DI baseball championship: Players to watch from all 16 regionals (Part I)
In one month, there will be a new College World Series champion raising the trophy at TD Ameritrade Park. That much is known, after defending champ Coastal Carolina's early conference tournament exit has resulted in a postseason absence this year.
The road to Omaha starts Thursday for 64 other teams following Monday's release of the 2017 Division I baseball tournament bracket. These squads are dispersed among 16 loaded four-team regionals, each presenting its own storylines and intriguing matchups. Here are the players to keep your eyes on from the top left side of the bracket.
Teams (in descending seed order): Oregon State, Nebraska, Yale, Holy Cross
Pitcher to watch: When it comes to No. 1 overall seed Oregon State, coach Pat Casey has a smorgasbord of top arms to call on. No. 1 on that list is Luke Heimlich. The southpaw pitched to a nation-best 0.81 ERA — the only sub-1.00 mark in DI —with 120 strikeouts in 111.1 innings. He finished the year 10-1 and didn't allow a home run all regular season. Paired with righty Jake Thompson (12-0, 1.31 ERA), the Beavers arguably have the tournament's top 1-2 combo on the mound.
Hitter to watch: Nebraska's Jake Meyers was one of the most productive hitters out of the Big Ten with a slash line of .351/.515/.416 in conference play this season. Meyers finished second in the conference with 51 runs scored while handling leadoff duties for the Huskers. The versatile Meyers also started 13 games on the mound, posting a 3.09 ERA. Nebraska only lost once with Meyers on the bump.
Teams: Clemson, Vanderbilt, St. John's, UNC Greensboro
Pitcher to watch: St. John's was one of the big surprises this year, increasing its win total by 14 games from last season. The arrival of Sean Mooney has had a large part to do with that. The Big East Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year was 8-1 with a 1.22 ERA and .178 batting average against in his debut collegiate season. Mooney has faced two tournament teams this year, posting 8.1 innings of two-run ball against Big East rival Xavier on May 12 and going four innings in relief against No. 2 seed North Carolina (two earned runs) on March 1.
Hitter to watch: Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall is a joy to watch in the batter's box and out in centerfield. His power has increased (15 home runs and 27 extra base hits in 2017), he hit .300 for the second-straight year, and he was recently named to the all-defensive conference team. Competing in a star pitcher-laden SEC, Kendall showed no signs of regression in his junior season.
LONG BEACH REGIONAL
Teams: Long Beach State, Texas, UCLA, San Diego State
Pitcher to watch: Texas righthander Morgan Cooper was one of the most improved arms out of the Big 12 this season, pitching to a 2.32 ERA and a 6-2 record. With exception to one bad outing against TCU — seven runs allowed in three innings — Cooper has limited opponents to three runs or less in 13 other starts. From March 25-April 28 (six starts), the junior went on a remarkable run of allowing just four runs in 37.2 innings.
Hitter to watch: If San Diego State makes some noise in its regional round, it will likely stem from its dynamic offense. Shortstop Danny Sheehan is one of six Aztecs batting at least .328 this season and adds 24 extra base hits and 53 runs scored out of the No. 3 hole in the lineup. Sheehan went 2-for-3 with an RBI in SDSU's MWC title game win over Fresno State on Sunday.
Teams: Stanford, Cal State Fullerton, BYU, Sacramento State
Pitcher to watch: Senior Justin Dillon pitched Sacramento State to a WAC title with five shutout innings of one-hit ball against CSU Bakersfield on Sunday. But that was far from his best outing of the year. Back on Feb. 23 in his second start of the season against Northern Kentucky, Dillon tossed a 13-strikeout no-hitter. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound righty finished with a 8.69 strikeouts per nine innings mark and three complete games.
Hitter to watch: BYU's Bronson Larsen slugged four home runs in five games en route to earning WCC tournament MVP honors this past weekend. He hit 16 total for the season while driving in a team-high 62 RBIs and slashing .344/.441/.651.