NCAA Baseball Tournament: William & Mary Bracket Analysis

 

 

Victory, sweet Victory. Your 2016 CAA Champions, the William & Mary Tribe. [photo: tribeathletics.com]
Victory, sweet Victory. Your 2016 CAA Champions, the William & Mary Tribe. [photo: tribeathletics.com]
Before we get started, we at the W&M Sports Blog want to offer one more CONGRATULATIONS to the William and Mary baseball squad for pulling off the improbable and defeating UNCW twice to win the CAA Championship. And let’s not forget that truly insane 7-run 9th inning in the second to last game to keep the season alive. #Neverforget. Because of the team’s stellar performance over the weekend, William & Mary has been getting some serious attention from media outlets, such as the Washington Post, Daily Press, and many others. And of course, we couldn’t resist the urge to write an article, because well, we’re the W&M Sports Blog. That’s what we do. But I digress.

After winning the CAA and auto-qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, William & Mary (29-29, 14-9 CAA) was placed in the Charlottesville regional bracket, which includes the following teams:

UVA logo
University of Virginia (37-20, 19-11 ACC)
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Bryant University (47-10, 26-4 NEC)
Skull
East Carolina University (34-21-1, 15-8-1 AAC)

Some tough competition, for sure. To orient yourself: the regionals (like the CAA Tournament) function on a 2-game elimination format, with games starting on Friday, June 3rd and concluding on Sunday, June 5th. Lose two games, and you’re done. Hey, it’s better than one and done, right? The Tribe will open up against host team and top-seeded Virginia on Friday, June 3rd at 11 AM (Changed from 1 PM due to weather).

Below, we will crank out a short breakdown of all you need to know about each team in the Charlottesville Regional, starting with the host team, UVA. Roll Tribe Roll!

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#1 Virginia Cavaliers

The Virginia Cavaliers baseball team has a history of making the NCAA Tournament, and have done so the past 12 seasons (since 2004, for those of you too lazy to do the math). They also hold an even more impressive streak, having made the College World Series the past 2 seasons, both against Vanderbilt. While the Commodore’s got the better of the Hoos in 2014, UVA would prevail in 2015, winning the National Championship (the first in Hoo history). Did all that Hoo’ing make you think of an owl yet? What’s up with that nickname…and where did Thomas Jefferson go to college? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Moving on.

UVA ended the season very hot, winning 11 of their final 12 games en route to an impressive 37 win season. However, the team would falter in the ACC tournament, losing to Clemson and Wake Forest in consecutive days. This may have been the reason that the Hoos did not receive one of the coveted top-8 national seeds in the tournament.

William and Mary opens up against the defending National Champion, UVA (photo via virginasportstv.com)
William and Mary opens up against the defending National Champion, UVA (photo via virginasportstv.com)

Looking at UVA’s regular season schedule, a couple of things pop out. One, they much prefer playing in Charlottesville, where they finished with a 23-10 record compared to just 11-8 on the road (don’t forget they’re playing at home in this regional). Second, they have played two of the three teams in the Charlottesville Bracket (William and Mary and East Carolina) and are just a combined 2-2 against these teams.

UVA played William and Mary way back on March 1st, when most Tribe fans were getting ready for the CAA Basketball Championships in Baltimore, as UVA won by a margin of 16-8. Unfortunately for the Tribe, the game was worse than the scoreboard indicated. The then #8-ranked Cavaliers scored 9 runs in the bottom of the first, and wouldn’t look back. The Cavs went on to rack up an incredible 17 hits in the game, including 8 extra base hits. To say they destroyed the Tribe’s pitching staff would be putting it lightly.

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HOWEVER, with all that said, this is a different Tribe team than it was back in March. This group of men is seasoned, battle-tested, poised, and hungry for an upset. With that being said, it’s interesting to note that UVA and William and Mary went in the exact opposite directions to end the season. UVA finished the regular season strong and had a terrible ACC Tournament. William and Mary finished the regular season in a slump, and came on fire in the CAA Tournament. But anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament.

After scoring 7 runs in the top of the 9th against UNCW in game #1 and going on to win the CAA Championship on a grand slam by senior Josh Smith, the Tribe has proven it can do just about anything. Let’s hope that UVA continues its slump from the ACC Tournament, and that the Tribe continue to stay red hot. And maybe, just maybe, the Tribe can shock the baseball world and hand the defending champions an opening day loss in their house. Because when you think about it, “UVa” is the house that Thomas Jefferson built. And we all know TJ is a strong member of the Tribe.

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#2 Bryant Bulldogs

The Bryant Bulldogs made the jump up to Division I baseball in 2010, and have made the NCAA tournament three times since then (2012, 2013, 2016). Impressive. Bryant (47-10) plays in the Northeast Conference (NEC) and tore it up, going 26-4 in Division Play, earning them the two seed in the Charlottesville Region.

