No. 1 Oklahoma State (39-18)
34th appearance, at-large, Big 12
No. 2 Arkansas (38-19)
19th appearance, at-large, Southeastern
No. 3 Oral Roberts (39-14)
18th appearance, automatic, won Mid-Continent regular season and tournament
No. 4 Princeton (19-24-1)
10th appearance, automatic, won Ivy tournament
Arkansas showed no fear in winning a game against Texas on the road in regional play a year ago. The Razorbacks weren’t able to finish the upset with a second win against the eventual national champions, but more than 9,000 home fans should help that cause this year. How coach Dave Van Horn deploys SEC pitcher of the year Nick Schmidt (9-3, 2.98 with a league-best 135 strikeouts in 109 innings), a sophomore lefthander, will prove vital. He threw the first six innings of a combined no-hitter against Oklahoma State in the second game of the season. The Razorbacks ranked second in the SEC with a 3.67 ERA.
Oklahoma State finished the season strong, netting six straight series wins (including Nebraska and Oklahoma) to finish second in the Big 12. But the wheels feel off in the league tournament as the Cowboys allowed 41 runs in three losses. The offense has been a constant, with third baseman Tyler Mach (.378 with a Big 12-best 16 homers and 66 RBIs) and center fielder Corey Brown (.366, 11 homers, Big-12 best 66 runs) leading a bludgeoning attack that ranked among the nation’s best in slugging (.529) and homers (78). Matt Gardiner and Brae Wright delivered some strong performances late in the season, but the pitching staff isn’t a deep group. That could pose trouble should OSU get extended by losing a game.
Don’t expect Oral Roberts to be in awe of its higher-seeded opponents. It beat Oklahoma State twice and Arkansas once in midweek games for a 3-0 record against the top two seeds. Junior righthander Chance Chapman pitched well in all three of those wins, allowing one earned run on nine hits over 18 innings. His success as a part-time starter and swingman illuminates the fact that ORU’s real strength lies in its pitching depth, as does junior lefthander Chris Ashman’s 1.77 mark (10th nationally). That strength could get obscured by some gaudy offensive numbers, led by junior catcher Andy Bouchie (.375-12-51), but they’re slightly inflated by hitting .368/.473/.566 against the over-matched Mid-Con.
Princeton got swept in its season series against Harvard, but popped the Crimson twice to score an upset in the Ivy League championship series and make its fifth NCAA appearance since 2000. The fourth-seeded Tigers upset host Virginia behind Ross Ohlendorf in 2004, but don’t have that kind of a difference-making arm this year and placed only one player (DH Stephen Wendell) on the all-Ivy first team.