Earlier today, Riley took a broad look at the Winston-Salem regional and provided an overview of the four teams competing in the double-elimination bracket.
Now we begin a deeper dive into the region, beginning with Wake Forest's opening opponent: the Maryland Baltimore-County Retrievers, champions of the America East conference - the first time they have ever won the America East.
The Retrievers received the automatic bid after winning the conference tournament and piecing together a 23-23 overall record (11-9 America East Regular Season).
UMBC finished tied for second in the regular season with Stony Brook, 4.5 games behind Binghamton, who was a top 60 RPI team. Despite the solid season by Binghamton, they were upset by Albany and Maine in rapid succession in the postseason and promptly eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention.
UMBC advanced to the Winston-Salem regional with a walk-off walk 2-1 victory over Maine in ten innings this weekend. The America East Conference was ranked by the RPI as the 15th most difficult conference overall and UMBC is the 153rd overall.
By the RPI, the Retrievers are the sixth-worst team in the 64-team field. So as far as four seeds go, Wake likely could not have asked for a better opening game in the Tournament.
While RPI is not the end all be all of metrics (and we have talked at length over the course of various sports of the numerous shortcomings of the RPI), it provides a good snapshot of where teams stand at this point of the season. To supplement this, the Sagarin college baseball ratings have UMBC as the 200th best team. Regardless of which metric is chosen, the point remains that this is a game Wake is going to be heavily favored in.
This is not intended to be critical of UMBC, but merely to show where the stand overall in the scheme of things.
Let’s take a look at how UMBC has fared thus far this season against teams roughly the same caliber as Wake Forest. Honestly, it’s difficult to tell because of the lack of meaningful games. Indeed the Retrievers have not played a team better than, coincidentally enough, 34th ranked Maryland - also a team in the Winston-Salem region. UMBC fell 6-2 in that contest back on May 9th. For reference, the Deacs are 15th in the RPI.
Overall, UMBC played seven games against top 100 competition and went 1-6. They fell in the aforementioned game to Maryland, dropped two of three to Binghamton, and then lost three in a row to start the season against Liberty (once) and St. John’s (twice). They did, however, knock off Delaware once in two matchups, a team who also made the NCAA Tournament as a four seed (by virtue of winning the CAA).
As mentioned, the Deacs are currently 15th in the RPI and on paper will be the best team UMBC have played all year. In their seven games against top 100 competition, the Retrievers were outscored 60-25 but 12 of those runs came in their lone win over Binghamton (a 12-3 margin in the series finale in early April).
With all this background in mind about the two teams overall, let's take a look at the guys who UMBC will most likely send out on Friday in the opening game - beginning with the position players. This following lineup is the starting nine that the Retrievers trotted out in each of the three America East conference championship games
UMBC Probable Lineup
Based on the overall body of work and the postseason accolades, freshman third baseman Christian Torres, DH Zach Bright, and Catcher Hunter Dolshun are the three biggest threats in the Retriever lineup. Torres was named freshman of the year in the America East, while Dolshun made first-team all conference. Bright was named second-team all conference.
Dolshun led regular starters in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and runs batted in. It’s safe to say that he is, by far, their best offensive player and as such he will likely be batting clean up against the Diamond Deacs.
On the pitching side, senior Michael Austin was named second-team all-America East behind a 4.21 ERA and 4-2 overall record along with a .279 allowed batting averaThe right-handed Austin started eight games over the course of the season, striking out 45 batters and walking 20 in 62.0 total innings. He did have a proclivity to give up the long ball, issuing eight total home runs which led the team by far.
Austin is one of only four pitchers on the UMBC roster with an ERA under 5.00 and, as seen above, nobody has an ERA under 4.00. The apparent closer, Cory Callahan, who leads the team with four saves, enters the tournament with a 5.88 ERA with an 18:6 K:BB ratio in 21 total innings.
Austin started the conference tournament opener against Stony Brook and allowed five hits in five innings but no runs. He struck out six batters and issued only two walks. Presumably, Austin will get the start against Wake but it’s not entirely clear at this point. Blogger So Dear will update this as soon as we find out who is getting the nod on Friday.
This was a long one, but we wanted to get as much information as possible about UMBC out there. If anyone has questions or comments about the Retrievers drop us a line below. Tomorrow morning we will take a look at what can be expected from the Wake side of things regarding lineup choices, pitching decisions, and an overall look at how Wake could approach the regional as a whole as the top seed in the Winston-Salem regional.
The Road to Omaha begins on Friday at 7 P.M. and to get off to a good start, Wake will first need to take care of business against the UMBC Retrievers. Hopefully Wake can get it done; and as always, go Deacs!