A sixth team punched its ticket to regionals Friday, as top-seeded Stony Brook completed a 3-0 run through the America East tournament with a 13-6 win against Maine. Three of Stony Brook's stars—Travis Jankowski, William Carmona and Maxx Tissenbaum—combined for eight hits and nine RBIs to lead an 18-hit attack, and all nine starters recorded at least one hit. Stony Brook (46-11) will head to its third regional in five years as the No. 4 seed that nobody wants to see in its bracket, thanks to an offensively potent, experienced lineup, a strong one-two pitching punch (Tyler Johnson and Brandon McNitt) and a quality bullpen anchored by Frankie Vanderka (1-2, 2.22). The biggest arm on the staff, James Campbell, delivered four innings of two-hit, shutout relief to pick up the win Friday.
Don't make the mistake of dismissing Stony Brook because it dominated weaker Northeast competition. A number of Seawolves proved they can handle themselves very well against college baseball's best with standout summers in the Cape Cod League last year, as we wrote about last August.
Onto the Mini Stock Report. Here's a look at how Friday's action impacted the races for national seeds, regional hosts and at-large spots. We'll reference WarrenNolan.com RPI figures rather than the more accurate Boyd's World rankings because the Warren Nolan figures have been updated to reflect Friday's action, while the Boyd's figures won't be updated until Saturday morning. The Warren Nolan figures are accurate enough to suit our purposes.
NATIONAL SEED RACE
We wrote Thursday that the battle for the final national seed is probably a two-team race between South Carolina and Stanford. The Gamecocks were knocked out of the SEC tournament Friday by Florida, 7-2. After a 1-2 showing in Hoover, South Carolina should now turn its attention to the West Coast, where Stanford lost an 18-inning epic to California on Friday, 5-4.
The game was tied 2-2 until the 12th, when each team scored two runs to prolong the contest another six innings. Tony Renda finally delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the 18th against Dean McArdle (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER), and the Cardinal had men at the corners with one out in the bottom of the frame against Justin Jones but couldn't score, ending the five-hour, 54-minute game. The 18-inning affair was tied for the longest in Cal history.
Stanford's loss keeps South Carolina as the slight favorite for that last national seed, and if the Cardinal lose another game then South Carolina figures to become a clear favorite. But if the Cardinal bounces back to win the series, it will be a toss-up, with Stanford getting the miniscule edge.
REGIONAL HOST RACE
As we laid it out Thursday, Arizona and Cal State Fullerton are likely competing for the final host spot. Both teams won openers in their critical rivalry series this weekend, as both teams got six-hit shutouts from their aces—Kurt Heyer and Dylan Floro, respectively. Heyer out-dueled Brady Rodgers in a 1-0 classic, as Set Mejias-Brean delivered a walk-off RBI double in the ninth. Coupled with an Oregon loss, the Wildcats moved into a tie for first place in the Pac-12; if they can stay there, they deserve to host, regardless of what any other team does. The Titans beat Long Beach State 4-0 and need just one more win to clinch the Big West title, which would knock Long Beach State out of NCAA tournament contention and make the Big West a one-bid league. So bubble teams need to root for the Titans.
Arizona might even have moved ahead of Texas A&M in the hosting pecking order (the Aggies were knocked out of the Big 12 tournament by Kansas on Friday, completing a 1-2 week). If Fullerton sweeps, it has at least a chance to beat out the Aggies for a host spot (remember when Fullerton took two of three in College Station earlier this year?). A&M is stuck with its 1-6 record against the top 25 in the RPI; the Titans are 4-6 in those games. The Aggies are 13-1 against teams 26-50, however, while Fullerton is just 3-1. That, plus its RPI advantage, keeps the scales tilted in A&M's direction.
This deep into conference tournaments, at-large bids start disappearing for bubble teams, as mid-major conference favorites with at-large-caliber resumes get knocked off, turning teams that otherwise wouldn't garner at-large consideration into automatic qualifers while giving their conferences an extra bid.
