull off an upset this weekend. The Bison do not have a very good pitching staff, entering the weekend with a 6.10 ERA against Patriot League competition. It will be interesting to see how the offense fares, though. The Bison enter the weekend with a .313 batting average and has a trio of great power hitters in Ben Yoder, Andrew Brouse and Doug Shribman.