A day after Rice dropped its opener in the Conference USA tournament to Alabama-Birmingham, the top-seeded and two-time defending champion Owls were unceremoniously bounced from the event by East Carolina. The Pirates trailed 3-1 before posting three runs on Rice starter Ryan Berry in the sixth inning, en route to a 4-3 win. The Owls are ranked fourth in the nation and fifth in the Ratings Percentage Index, and they remain a very strong contender for a national seed, but their early exit is a shocker nonetheless, given their utter dominance of the league over the last three years. Rice’s departure opens the door for Southern Mississippi or perhaps East Carolina to win the tournament and host a regional. Both teams probably needed to win the CUSA title to host, and now they’ll have an even better chance to do so.
Meanwhile, in Hoover, Ala., South Carolina got seven strong innings from Nick Godwin and a three-run homer from Justin Smoak in an 11-3 victory over Florida. The Gators finish 0-2 at the SEC tournament, dealing a major blow to their hopes of hosting a regional. Florida does have a strong RPI (13) and a solid conference record (17-13, which was good enough for third place in the regular season), and they have series wins against Vanderbilt and Georgia in the last month, so they’ve still got a chance to host. But they’re probably competing with Florida for the SEC’s third host site, and the Wildcats won the head-to-head series against the Gators and have gotten off to a 1-0 start in Hoover. Kentucky seems to have the inside track. It is unlikely the Gators and Wildcats will both host, given the glut of strong regional host contenders in the ACC and Big 12.
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