The current tally stands at four conferences where a non-at-large team will win the automatic bid, giving those leagues an "extra" bid: Conference USA, the Missouri Valley, the SoCon and the WAC.
• In Conference USA, Memphis and Alabama-Birmingham clinched their respective brackets Friday and will meet in Sunday's title game, rendering Saturday's three games moot for tournament purposes. Both teams improved to 2-0 in their brackets, as UAB beat Tulane 6-3 on Friday to secure its spot. The Memphis-UAB winner will join Rice and UCF in the field of 64, while Tulane and East Carolina sit on the bubble. The Pirates were run-ruled Friday by UCF, 11-1, to fall to 0-2 in the tournament. The only thing ECU has going for it is its RPI (No. 29, per Warren Nolan), but the rest of its resume is simply not at-large-worthy. The Pirates did not win a series this year against an at-large team and finished sixth in the regular-season standings. They went 1-3 against Tulane, which finished second and should be ahead of East Carolina in the at-large pecking order as long as the committee doesn't use the RPI as a crutch. But Friday's loss to UAB hurts the Green Wave's chances; Tulane needed a strong showing in Pearl to boost a resume that is dragged down by its RPI, which currently sits at No. 59. Saturday's game against UCF is a must-win for the Green Wave to have any chance, but even if it wins, it seems increasingly likely to be passed over for a bid. The smart money is on C-USA being a three-bid league, with both ECU and Tulane staying home.
• The two remaining teams with any shots at at-large spots in the MVC tournament were both eliminated Friday, as Missouri State lost to Southern Illinois 3-2, and Illinois State was pounded by Creighton 10-3. Illinois State was a very remote at-large candidate anyway, and it remains behind Missouri State, Indiana State and Wichita State in the pecking order; the Redbirds are out. We still think Missouri State has done enough to earn an at-large spot in addition to the automatic qualifier, which will be decided by Saturday's Creighton-Southern Illinois game. Indiana State remains in the picture as a third possible MVC team, but Missouri State's exit is a death knell for Wichita State's hopes, as the Valley won't be a four-bid league.
• Top-seeded Appalachian State was bounced from the SoCon tourney by No. 8 Furman, 13-4. The Mountaineers are still a safe bet for an at-large spot despite their 1-2 showing. Four teams remain standing in the SoCon: Furman and Samford (who meet in one semifinal), Georgia Southern and Elon (who meet in the other). College of Charleston had to hope Appalachian State won the automatic bid so it could potentially get in as a second SoCon team. The Cougars seem likely to be squeezed out now that they would be the third SoCon team in the field of 64, but we won't cross them off yet, pending resolutions in other conferences.
• Top-seeded New Mexico State gave up 15 runs for the second straight day, losing 15-12 to Louisiana Tech to go 0-2 at the WAC tourney. The Aggies have dropped to No. 37 in the RPI and backed their way onto the bubble with a poor final five weeks, but they're still likely to get an at-large spot with that RPI, nonconference strength of schedule and their regular-season title. The automatic bid will come down to Sacramento State (which reached the title game with an 8-3 win over Fresno State on Friday), Fresno or Louisiana Tech.
• In two other conferences, an at-large-caliber top seed fell Friday, but a No. 2 seed on the edge of the bubble remains alive: the Big East and the Southland. Louisville was knocked out of the Big East tournament with a 6-2 loss against South Florida. The Cardinals will get an at-large spot, making the Big East a two-bid league—which is bad news for other bubble teams. St. John's might have had a chance at an at-large spot if Louisville had won the tournament, but the Johnnies don't figure to make the field as the Big East's third team if they don't win the automatic bid. St. John's is off to a 3-0 start, however, and can reach the title game with a win against Notre Dame (which must beat St. John's twice to advance). Connecticut faces USF in the other semifinal.
