By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
NCAA Regional Tournaments Review
Eight teams from the Southeastern Conference made the NCAA Tournament, and the league had a strong showing in the tournament’s first stage.
After winning the SEC Tournament, LSU continued its stellar play in the Baton Rouge Regional. The Tigers defeated Texas Southern, 15-7, and knocked off Southeastern Louisiana, 11-6, in their second game. LSU then shut out Rice, 5-0, in the regional final to advance to the super regionals.
Along with LSU, Florida was one of the top eight national seeds for the tournament. The Gators did not play their best in the regionals but did enough to survive and advance. Florida defeated Marist, 10-6, in the opening game, followed by a 5-1 win over South Florida. Bethune-Cookman then upset the Gators in the regional final to force a winner-take-all finale, with Florida prevailing by a score of 6-1.
Kentucky chose to take the most difficult path to the super regionals. The Wildcats won their first game, 6-4, over Ohio, then lost to North Carolina State, 5-4, which sent the ‘Cats into the elimination bracket. Kentucky staved off elimination with a 14-9 win over Indiana, then de-feated NC State in back-to-back games to advance in the tournament.
Vanderbilt was a No. 2 seed entering the tournament, but the Commodores played like a national title contender in the Clemson regional. Vanderbilt dominated St. John’s, 13-4, in the first game, then defeated top-seeded Clemson, 9-4. The Tigers bounced back and beat Vandy, 6-0, in the first regional final, but the Commodores won the winner-take-all game at 8-0.
Mississippi State was also a No. 2 seed, and the Bulldogs were upset by South Alabama in the opening game, 6-3. MSU narrowly defeated Illinois-Chicago, 5-4, in the elimination bracket, and then earned revenge against South Alabama in a 7-3 victory. Mississippi State then defeated top-seeded Southern Mississippi twice in the regional finals, including a late rally in the finale at 8-6.
Despite being a No. 3 seed, Texas A&M cruised to the super regionals. The Aggies defeated Baylor, 8-5, before sliding past Iowa, 4-3, in the second game. Texas A&M then defeated top seeded Houston, 4-3, in the regional finals to advance.
Arkansas was the top seed in its regional and won the opener, 3-0, over Oral Roberts. But the Razorbacks lost their second game, 5-4, to Missouri State, and were sent to the elimination bracket. The Hogs beat Oral Roberts 4-3, and Missouri State, 11-10, in the first regional finals. But Missouri State snuck away in the finale with a 3-2 win, and the Hogs’ season came to an end.
Butch Thompson’s first NCAA Tournament experience with Auburn started out very promising. The No. 3 seed Tigers defeated UCF, 7-4, in their first game, then beat Tennessee Tech, 5-3, to reach the regional finals. Auburn met top-seeded Florida State in the finals, where the Tigers had a 7-6 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning. The Seminoles were down to their last strike when they scored the game-tying run and forced extra innings. Florida State won the game 8-6, and then won the finale, 6-0, to end Auburn’s season. The Tigers still had a very successful year, a season that Auburn and Thompson can build on for the future.
Auburn assistant coach Brad Bohannon was named the head coach at Alabama before the Tigers played in the regionals. Bohannon was the national assistant coach of the year at Kentucky in 2015 and he is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the country. Bohannon replaces Greg Goff, who was fired after only one year at Alabama.
Super Regionals Preview
Only 16 teams remain in college baseball, with six of those teams belonging to the SEC. Florida, LSU, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt all advanced and all have a chance to reach the College World Series.
Each super regional is a best-of-three series. The team with the best overall seeding is the host.
Oregon State vs. Vanderbilt. The Commodores’ reward for advancing to the super regionals is a trip out west to face the No. 1 overall team in college baseball. The Beavers are 52-4 on the year, and although Vandy is playing well, the Nashville squad is no match for Oregon State. Series prediction: Oregon State 2, Vanderbilt 0.
Series prediction: Long Beach State 2, Cal State Fullerton 1.
Series prediction: Sam Houston State 2, Florida State 1.
LSU vs. Mississippi State. The Tigers are hosting a very familiar foe in the super regionals. LSU and Mississippi State are longtime SEC West rivals and will square off with a berth in Omaha on the line. The Tigers swept the Bulldogs earlier in the season, but Mississippi State certainly has the firepower to pull off the upset on the road. Series prediction: LSU 2, Mississippi State 1.
Texas A&M vs. Davidson. Despite being a No. 3 seed in the regionals, Texas A&M is hosting the super regionals. Davidson won the Chapel Hill regional despite being the No. 4 seed and now has the opportunity to make the College World Series for the first time in school history. Series prediction: Texas A&M 2, Davidson 1.
Louisville vs. Kentucky. This super regional features two of the biggest rivals in the country. Despite being in different conferences, the Cardinals and the Wildcats have a heated rivalry across all sports. While both schools are more prominent in basketball, they are fierce rivals on the diamond as well. The two teams split a pair of meetings in the regular season. Series prediction: Louisville 2, Kentucky 1.
Series prediction: TCU 2, Missouri State 0.
Florida vs. Wake Forest. The Gators haven’t played their best down the stretch but are exactly where they want to be at this stage of the season. Florida has been among the nation’s best all season and the Gators possess the firepower to win a national title if they can make it to Omaha. Series prediction: Florida 2, Wake Forest 1.