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Alberto Camargo | | June 1, 2023

1 dark horse team and player to know in every NCAA baseball regional

College baseball bracket breakdown: Previewing the 2023 NCAA tournament

As we speed into the first weekend of the DI baseball tournament, there are plenty of high-profile names and teams that will draw attention. However, every year the tournament springs surprises in less-heralded teams and individual players.Ā 

Here is a look at dark horses in each regional, as well as one player to keep an eye on that can electrify the tournament.

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Winston-Salem Regional

Northeastern baseball

Dark horse - Northeastern: The Huskies went a perfect 6-0 against RPI top 25 teams this season. They already have a road win over regional opponent Maryland just weeks ago and have other impressive wins against Duke, Boston College and a sweep of Indiana State. Northeastern can hang with anyone ā€” even Wake Forest.

Player to watch - OF Mike Sirota, Northeastern: The Huskies' batting triple crown leader with an OPS over 1.100, Siroka is as well-rounded a hitter as anyone in this regional. He walks just as often as he strikes out, hits for power and average, all while manning a prime position in center field.

Tuscaloosa Regional

Shane Lewis Troy Baseball

Dark horse - Troy: Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa is far from unfamiliar territory for the Trojans. They went 0-2 there in the regular season, scoring just two runs in each loss. But this offense will not be kept quiet for much longer. Troy has three hitters with at least 15 home runs and four with a batting average over .300. If winning requires a shootout, the Trojans are game.

Player to watch: OF Shane Lewis, Troy: A Sun Belt-best 27 home runs stand out on Lewis' stat line, but it will be interesting to see if his slump in the conference tournament continues. He's a boom-or-bust kind of hitter with a high strikeout rate, but he's always a scary bat to face.

D1BASEBALL:Ā Expert analysis and reactions to the 2023 NCAA baseball bracket

Coral GablesĀ Regional

Louisiana baseball

Dark horse - Louisiana: When the Cajuns knocked off then-No. 1 LSU on Tuesday in April, the story was more about the Tigers. With two wins over Coastal Carolina in two straight games in the Sun Belt Tournament, Louisiana sent warning signs to whomever it drew in the regional that it is capable of a surprise run to the Super Regionals.

Player to watch - 1B Jeremiah Jenkins, Maine:Ā Maine's strength of schedule is in the 200s, which makes a slugger like Jenkins even more intriguing to watch in this regional. A slash line of .374/.504/.763, 20 home runs and 75 RBI look incredible ā€” let's see if he can keep it up against the pitching of Miami (Fla.) and Texas.

StanfordĀ Regional

Cal State Fullerton baseball

Dark horse - Cal State Fullerton:Ā The Titans challenged themselves plenty in nonconference play, including a three-game set on opening weekend against hosts Stanford. Sure, they lost two of three ā€” including a 21-13 loss they led for eight innings before allowingĀ 15 runsĀ in the 9th and 10th innings combined ā€” but Fullerton has played RPI top 50 teams competitively all season.

Player to watch - Jack Moss, Texas A&M: A first baseman who doesn't hit many home runs is odd enough, but Moss also holds by far the highest batting average on the team at .361. The Aggies made a surprise run to the SEC tournament championship game thanks to strong pitching, but Moss sets the tone for the offense.

BEST OF THE BEST:Ā 6 top lineups in the tournament |Ā 5 top rotations in the field

Baton RougeĀ Regional

Sam Houston State baseball

Dark horse - Sam Houston: Performances in the WAC tournament certainly don't stack up when facing a mammoth of talent like LSU, but here are the facts ā€” the Bearkats averaged nearly 15 runs per game in the tournament. The bats are alive, and a red-hot offense is nothing to take lightly, no matter the opponents.

Player to watch - OF Teo Banks, Tulane: The Green Wave got mega-hot in the AAC tournament, winning five straight as a No. 7 seed to make an improbable run to the postseason. Banks had four multi-hit games, three homers and 11 RBI in the tournament to win Most Outstanding Player. It will be interesting to see if he can remain hot in Baton Rouge.

LexingtonĀ Regional

J.J. Weatherholt West Virginia baseball

Dark horse - N/A:Ā No offense to MAC champions Ball State, but it's hard to make a case for the Cardinals to come out of this regional. Of the remaining lower seeds ā€” West Virginia and Indiana ā€” both are too good of ball clubs to be considered dark horses. This regional is a three-horse race.

Player to watch - 2B J.J. Wetherholt, West Virginia: He holds the highest batting average of any player remaining in the field at .443. Combined with 15 homers, 56 RBI, a strikeout rate of 8.3% and a K-to-BB ratio under 1, Wetherholt is a hitting clinic in Mountaineer gold and blue.

SUPERPAGE:Ā Live updates from the 2023 DI baseball championship

AuburnĀ Regional

Samford baseball

Dark horse - Samford: Southern Miss is a popular pick to come out of this regional and with good reason, but Samford is also worth a look ā€” if for nothing else, the resolve it took to win three games in one day to win the SoCon tournament and secure its place in this field.

Player to watch - RHP Tanner Hall, Southern Miss:Ā The preseason All-American has delivered all year long, named a Golden Spikes semifinalist as he dominated hitters with 109 strikeouts in 97 innings this season, keeping them to an average under .200. Even if he makes only one appearance this weekend, it's worth the watch.

ClemsonĀ Regional

Cam Fisher Charlotte baseball

Dark horse - Charlotte: The 49ers' 5-3 record against RPI top 25 opponents catches the eye, though it does include an early season loss to hosts Clemson. But late-season victories over Coastal Carolina, South Carolina and DBU (in the C-USA tournament title game) is plenty of evidence that Charlotte is capable of getting past Clemson and Tennessee.