• The Southland's top seed, Sam Houston State, was knocked out by Texas-Arlington, 7-6. Southeastern Louisiana also lost, 4-3 against Stephen F. Austin, but remains alive in the double-elimination tournament; the two teams will play again Saturday, with the winner advancing to the championship game against UTA later in the day. We still think regular-season champ SHSU gets in as an at-large team, but with at-large spots disappearing, the Lions might need to capture the automatic bid, because there probably won't be room for three Southland teams.
• Other conferences that could become multi-bid leagues if favorites fail to win the tournaments: the Big South, Big 12, Big Ten, CAA, and Mountain West. Coastal Carolina faces Liberty in the Big South title game Saturday, and the Chanticleers fall into the category of likely (but not definite) at-large team if they lose, which would make the Big South a two-bid league.
• The picture in the CAA is a little less dangerous for bubble teams, as Delaware must beat UNC Wilmington twice Saturday to snatch the automatic bid. The Seahawks have a very similar resume to that of Coastal and would likely get an at-large spot if they lose. But they are in the driver's seat.
• The pictures is similar in the Big Ten, as top-seeded Purdue advanced to the title round with a 3-0 win against Indiana. The Indiana-Michigan State winner Saturday must beat the Boilermakers twice to capture the automatic bid and make the Big Ten a two-bid league. That's a tall order. Assuming the Boilermakers win the tournament, the Big Ten will likely be a one-bid league, as Michigan State's fifth-place finish in the regular season torpedoes its case, despite a bubble-caliber RPI (No. 43).
• Four teams remain in the Big 12: Baylor and Oklahoma (which mean in one semifinal, with the Bears needing to beat the Sooners twice to advance), and Missouri and Kansas (with the Jayhawks needing two wins to stay alive). If Missouri or Kansas wins the automatic bid, it will bump another at-large bubble team—most likely Texas, which would then be the fifth team in the Big 12. Of course, the Big 12 might also be just a three-bid league if Oklahoma or Baylor wins the tournament, with Texas being left out anyway.
• New Mexico won its winners' bracket game against Texas Christian, 5-2, to clinch a spot in the title round. The Horned Frogs now face San Diego State in an elimination game, and the winner would neat to beat the Lobos twice to capture the automatic bid. TCU is a lock at-large team, while UNM is very much a bubble team because of its No. 60 RPI, though the rest of its resume is strong. The MWC won't be a three-bid league, so if the Aztecs manage to win the automatic bid then New Mexico figures to get left out. But that seems unlikely; pencil the MWC in for two bids, with the caveat that it could still wind up with just one bid if the Frogs come back to win the conference tournament.
• Georgia Tech earned another huge win at the ACC tournament, following up its victory over Florida State with a 17-5 blowout of Virginia. After going 12-18 in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets still aren't a safe at-large team if bids keep disappearing, but their fortunes are improving. And if they win Saturday against Clemson, they'll advance to the title game, where they could remove all uncertainty by winning the automatic bid. That would likely make the ACC an eight-bid league, unless enough at-large spots disappear that Wake Forest gets squeezed out. Right now, the Deacons still have the at-large edge over Georgia Tech based on their head-to-head series win and slightly better conference record (13-17).
• Stetson was knocked out of the Atlantic Sun tournament by Kennesaw State, 5-4. After a 1-2 performance in the tourney, the Hatters' remote at-large hopes are shot.
Here's where we stand right now, assuming no more at-large bids disappear.
New teams in our field of 64 since Tuesday's Stock Report: C-USA automatic qualifier, MVC automatic qualifier, SoCon automatic qualifier, WAC automatic qualifier, Big East automatic qualifier.
Teams that have dropped out of our field of 64 since Tuesday's Stock Report: Georgia, Auburn, Gonzaga, Wichita State, East Carolina.
Next teams on the chopping block if more bids vanish (listed from first team cut to last team cut): Southeastern Louisiana (if it doesn't get the automatic bid), Tulane, Texas, College of Charleston, New Mexico (if it doesn't get the automatic bid), Indiana State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Sam Houston State.
National seeds: No change; South Carolina remains our eighth national seed.
Hosts: No change; Arizona and Texas A&M remain our last hosts.
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