The final eight stops on the road to Omaha have been set as the remaining 16 teams are two wins away from claiming berths to the 2018 College World Series.
Here are eight storylines to follow in this weekend's Super Regionals:
Which top-level talent will prevail in Gainesville?
Here are just some of the accolades for the individual talent that will be on display in the Gainesville Super Regional between Florida and Auburn: SEC Player of the Year (Florida’s Jonathan India), SEC Pitcher of the Year (Florida’s Brady Singer), the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft (Auburn’s Casey Mize), two of the four Golden Spikes Award finalists (Singer and Mize) and eight All-SEC players (five first-team, three-second team). Got all of that?
When the Gators and Tigers met in Gainesville during the regular season, Florida took the series 2-1 after a vintage Singer vs. Mize pitching duel (3-1 UF win) and alternating lopsided wins by each team April 26-28. There will be no shortage of talent on display at McKethan Stadium between these two SEC rivals. We’ll see if any unlikely heroes step up, à la the Gators' Jonah Girand, who stole the spotlight in regionals with an MOP performance this past week.
How will Duke respond after its wild ride through regionals?
After dropping the first game in the Athens Regional 6-0 against Troy, the Blue Devils trailed 8-1 through the first six innings in an elimination game against Campbell. Duke then scored 15 unanswered runs over the final three frames to keep their season alive. The Blue Devils followed up that performance with three consecutive dominant wins, outscoring the Trojans and Georgia (twice) by a combined score of 31-15.
Texas Tech cruised through its regional winning all three games by no less than five runs. If the Blue Devils get down early, will Griffin Conine and Duke's hot offense have enough magic left in the tank to keep their season alive?
What can we take from the Arkansas vs. South Carolina regular season series?
As one of three all-SEC Super Regional series, the Razorbacks and Gamecocks will be meeting for a second time this year, with the first coming April 12-14 at Baum Stadium. Arkansas has an astonishing 33-4 record at home this season. One of those losses, of course, came at the hands of South Carolina.
There was little offense to be found on either side back in the April series, as the Razorbacks outscored the Gamecocks 7-3 in a 2-1 series win. Pitchers Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy have been outstanding for Arkansas this season, and a lot of the pressure will fall on South Carolina’s staff to match the Razorbacks' 29th-best staff ERA in the nation. No South Carolina starter has an ERA lower than 3.68, raising the question if Cody Morris, Adam Hill and the Gamecocks' other top arms can slow down an Arkansas offense that just scored 24 runs in three games in the Fayetteville Regional.
Tennessee Tech has proven it belongs here. Now can the Golden Eagles ride their bats into Omaha?
Tennessee Tech left zero doubt that it belongs in the Super Regionals after defeating No. 4 overall seed Mississippi in Oxford in back-to-back elimination games to advance. And if the Golden Eagles’ 52-10 record still doesn’t impress you, here are all the regular season nationwide categories they rank No. 1 in: batting average (.338), on-base percentage (.434), slugging percentage (.589), hits (769), home runs (134) and runs per game (10.2).
Every hitter in their starting nine is hitting at least .300, but three names to keep an eye on are center fielder Alex Junior, designated hitter Kevin Strohschein and first baseman Chase Chambers. The Tennessee Tech hype train is real, and now it’s time to see if it can keep chugging along to one last stop in Omaha.
Can Washington reach its first College World Series?
After an 18-18 start to the season, Washington closed out on an impressive 15-5 run and earned an at-large bid, despite some lingering questions. The Huskies put those to rest, powering through the Conway Regional with a pair of wins over Connecticut (7-1, 9-8) and one over host Coastal Carolina (11-6).
Now standing in Washington’s way is a Cal State Fullerton team that seems to be making another one of their vintage runs through the tournament. Fullerton has four national championships in program history and looks to make its second straight (19th overall) appearance in Omaha. The Titans took down Pac-12 champion Stanford and Big 12 tournament champion Baylor on their path to Super Regionals and are clicking at the right time.
Are the Vanderbilt freshmen ready to lead the Commodores to Omaha?
The Commodores haven’t reached the College World Series since 2015 when they lost in the national championship series to Virginia. By the Vandy boys’ standard, that layoff is too long. Vanderbilt comes off a statement win in its 19-6 thumping over host Clemson in the regional final, and now we’ll see if the Commodores’ first-year stars are ready to lead them to Omaha.
Austin Martin has been spectacular all season and leads Vandy with 70 hits and 21 stolen bases while slashing an impressive .335/.447/.407. Designated hitter Philip Clarke trailed only Martin with 63 hits on the season to go along with six home runs and 36 RBIs. Pat DeMarco was an even bigger power threat with nine homers and 40 RBIs, good for third on the team. Sporting the best win-loss record on the staff, Mason Hickman (8-2) will need to be sharp if given the ball this weekend as he enters Super Regionals against Mississippi State with a 5.25 ERA.
Is Stetson ready to put itself on the map as a national powerhouse?
For a school that's produced some of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues in the Cleveland Indians' Corey Kluber and the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom, this year's Stetson squad is the first to reach Super Regionals. The Hatters hosted the DeLand Regionals and outscored opponents by a combined margin of 29-7. Their deep pitching staff didn’t allow more than three runs in any of its three wins.
Stetson has one of the best staffs in the country headlined by Logan Gilbert, the 14th overall pick in last week’s MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners. Gilbert is 11-1 on the season with a 2.52 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a batting-average against of .172. Behind Gilbert, the Hatters have three other reliable starters in Joey Gonzalez (8-3, 1.75, .199), Jack Perkins (11-2, 2.52, .229) and Mitchell Senger (9-2, 2.56, .191) who have all proven they can be dominant this season. The Hatters will be tested in Chapel Hill against North Carolina in one of just two Super Regionals featuring two nationally-ranked seeds (Minnesota vs. Oregon State the other).
How will Minnesota’s pitching staff fare against Oregon State’s lineup?
Minnesota became the first Big Ten team to reach the Super Regionals since 2014, and now faces one of the most complete teams in the country in No. 2 overall seed Oregon State. The Golden Gophers have a talented pitching staff with an overall team ERA of 3.04, led by two great starters in Patrick Fredrickson (9-0, 1.76, .200) and Reggie Meyer (8-3, 2.62, .226). But they have not faced a lineup nearly as deep as the Beavers this season.
The Beavers had four positional players taken in this week’s MLB draft, including two in the first round in second basemen Nick Madrigal (fourth overall) and right fielder Trevor Larnach (20th). Those two make up one of the best 3-4 combos in the country and are complemented by additional threats, all with Omaha experience. Oregon State marched through regionals with back-to-back wins over SEC tournament runner-up LSU by a combined score of 26-1.