DI baseball championship: Players to watch from all 16 regionals (Part II)
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 bottom left corner of the bracket.
Check back for a look at the last two corners of the bracket on Wednesday.
Teams (in descending seed order): Texas Tech, Arizona, Sam Houston State, Delaware
Pitcher to watch: Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Steven Gingery made the jump from a reliable arm to a dominant one in his sophomore season at Texas Tech, thanks to a stark increase in command. Gingery is 9-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 99 strikeouts, all while cutting his walks per nine innings by nearly half from 2016. The sophomore lefty is tournament-tested already, having started three games in last year's postseason, going 2-1.
Hitter to watch: Arizona first baseman JJ Matijevic leads the Pac-12 in hits, doubles, total bases and RBIs. His 29 doubles are also tied for tops in the country. Matijevic was a key member of last year's Wildcats team that advanced to the CWS finals. He'll try to bounce back from a 1-for-12 finish in those final three games.
Teams: Florida State, UCF, Auburn, Tennessee Tech
Pitcher to watch: Auburn was no safe bet to make the tournament, but now that the Tigers are in, they pose one of the biggest dangers on the mound with the combo of Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize. Mize, a sophomore, led the team with seven wins and 97 strikeouts. His last appearance came in relief of Thompson in the SEC tournament opener vs. Ole Miss, where he went six strong innings and picked up the victory.
Hitter to watch: Florida State's bats got hot at the right time, leading the Seminoles to six straight wins, an ACC title and rights to host a first round regional. Leadoff hitter Taylor Walls was at the heart of this streak, with five hits and five runs scored in the conference tournament. Walls was tied for 10th in the nation with 65 runs scored this year. With plenty of power bats hitting behind him, Walls can be the catalyst in a potent FSU attack.
Teams: Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Alabama, Illinois-Chicago
Pitcher to watch: This year's tournament is ripe with southpaw talent, and Southern Mississippi's Kirk McCarty is no exception. The junior led the Golden Eagles in starts for the second straight season and finished 10-2 with a 2.96 ERA. McCarty has 96 of Southern Mississippi's 551 strikeouts on the year. The latter is a new program record.
Hitter to watch: Mississippi State's Brent Rooker took home the SEC triple crown this year with a .404 batting average, 21 home runs and 76 RBIs. He also led the conference in hits (90), doubles (29) and total bases (188). That's total domination in a league that throws out star pitching talent each and every week. Is there anything Rooker can't do? Well, maybe pitching is off the table.
BATON ROUGE REGIONAL
Teams: LSU, Southeastern Louisiana, Rice, Texas Southern
Pitcher to watch: LSU righty Alex Lange is the frontman of a three-deep rotation combining for 25 of the Tigers' 43 wins. Lange fired four complete games in the regular season and pitched to a 2.59 ERA. In his last outing in the SEC quarterfinals, he outmatched SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle with seven shutout innings in a 10-0 mercy rule victory against Kentucky.
Hitter to watch: Rice won 18 of its final 22 games, including all four C-USA tournament bouts, to sneak into the regional field. Now the Owls have the chance to show off their prolific offense led by catcher Dominic DiCaprio. DiCaprio leads Rice with a .365 batting average and .441 on base percentage while tallying 20 extra base hits on the year. The sophomore recorded a hit and RBI in each of the Owls' four conference tournament wins.