At-bat: DI Baseball regionals
Also: WCWS, Rowing Championships get under way
OK, college baseball fans … you’ve been waiting patiently all year long, and this weekend you will get your reward with hundreds of hours of Division I tournament action for your viewing pleasure.
Beginning Friday, at least 96 games -- and probably more -- will be contested during the weekend as we whittle our way down from 64 teams to 16 super regional squads. You can follow up-to-the-second scores on NCAA.com, or catch the broadcast of every game on television or your smartphone via ESPN’s family of networks.
I’m not going to predict any upsets or give you my opinion on which teams will keep their journey going to the Road to Omaha -- I would have never picked Stony Brook or Kent State last year -- but I will share a few notes and nuggets about the field, and what to watch for this weekend.
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Follow all 16 regionals and every step toward the College World Series with our interactive bracket.
• The Vanderbilt-East Tennessee State contest should be quite a pitcher’s duel. Sophomore Tyler Beede will take the mound for the Commodores as he looks to improve upon his school-record and nation-leading 14-0 mark this season. Beede, a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, also ranks fourth in Division I with 5.4 hits allowed per nine innings, and has compiled a 2.10 ERA on the year.
ETSU might be a No. 4 seed, but the Bucs also boast one of the top pitchers in college baseball right now in senior right-hander Kerry Doane. Doane is right behind Beede with a 13-1 mark, and tops the nation with 12 complete games in his first season as a full-time pitcher. A former shortstop, Doane garnered Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year and A-Sun tournament MVP honors after posting a 1.99 ERA and four shutouts this season. Doane has won his past 10 decisions, compiling a 1.93 ERA during the stretch.
• After winning the West Coast Conference championship, San Diego earned a spot in the Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA, giving the nation a chance to witness Kris Bryant’s sweet home-run swing. Bryant is batting .340 with 13 doubles and 62 RBIs, not to mention a whopping 31 home runs -- the most since the NCAA switched to the BBCOR bats. It is 11 more than the next player on the list -- Elon’s Ryan Kinsella, who is playing in the Charlottesville Regional this weekend. Bryant, who is projected to be a top-five pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft next week, has hit more home runs than 226 Division I teams. The third-seeded Toreros will face No. 2-seed Cal Poly, whose pitching staff gave up just 14 home runs all season. Will Bryant tag the Mustangs for any round-trippers?
• How important is the role of the closer in college baseball? Looking at the NCAA saves leaders, I’d say pretty important. The top-five players on the list all have helped their teams to the NCAA postseason: Austin Peay’s Tyler Rogers (21), Oregon’s Jimmie Sherfy (20), Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen (18), UCLA’s David Berg (18) and Florida Atlantic’s Huge Adams (17). Rogers tossed a scoreless ninth inning in a 6-3 win against Eastern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game, earning his 33rd career save and setting a league record. Sherfy broke his own school single-season record of 19 with 20 this season. Lorenzen helps his cause at the plate with a .335 batting average, 50 RBIs, 12 doubles and seven home runs. Berg set a single-season school mark at UCLA with 18 saves, and finished the regular season with a Division I-leading 0.70 ERA. Adams, who missed last year due to injury, returned this year and became the Sun Belt Conference’s all-time career saves leader.
• Only five teams from last year’s eight-team College World Series field have a shot at returning to Omaha in 2013 as defending NCAA champion Arizona, as well as Kent State and Stony Brook, did not earn a spot in the bracket this season. Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina and UCLA do have a chance at a repeat trip, but the No. 7 Seminoles are the only national seed of the group. FSU, South Carolina and UCLA will all host NCAA regionals as No. 1 seeds, but the Razorbacks and Gators will have to go on the road to begin their journey back to TD Ameritrade Park. Arkansas was well-traveled last year, as well. The Razorbacks beat Sam Houston State and Rice in the Houston Regional and topped No. 4-national seed Baylor in the Waco Super Regional to punch their ticket to Omaha.
• It is a year of firsts for eight teams: Indiana, Kansas State and Virginia Tech will all be hosting NCAA regionals for the first time in program history, while five schools are making their first appearance in the tournament -- Bryant, Canisius, Central Arkansas, Savannah State and South Dakota State. It’s nice to have some new blood in the tournament, since there are so many programs which earn postseason bids on an almost annual basis. The evidence: All but 15 teams in the 64-team field have appeared in the NCAA tournament at least once in the past four years.
