Six more teams booked passage to the NCAA tournament by winning their conference tournaments tonight. A quick roundup:
• Mercer won its first Atlantic Sun championship since 1983 and clinched its first-ever trip to regionals with a 7-3 win against Jacksonville. Second baseman Michael Langley and right fielder Thomas Carroll combined for four hits and five RBIs for the Bears.
• Minnesota completed its recovery from a 6-14 start by drubbing Iowa, 15-5, to win its 30th Big Ten championship. Phil Isaksson (7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) earned the win, and shortstop A.J. Pettersen led the offense with two hits and four RBIs. The Gophers (John Manuel's preseason Omaha sleeper) improved to 30-28 on the season and reached regionals for the second straight year, and the ninth time since 1998. Minnesota will be one of the most talented, dangerous No. 4 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
• Virginia Commonwealth is headed to regionals for the eighth time since 1998 after beating UNC Wilmington 7-5 to claim the CAA title. Joe Van Meter's two-run homer broke a 5-5 tie in the 12th to give VCU the win.
• Kent State completed its run through the loser's bracket with a 5-3 win over top-seeded Central Michigan to win the MAC title for the third time in the last four years and the seventh time since 2001. The Golden Flashes lost their tournament opener against Eastern Michigan, then ripped off five straight wins, including two rematches against Eastern Michigan over the last two days. Kyle Hallock (7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) earned the win in the finale against the Chippewas. I could see Kent State making some noise in regionals thanks to an experienced, physical lineup led by veterans Jared Humphreys, Ben Klafczynski and Anthony Gallas.
• Lamar earned its 13th trip to regionals and fourth since 2002 with a 17-7 drubbing of top-seeded Texas State. Leadoff man Aaron Buchanan (4-for-7, 4 RBI) led a 22-hit barrage for the Cardinals. Texas State is still alive for an at-large bid thanks to 38 wins and a solid RPI (46th), but the Bobcats are just 2-10 against the top 50 in the RPI, which hurts their chances.
Texas State, Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast, Elon and Pittsburgh are all in the same group of teams with legitimate shots at bids, and it's difficult to say how the committee will choose between them, since it's unlikely that all of them will get in. Those teams are also competing with major-conference bubble teams with far more wins against the top 50 (like North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona). Elon seems to be in the strongest position of that mid-major group, thanks to a 10-9 mark against the top 50, but will the SoCon get four bids if Western Carolina beats The Citadel in tomorrow's title game? Unlikely. Pittsburgh is in the same boat if St. John's beats Connecticut for the Big East title.
• Southern Mississippi needed to win the Conference USA tournament to get a bid thanks to a weak RPI, and the Golden Eagles did just that. USM beat Rice 7-4 in the CUSA title game behind 4 1/3 hitless innings of relief from Scott Copeland. Copeland and Todd McInnis (who gave up four runs in 4 2/3 in the start) give the Eagles a formidable 1-2 punch and make them dangerous in regionals. USM's victory means Conference USA gets two bids instead of one as expected (since Rice is an at-large team), which means one fewer spot for another bubble team. Teams like North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona cannot be pleased by the results in the CUSA, Missouri Valley, Southland and Atlantic Sun tournaments. The CUSA result takes one at-large spot off the board for sure, while the results in the other three leagues create more legitimate competition for the last at-large bids than there would have been if the favorites had won.
Things could get even worse for those bubble dwellers tomorrow if St. John's beats UConn in the Big East and/or Western Carolina beats The Citadel in the SoCon.
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