In a regional tournament, the Saturday night winner's bracket game is arguably the most important match-up. Especially when it is the two best teams fighting to be in the drivers seat on Sunday. When TCU faced the Sam Houston State Bearkats this time last year, the Saturday night match up proved to be the pivotal game of the regional. That 22-inning game was obviously an atypical example, but it serves to illustrate how much losing the Saturday night game can hurt you.
Remember, the team that loses tonight's game has to win twice on Sunday AND once on Monday to win this tournament. The team that wins tonight only has to win their one and only game tomorrow to advance to the super regional. Last year, by the time Sam Houston State fought their way through the loser's bracket to face the Frogs on Sunday night, they just didn't have enough left to pull off the win. That has a lot to do with the ridiculous 316 pitches thrown by the Bearkats' pitching staff in that Saturday night game, but even if you don't squeeze 2.5 games into the Saturday night contest, the task of having to win three more games after tonight as opposed to one is a tall one.
Before TCU dismantled Sacred Heart in the evening game, NC State won a 3-0 decision during Game 1 yesterday afternoon. Neither winning team allowed a run, and while NC State had more trouble with their opponent, that had a lot to do with a strong pitching and defensive performance by Stony Brook. Stony Brook's starter Zamora allowed just two runs through 6.2 innings and NC State had 11 men left on base throughout the game. Outside of a 2-run homer in the 5th from Ratledge, who we'll talk more about later, NC State only managed one other run against Stony Brook's elite defense.
|Preston Morrison (11-2)
|Brian Brown (7-3)
This pitching match-up is really neat because Morrison is a veteran, senior pitcher going against the freshman sensation that is Brown. It's pretty impressive when the freshman in your rotation has the lowest ERA of the bunch, and that is the case when it comes to Brian Brown. He is similar to Morrison in the sense that he doesn't really try to overpower people the way that, say, Traver and Ferrell do. Brown relies more on location and movement to get outs, which is also P-Mo's MO.
Morrison's ERA is a little misleading because he let up 7 runs to Texas Tech in 3.1 innings. Before that game, his ERA was 2.24. While Brian Brown's statistics look very good, he has issued 26 walks, which opens up the opportunity for TCU to do some damage if he is offering up free bases. Considering the fact that TCU had 10 walks last night and was turning in a lot of quality at-bats, Brown will have to be careful and keep the ball in the zone. In fact, it was three straight walks by TCU batters to open up the third inning last night that really broke things open for TCU. If NC State lets that happen, they're going to have a bad time.
Outside of Brian Brown, NC State has a pretty deep bullpen. Tommy DeJuneas, Will Gilbert and Jon Olczak all have winning records, sub 2.7 ERAs, and have pitched at least 39.2 innings. Our friends over at "Backing The Pack" went into a little more detail on the Wolfpack's pitching options in their Q&A with Marshall.
NC State isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut in terms of batting-average, but holy mackerel look at their home run total! Hitting 50 big ones is good enough for being ranked 26th nationally, and that is more than twice as many as TCU has hit this year. NC State has five guys in their lineup who have gone deep five or more times this season. The leader is Logan Ratledge, who is their most dangerous hitter. Ratledge is hitting (.333 / .437 / .562) with nine home runs and, as i mentioned earlier, it was his two-run bomb in the 5th that broke a scoreless tie with Stony Brook. He also hit one to the warning track earlier in the game, so this guy hits with power consistently, as evidenced by his .562 slugging percentage.
The top of their lineup is pretty dangerous with Ratledge as the lead off man, usually followed by Preston Palmeiro (.320/ .398 / .478) and Andrew Kizner (.317 / .359 / .431). Palmerio hit a crazy inside the park, little league home run for the walk off victory against Miami in the ACC tournament. You can check that out here.
TCU will play their usual game of hitting for average, being aggressive on the base paths and taking advantage of walks and mistakes by the opposing defense. They were really aggressive on the base paths last night, and I hope that they keep up that trend tonight. When TCU is in attack mode running the bases, good things happen for us more often than not. It also helps that NC State is not an elite defensive unit with a .971 fielding percentage. At the plate, we need to stay patient and try to take advantage of some walks by Brian Brown & Company.
The Wolfpack is no stranger to playing big time games, as they managed to defeat Louisville, Miami, Florida State, Notre Dame, Virgina, and Clemson over the course of their season. They didn't take the season series against Louisville, Miami, or Florida State, but they proved that they have the ability to beat elite teams. I watched some of the ACC tournament on TV, and it's obvious that big crowds won't intimidate them either. Still, a lot of the fans in those games showed up to support NC State, and that will not be the case tonight. This is going to be a great match up, but I would bet that P-Mo comes out with his good stuff and the Frogs get the W.