Player to watch: OF Cam Fisher, Charlotte: The first player in the country to have amassed 30 home runs so far, Fisher is the kind of game-changing slugger not many teams in this field have. He averages one long ball every other game, as well as .350 average and OPS of 1.334. There's every chance he can knock out one of the higher seeds with a single swing.

šŸ¤”: Here's how often each seed makes the MCWS

GainesvilleĀ Regional

Jac Caglianone Florida baseball

Dark horse - N/A:Ā While Florida is just a bit too talented to lump them into a three-way race in this regional, UConn and Texas Tech and both too formidable for the dark horse label. Florida A&M, meanwhile, is one of the weakest teams in the field.

Player to watch - LHP/1B Jac Caglianone, Florida: Just because Caglianone has become a household name for college baseball fans doesn't mean he isn't still hands down the must-watch player in this group. Sure he's been volatile on the mound this season, but if he finds his rhythm, he's a fun watch. Oh, and he's also hit 28 homers and driven in 76 runs at the plate with a .349 average.

ColumbiaĀ Regional

Central Connecticut State baseball

Dark horse - Central Connecticut State: In a regional with a vulnerable 1 seed in South Carolina, a 2 seed in Campbell that could be considered the favorites and a competitive 3 seed in NC State, the Blue Devils might get overlooked. The NEC champions were dominant in conference all season and if they're going to advance to a Super Regional, it will be because their pitching staff nullified the powerful lineups of South Carolina and Campbell on the way.

Player to watch - 2B Jarrod Belbin, Campbell: There's a world where Belbin is the best player in this regional thanks to his high batting average, considerable power and aggressive base-running. He has the ability to be a show on his own this weekend and a major factor in the Camels reaching a Super Regional in 2023.

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ConwayĀ Regional

UNC Wilmington baseball

Dark horse - UNC Wilmington: Coastal Carolina is the offensive juggernaut in this region, Duke is led by pitching and defense, whereas UNCW can beat you both ways. Either one of their top two starters is capable of slowing down Coastal's lineup and they have the bats to eke out just enough offense against Duke and Rider.Ā 

Player to watch - 2B Payton Eeles, Coastal Carolina: Last season, Eeles was tearing up DII ball. Even after making the jump to DI and the Sun Belt, Eeles is an on-base machine who will give opposing batteries nightmares with his ability to steal bases.Ā 

CharlottesvilleĀ Regional

Oklahoma baseball

Dark horse - Oklahoma: Last year's MCWS runner-up have endured a tough season, but the Sooners remain a team that both Virginia and East Carolina will have to take seriously, even if only for the tournament experience a lot of the returning players have.

Player to watch: RHP Trey Yesavage, East Carolina:Ā The Pirates' big right-hander has made a seamless move into the starting rotation from his bullpen spot last season, striking out more than one batter per inning and holding opponents to a sub-.200 average to earn a First Team All-AAC selection.

MCWS HISTORY:Ā Coaches with most winsĀ |Ā Most titlesĀ |Ā Most appearancesĀ |Ā Conferences most represented

NashvilleĀ Regional

Xavier baseball
Dark horse - Xavier: The Musketeers burst some bubbles with their run to a Big East tournament title, taking two of three from favorites UConn to secure an auto-bid. There's also something to be said for the chip on their shoulders they may feel having been swept by regional opponents Oregon on the season's opening weekend.

Player to watch - OF Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt:Ā Bradfield is a stellar pro prospect with MLB range and defensive ability in the outfield. Even on bad day, he's tricky to get out at the plate and an absolute pest on the base paths. He's just as likely to win a game with a spectacular catch as he is a timely base hit.

StillwaterĀ Regional

Jonah Cox Oral Roberts baseball

Dark horse - Oral Roberts:Ā Quite the tough draw for hosts Oklahoma State to get a 4 seed that holds two wins over the Cowboys this season. If ORU can draw the Pokes' more than once, they will be confident in knocking out Oklahoma State. And if the Golden Eagles draw DBU more than once, they might draw motivation from being swept by the Patriots back in March on top of the confidence of a DI-best 18-game win streak.

Player to watch - OF Jonah Cox, Oral Roberts: How about another hitter with an average over .400? If that doesn't catch your attention, perhaps his 41-game hitting steak will pull you in. It's tied for the seventh-longest in DI history and the longest in a single season since 2010. Cox has a chance to continue his march into the record books.

Terre HauteĀ Regional

Wright State baseball

Dark horse - Wright State: The Horizon League has become Wright State's to lose in the last handful of years ā€” it's about time that dominance carries over to the NCAA tournament. This regional is wide open, and the Raiders' combination of strong hitting in the top half of the lineup and a star ace in Sebastian Gongora, it could be a different mid-major advancing past this regional.

Player to watch - RHP Brody Brecht, Iowa: Among all the pitching talent in this regional, there's only one starter who can hit triple digits, and that's Brecht. If he's on his game, he's got devastating stuff ā€” and even if he's not, he throws 100, folks. Tune in for the show.

Fayetteville Regional

Santa Clara baseball

Dark horse - Santa Clara: The Broncos have a number of impressive one-off results this season like a win over Stanford (and a 20-17 shootout loss to the Cardinal), and a four-game split against fellow tournament team Washington in February. Santa Clara is also sporting an eight-game winning streak coming into the NCAA tournament.

Player to watch - OF Chase Davis, Arizona: The Wildcats got hot in the Pac-12 tournament to secure a surprise at-large bid, and Davis was at the center of it all. The tournament's MOP had multi-hit days and home runs against conference juggernauts Oregon State and Arizona to add to his impressive season stat line of 21 homers and 74 RBI.

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Division I
Baseball Championship
June 14 - 24, 2024
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