UC Irvine Matt Summers threw the second no-hitter of the week in a 2-0 win against Long Beach State on Friday. Summers needed just 105 pitches to hold the Dirtbags hitless in a nine-inning game for the first time in LBSU's history. It was the fourth no-hitter in UCI history. He walked one, hit a batter and struck out five in his second straight complete-game shutout. The converted center fielder completed a truly remarkable regular season as Irvine's Friday starter, going 10-2, 1.74 and going 8-0 in Big West Conference starts.
Two more NCAA tournament tickets were punched Friday. In perhaps the most stunning development of the season, New Mexico upset top-seeded Texas Christian for the second time this week to complete a perfect 4-0 run to the Mountain West Conference tournament. The Lobos struggled through a brutal regular season with a very young team—finding themselves in a huge hole after getting swept in tough nonconference series early by Arizona State, Creighton and Oklahoma State—and they'll head to their second consecutive regional with a 20-39 overall record.
"I was worried the schedule might take away their confidence," Birmingham said of the regular season. "It took time for them to figure some things out, but now these guys know they can compete with anyone. They just beat TCU, so they can pretty much beat anybody."
And Maine won the America East Conference tournament for the first time since 2006, pounding Albany 10-1. Stephen Perakslis (7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) turned in a strong start for the Black Bears, who got homers from Ian and Justin Leisenheimer to break the game open with four runs in the seventh.
Maine's championship has no effect on the bubble picture, since the America East will be a one-bid league regardless (though Stony Brook went 42-12 and put together a strong RPI for an AEC team—No. 81, still not close to at-large range). But UNM's shocking title obviously hurts bubble teams, transforming the MWC from a one-bid league to a two-bid league.
On to the mini Stock Report. Here's a look at how Friday's action affected the races for national seeds, hosting spots and at-large bids.
NATIONAL SEED RACE
The big showdown between Florida State and Georgia Tech was postponed by rain until Saturday. In the Big 12, Texas throttled Oklahoma State, 9-3, ensuring the Longhorns at least two wins in the conference tournament. That should be enough to ensure a national seed on the heels of UT's regular-season crown and series win against Texas A&M in the final weekend. The Aggies were off Friday but remain in the race for the final two national seeds with FSU, Tech, Rice and Arizona State. The Owls beat Central Florida, 4-2, to earn a trip to the C-USA title game against Houston (obviously, bubble teams need to root for Rice to prevent C-USA from becoming a five-bid league, instead of a four-bid league). Rice and A&M each have 40 wins, they are back-to-back in the RPI, but the Owls went 2-0 against the Aggies in the regular season, and they have an 8-6 record against the top 25 in the RPI, compared with A&M's 4-5 mark. Advantage: Rice. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, are slipping. After getting drubbed by UCLA, 10-3, ASU has lost four of its last seven games, and with Trevor Bauer on the hill today, the Devils are in serious danger of dropping their second series in the last three weekends. Oregon State also lost Friday against Oregon, moving the Bruins into a tie atop the Pac-10 (17-8), with ASU a game back. That does it for OSU's national seed hopes; the Beavers are 28th in the RPI, and since 2005 just three teams have garnered national seeds with RPIs outside the top 16 (UC irvine in 2009 and Nebraska in 2005 were 18th, and Georgia in 2008 was 17th).
For now, we'll leave Arizona State as a national seed (it is still ninth in the RPI), as the committee would surely like to have one in the West. But don't be shocked if the FSU/Tech winner and Rice or A&M wind up as national seeds at ASU's expense.
Unlike the national seed picture, this race is starting to crystalize. Oklahoma lost to Kansas State for the second time in three days, sending the Sooners home after a 1-2 showing in the Big 12 tournament, so we're crossing OU off the list of hosting candidates. TCU's run to the MWC title game was sufficient to solidify its hosting chances—that gives us four hosts in the Lone Star State, but so be it; they're all worthy.
That leaves two hosting spots to fill. Arkansas did enough in the SEC tournament to supplement its No. 14 RPI and its impressive collection of quality wins, offsetting its six series losses and .500 finish in the SEC. The Hogs beat Alabama, 4-1, to win their second game in Hoover, earning them a date with Vanderbilt this morning. Regardless of how the Vandy game plays out, we're ready to call the Razorbacks likely hosts.
Southern Miss also went 1-2 in the C-USA tournament, losing to East Carolina 4-0 on Friday in the final game of pool play. That dropped the Golden Eagles to 20th in the RPI, and after back-to-back series losses down the stretch, USM finds itself as team No. 17. We're giving the final hosting spot to Clemson, regardless of what it does against North Carolina State today. The Tigers are eighth in the RPI, and they finished strong with series wins against FSU and Georgia Tech down the stretch,
bolstering their record against the top 24 (8-11), top 50 (13-13) and top 100 (21-15).
There are other teams in the mix—Central Florida, Miami, Connecticut—but we just don't think their cases are strong enough. UCF finished just .500 in C-USA (a strong league this year, but still not nearly as strong as the SEC). Miami is No. 15 in the RPI, but it is clearly the sixth team in the ACC pecking order, and there is no chance for the ACC to get six hosts. And UConn is simply too low in the RPI (No. 39) to host for the second straight year. Last year, the Huskies were 23rd in the RPI, and just five teams since 2005 have hosted with RPIs outside the top 25—all but one of them inside the top 30.
It wasn't a great day for teams on the bubble, as New Mexico gobbled up one bid, and Georgia came one step closer to snatching another. The Bulldogs upset South Carolina, 4-2, and need just one more win to finish above .500 and be eligible for an at-large bid. With an RPI of No. 16 and a winning record in the SEC, UGa. figures to get a bid if it is eligible.
The Atlantic Sun is one of the most interesting leagues for bubble watchers. Belmont put itself in the driver's seat with a 6-4 win against Mercer—the Bruins (No. 78 in the RPI) are not an at-large team, but they are on the precipice of earning an automatic bid, which would probably be a death blow to Mercer's case. With 41 wins and top 25 RPI, Stetson will be in even though it stumbled down the stretch, and it was eliminated from the tournament by Jacksonville on Friday. But Mercer sent the Dolphins packing later in the day to set up a showdown against Belmont—the Bears need to win twice today to capture the automatic bid. Yesterday I laid out the reasons Jacksonville has a better case than Mercer, and Friday's result doesn't change that—the Dolphins are still 3-2 against the Bears this year, having swept a series at Mercer back in April. At No. 53 in the RPI, it's hard to see Mercer getting a bid as the fourth A-Sun team, should Belmont prevail today.
Good news for bubble teams: Connecticut stayed alive in the Big East tournament with a 9-3 win against Notre Dame. But the Huskies still need to beat Seton Hall twice today to reach the Big East title game against the St. John's-Louisville winner.
Even better news for bubble teams: Coastal Carolina beat Liberty, 3-2, to advance to today's Big South title round against Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs need to beat the Chanticleers twice today to capture the automatic bid and make the Big South a likely two-bid league. Don't count on it.
Not great news for bubble teams: the top seed in the MAC, Kent State, lost to Eastern Michigan, 4-2, but the Golden Flashes are still alive in the double-elimination conference tourney. The two teams play again today, with the winner advancing to the title game against Miami (Ohio). At No. 50 in the RPI, Kent State has at least a shot at an at-large bid if it doesn't win the automatic berth.
Another favorite, Creighton, stayed alive in the Missouri Valley tournament, beating Missouri State 4-3. The Bluejays face Wichita State today for all the marbles. If the Shockers win, expect the MVC to get two bids. If the Bluejays win, they will be the league's only team headed to regionals (Wichita is 67th in the RPI).
Texas State gave its case another boost with a pair of blowout wins in the Southland tournament, 13-2 against Sam Houston State (in retiring coach Mark Johnson's final game), and 14-2 against Nicholls State. The Bobcats will face the Colonels again today for the right to advance to the title game. I still don't love Texas State's case thanks to its struggles against the top 50, but its RPI has climbed to No. 40, giving it a chance at an at-large spot.
Good news for bubble teams: Fresno State beat Hawaii, 11-5, to advance to the WAC title round, where it will face the Hawaii-Louisiana Tech winner, which would have to beat Fresno twice in a row to capture the automatic bid and make the WAC a two-bid league. As in the Big South, don't count on it.