While you may think the Tribe is hot as of late, nobody is hotter than the Bryant Bulldogs. Bryant has won 16 of its previous 18 games, including the final 10 games of the season, sweeping their conference tournament. They also became the first team in NEC history to earn a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Bryant enters the tournament ranked 20th in the country, and has the most wins in Division I baseball with 47. The Bulldogs are known for their potent offense, which features a lineup with a combined .324 team batting average and .490 team slugging percentage, which includes an eye-popping 5 batters hitting over .300. They also lead the nation in run differential at +4.7.

Robby Rinn leads the potent Bryant Offense with a .378 batting average (via bryantbulldogs.com)
Robby Rinn leads the potent Bryant Offense with a .378 batting average (via bryantbulldogs.com)

You may say that they play in a small conference with lesser competition. You may be right. But a team that tears up a small conference has all of the confidence in the world, and can be absolutely dangerous come Tournament time–and that rings true for any sport. This baseball team reminds us of William & Mary football’s recent run-in with another NEC team in the playoffs, the Duquesne Dukes. If you recall, the Duquesne Dukes hail from the NEC, tore up their division last year, marched into Zable Stadium and nearly defeated the Tribe in a thrilling finish. The Tribe barely survived, 52-49. Lesson learned: never underestimate strong teams from small conferences.

Nobody in the nation has more wins than Bryant, and they are one of the hottest teams in the country coming into Charlottesville. Should the Tribe play the Bulldogs, Tribe pitchers will have to be on their “A” game, as they face one of the most, if not the most, potent offense in the nation.

Bryant will open up its first game against ECU on Friday at 6 PM on ESPN3.

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#3 East Carolina Pirates

Like UVA, East Carolina also has a strong history of making the NCAA tournament, and has done so 13 of the past 17 seasons. ECU was a former member of the CAA up until 2001 (when the Tribe last won the CAA Championship). Now, ECU (34-21) competes in the American Athletic Conference, where they went 15-8-1 (how does one tie in baseball?), earning them the three seed in the Charlottesville region. As a frame of reference, ECU took on UNCW back on March 29th, defeating the CAA Regular Season Champs by a score of 9-6. The Pirates also played UVA in a three game series at the end of February, and took 2 of 3 from a strong Cavalier team in Charlottesville.

ECU, again much like UVA, finished the season strong going 8-3-1 in their final 12 games, before faltering in the AAC tournament. They lost both games in the tournament, falling to USF and Memphis in back to back days. The Pirates’ pitching staff has  a 3.99 team ERA and all three of its weekend starters have an ERA under 3.00, which is a scary thought. Freshman Dwanya Williams-Sutton leads the team in batting average at .368 while ECU is hitting .287 as a team with a .390 team slugging percentage.

ECU Baseball
Evan Kruczynski leads the Pirates star pitching staff with a 1.99 ERA (via ecupirates.com)

Once again, this team seems to be faltering as of late, and maybe the Tribe (if they end up facing the Pirates) can pull off a win against a slumping team. We won’t read too much into the result of the UNCW game, as it was early in the season and was played at ECU. But any way you look at it, this Pirates team has the talent to win the Charlottesville Regional (as evidenced by winning 2 of 3 against UVA). We’ll have to wait and see which team shows up this weekend.

ECU will open up its first game of the regional against Bryant on Friday at 6 PM on ESPN3.

Game 1 Preview & Conclusion

As we mentioned above, William and Mary and UVA have gone in opposite directions to end the season: UVA has cooled off as of late, and the Tribe is red hot. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that UVA has had the Tribe’s number in recent memory, going 10-1 in the previous 10 seasons.

Even though UVA thrashed William and Mary 16-8 in their only meeting of the season, this Tribe team is different. “I think we’ve come a long way over the course of the season,” head coach Brian Murphy said. “We’re playing our best baseball of the season. It definitely was a good time for it at the CAA tournament.” Coach Murphy has this team feeling like they can do anything after their magical run in the CAA tournament, and perhaps some of that luck will rub off on the Tribe in Charlottesville.

UVA has not hinted who will pitch for them on Friday, while Coach Murphy was deciding between junior Dan Powers (8-5) and freshman Bodie Sheehan (5-4) before ultimately going with junior Powers. An interesting thing to note: Sheehan was the starting pitcher last time the team played UVA, and gave up 9 runs on 10 hits in the first inning back in March. Whether that played into the decision or not, Powers will be on the mound when the Tribe takes on the Hoos on Friday.

NOTE: The game has been changed from a start time of 1 PM to 11 AM due to weather.

Any way you look at it, we are excited for the games to start. Our tickets are bought, and we will be there on Friday in Charlottesville!! We Hope to see you there! If the CAA tournament is any indication, anything is possible. We believe! ROLL TRIBE!!!

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