A number of conference tournaments kicked off Tuesday, and several games on the docket had major NCAA tournament ramifications. Here’s a rundown of the results that will impact at-large races:
• Vanderbilt eliminated Tennessee from the SEC tournament with a 3-2 victory in the first of four Tuesday play-in games in Hoover. Walker Buehler (8 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) improved to 10-2 for Vandy, and Carson Fulmer (who threw Friday against South Carolina) worked the ninth for his 10th save, as Tennessee had baserunners thrown out at third and picked off at first. Tennessee’s season is likely over after a 12-18 performance in the SEC in the regular season and an 0-1 showing in Hoover. Check Tuesday morning’s Stock Report for a more detailed breakdown of UT’s credentials.
• North Carolina knocked N.C. State out of the ACC tournament, 4-3, almost certainly ending the brilliant college careers of Wolfpack stars Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner. N.C. State nearly tied the game in the fifth, when Turner attempted to steal home and clearly beat the tag from catcher Korey Dunbar, but home-plate umpire Mark Chapman was caught off guard and missed the call. The Wolfpack had other chances to tie the game or take the lead but could not come up with timely hits, most notably in the eighth inning. With men at second and third and no outs, UNC summoned ace Trent Thornton from the bullpen, and he escaped the jam with two strikeouts and a flyout, sandwiched around an intentional walk of Turner.
With the victory, UNC should breathe easier as an at-large team (up to No. 41 in the updated Warren Nolan RPI rankings). N.C. State is No. 55 in the RPI, 13-17 in the ACC and 2-11 against the top 50. The preseason No. 5 Wolfpack will not be in a regional.
• In the other ACC play-in game, Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest 5-3, solidifying the Yellow Jackets as an at-large team and ending the season for the Demon Deacons, who rank 75th in the RPI. Daniel Spingola (3-for-4, R, 2 RBI, 3B) led the Tech offense, and Sam Clay (3 IP, 4 H, 0 R) earned the win in relief.
• Georgia also saw its remote at-large hopes come to an end with a 5-4 loss to Mississippi State, eliminating UGa. from the SEC tournament. After Georgia scored twice in the ninth to force extra innings, MSU scored the winning run on an error in the 10th. Georgia went 11-18-1 in the SEC during the regular season and carried a No. 58 RPI into Hoover. It needed to make a run to have a shot at a bid.
• Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion Evansville is in real trouble unless it can get hot and make a run through the MVC tournament loser’s bracket. With ace Kyle Freeland (5 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) on the mound, the Purple Aces were toppled by eighth-seeded Southern Illinois, 9-1. Sam Coonrod (7.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) held the Evansville offense at bay. It’s a bad loss for the Aces, as SIU entered the game ranked 198th in the RPI. Evansville fell to No. 65 after the loss.
• Dallas Baptist, another bubble team that needs to solidify its resume this week, got off to a good start in the MVC tournament, winning its opener against Missouri State, 3-2 in 10 innings. Cy Sneed (9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K) was strong in a no-decision for the Patriots, who scored the winning run against Clay Murphy (9.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER) on Drew Turbin’s walk-off homer in the 10th.
• The losses for N.C. State, Tennessee and Evansville were good news for Cal State Fullerton, which took advantage by drilling Southern California, 17-3. J.D. Davis went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, and Keegan Dale drove in four runs for the Titans, who have won four straight to put themselves back into the thick of the at-large race.
A few other games between notable teams Tuesday had minimal impact on the postseason picture. Second-seeded Indiana State was upset by Bradley at the MVC tournament, but the Sycamores are locked in as an at-large team and lack the credentials to host despite a top-20 RPI. Arkansas was already in very good shape, but the Hogs eliminated any lingering doubt about its at-large chances with a 4-0 win against Texas A&M (both teams are solid at-large teams but outside the hosting mix). And Kentucky beat Alabama 7-1 in another game between solid at-large teams that will not host. Presumptive national player of the year A.J. Reed improved to 11-2 with five strong innings in that one, and added a double and two walks at the plate.