• There will be a Southeastern Conference showdown in Oklahoma City as Florida and Tennessee meet in the Women’s College World Series at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. While the two squads have met 63 previous times, this will be the first one in the NCAA postseason. Florida holds a 43-20 advantage in the series, and won two of three games against the Lady Vols during the regular season. All three games this year went to eight innings and were decided by two runs or less. The contest pits two of the nation’s top pitching staffs against one another. Florida owns a 1.68 ERA, while Tennessee sports a 1.80 ERA. The Lady Vols also are pretty potent at the plate, batting .336 as a team (fourth in the NCAA) and scoring 6.95 runs per game (second). The Gators produce plenty of runs themselves -- 6.59 per game, which ranks ninth in Division I. The game will be broadcast live at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
• Texas is doing the “Taylor Two-Step” all the way to Oklahoma City as the Longhorns earned their first WCWS appearance since 2006. The Longhorns have been sparked offensively by Taylor Hoagland and Taylor Thom, who have set several school and conference records this season. Hoagland ranks third nationally in on-base percentage (.615), and set both the Texas single-season (68) and Big 12 career record (173) for walks this year. A senior third baseman, Hoagland reached base in 47 consecutive games to start the season, has scored 18 game-winning runs and has six game-winning RBIs. Thom, a junior shortstop, set a program record with 65 RBIs this season, has hit four grand slams and leads the team with nine game-winning RBIs. The No. 4 Longhorns will face No. 5 Arizona State at 7 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN2.
• No. 14 Nebraska may be the lowest remaining seeded team in the WCWS bracket, but the Huskers have proven they belong in the final eight after ending No. 3 Oregon’s nation-leading, 24-game home winning streak in super regional action. The Huskers rely on their stellar defense, which leads the nation with 48 double plays -- 26 more than any other team in the WCWS field -- and a pitching staff that ranks ninth in the nation with a 1.78 ERA. Nebraska will open WCWS play against No. 11 Washington at noon ET Thursday on ESPN2.
• The NCAA Rowing Championships are in action beginning Friday in Indianapolis at Eagle Creek Park with all three divisions vying for trophies. USC is the No. 1-ranked squad in Division I, and will be appearing in the championships for the fifth consecutive year as the Trojans seek their first national title. The No. 1 team in Division II -- Barry -- also is looking to win the program’s first rowing title, while in Division III, top-ranked Williams College is in the hunt for its eighth consecutive championship.
• Arizona State freshman golfer Jon Rahm opened the Division I Men's Championships with one of the most spectacular performances in tournament history as he shot an NCAA opening-round record-low score of 61 at the Capital City Club in Atlanta. Rahm tallied 10 birdies and just one bogey en route to the 9-under score. Rahm’s score was one shot off the NCAA tournament single-round record of 60 shot by Duke’s Michael Schachner in the final round of the 2007 championships.
Related: Rahm proves coach wrong
• Jackson State sprinter Anaso Jobodwana will not only be vying for a national title in the 200-meter race at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships next week, but also will be challenging for the South African national record. Jobodwana ran a 20.13 seconds in the 200-meter semifinals at the NCAA East Regional in Greensboro, N.C., last weekend, winning his heat with the fastest collegiate time and third-fastest time in the world this year. He is only two-hundreths of a second off his country’s 200-meter record. The mark eclipsed his personal best of 20.27, which he ran in an eighth-place finish in the 200 final at the 2012 London Olympics.
• For the second consecutive season, the Cal State Fullerton baseball team leads the nation in walks allowed per nine innings. Last year, the Titans finished the season surrendering 1.87 walks per nine innings, and this season they have improved upon that mark with an average of 1.49 entering the NCAA postseason. Fullerton is the only Division I team that has given up less than 2.00 walks per nine innings on the season, allowing only 83 in 56 games. The Titans’ pitching staff also tops the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.71) and WHIP (1.03), and ranks sixth in the nation with a 2.56 ERA. The No. 5 national seed will play host to Columbia at the Fullerton Regional at 11 p.m. Friday.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy