Regionals Roundup: Parity Reigns Supreme

After spending the first three days of regionals in Louisville, I drove up to Bloomington for the decisive Game Seven between Indiana and Stanford. A weather delay of nearly three hours spoiled my plan to make it back to my hotel in Louisville at a decent hour, so I’ll keep my impressions of regional weekend short.

• What an exhilarating, sometimes maddening (thanks to the rash of weather delays at sites around the Eastern U.S.), often stunning weekend it was. Each day seemed more incredible than the last, capped by Monday’s insanity. Just three national seeds remain standing, tied for the fewest ever. The last time it happened was 2007, which was also the only time the No. 1 national seed (Vanderbilt) lost in regionals before Monday, when Oregon State was knocked off by UC Irvine, 4-2. I listened to that game on the Watch ESPN app on my phone while driving back from Bloomington, and it was a fittingly surprising end to a weekend chock full of major upsets.

• The game in Bloomington featured the most shocking ending of the weekend, as Stanford shortstop Tommy Edman did his best Warren Morris impression. Edman, who was hitting .248 with two homers entering the game, cranked a walk-off home run against Scott Effross in the ninth inning, lifting Stanford to a 5-4 win against the No. 4 national seed. I’ll have plenty more on that game later Tuesday.

• Who would have guessed that mighty Louisiana State, like South Carolina on Sunday, would get blown out at home in a regional final? Houston, which beat LSU on Sunday night to force a rematch Monday, smashed the Tigers 12-2 in Game Seven, taking control with a seven-run third inning and never looking back. Jared Robinson, who threw 91 pitches Friday, worked 6.1 scoreless innings of relief Monday, throwing 100 more pitches, even with a big lead.

Andrew Morales

Andrew Morales (Photo courtesy UC Irvine)

I’ve made my position on pitchers shouldering that kind of workload on short rest very clear, so I won’t harp on it again now, but it was also discouraging to see UC Irvine bring back ace Andrew Morales on two days of rest (and No. 2 starter Elliot Surrey on one day of rest in relief), Oregon State bring back Andrew Moore on two days of rest in relief, Kennesaw State bring back Travis Bergen in relief on two days, and Stanford bring back Cal Quantrill in relief on two days. Morales, Moore and Quantrill all have bright pro futures, and they put themselves at risk for the good of their teams Monday, for better or worse. Kudos to the coaches—like LSU’s Paul Mainieri, Texas’ Augie Garrido, Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Tony Robichaux, to name a few—who opted to give less proven pitchers opportunities to win or lose games for them rather than risk the health of their aces.

• Who could have expected fourth-seeded College of Charleston to win a regional at No. 2 national seed Florida, and third-seeded Kennesaw State to win a regional at No. 5 Florida State in the first-ever NCAA tournament appearance for the Owls? Both teams looked dangerous heading into regionals, but there’s a difference between looking dangerous and winning regionals at the home of college baseball superpowers. The Cougars stayed sharp through all the weather delays in Rainesville—err, Gainesville—and completed a 3-0 run through the Gainesville Regional with a 4-2 win Monday against Long Beach State. Like other No. 4 seeds that have won regionals in recent years (Fresno State and Stony Brook), Charleston was better than its seed, and everyone who paid attention knew it. The Cougars will head to super regionals for the first time since 2006.

• Kennesaw State came from behind to beat Alabama 4-2, answering the Tide’s two-run rally in the fifth with a run in the bottom of the frame to tie it, then scoring runs in the seventh and eighth to win. There is no hotter team in college baseball than the Owls, who have won 26 of their last 28 games and should give Louisville a run for its money in super regionals.

• The only two No. 1 seeds that will meet in a super regional next week are Louisiana-Lafayette and Mississippi. The Ragin’ Cajuns, whose loss to Jackson State on Friday was one of the early shockers of the weekend, completed their run through the losers’ bracket by winning their second straight game against Mississippi State, 5-3. And the Rebels finished a 3-0 showing in the Oxford Regional with a 3-2 win against Washington in 10 innings, as Sikes Orvis tripled home the winning run in the 10th. Both of those games featured electric atmospheres, and the super regional in Lafayette looks like the  marquee event of next weekend.

• Finally, two more Big 12 teams won regionals Monday, as Texas finished off Texas A&M 4-1 behind a complete-game two-hitter from Chad Hollingsworth, and Texas Tech beat Miami 4-0 behind Cameron Smith’s three-hit shutout. Smith was making his fourth start of the year, while Hollingsworth was starting for the first time all season—and now both are heroes. Smith will be remembered as the pitcher who led the way as Texas Tech won a regional for the first time in program history.

Overall, four of the five Big 12 teams in the tournament won their regionals, an unprecedented performance for the conference. At least three of them—Oklahoma State, Texas Christian and Texas Tech—will host super regionals, and Texas might host as well, although the committee will have its hands full trying to decide between the Longhorns and Houston, whose resumes are very similar.

Just two of the SEC’s 10 tournament teams won their regionals, and two of the ACC’s seven. Those two, Virginia and Maryland, will face off in a super regional, ensuring that the ACC will have one—and only one—team in Omaha.

The West will have three teams in super regionals, from three different conferences: the WCC (Pepperdine), the Pac-12 (Stanford) and the Big West (UC Irvine). All three were No. 3 seeds in their respective regionals. It is striking that the West’s best teams in the regular season fell flat in regionals, but the region’s depth showed through in the performance of its No. 3 seeds.

Just seven hosts won their regionals, which is also tied with 2007 for the fewest ever. Four No. 2 seeds won regionals, along with four No. 3s and one No. 4. Parity rules in college baseball this year, which makes for a delightfully unpredictable NCAA tournament. Keep enjoying the ride.

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