Rounding Up The Automatic Qualifiers

In our preseason Three Strikes, we highlighted Saint Louis, Austin Peay State and Sam Houston State as three sleeper teams that could make some noise in regionals. The Billikens and Governors both won their conference tournaments this weekend, while the Bearkats won the Southland Conference regular-season title, and we expect them to get an at-large bid.

Other teams we pegged as potentially dangerous in regionals—Cal State Bakersfield, Gonzaga, Kent State, Southern Mississippi and Illinois State—failed to capture automatic bids and lack the Ratings Percentage Index rankings to earn at-large bids. But some of the other teams that landed automatic bids could be dangerous No. 4 seeds—like Wichita State, Connecticut, Savannah State and East Tennessee State. Savannah State and ETSU will be tough draws in regional openers because each has a bona fide ace in Kyle McGowin and Kerry Doane, respectively.

Here’s a roundup of all the teams that won conference tournaments this weekend. Keep in mind that five teams had already secured automatic bids before this week: Army (Patriot), Cal State Fullerton (Big West), Columbia (Ivy), Jackson State (SWAC), Savannah State (MEAC). And Oregon State clinched the Pac-12’s automatic bid this weekend by winning the conference’s regular-season title by two games over Oregon. The Pac-12, like the Big West, does not have a conference tournament.

Atlantic 10 champion: Saint Louis

The top-seeded Billikins lost their conference tournament opener to Xavier but rallied through the losers’ bracket with five straight victories to win the A-10 title for the second time in four years. Saint Louis had to beat Charlotte twice Saturday in the championship round, winning 5-4 in the first game and 7-4 in the second game. The Billikens rapped out 28 hits in the two games, and they managed to win the final game despite committing five errors, as Joe Powell (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) turned in a strong start to pick up the victory.

Atlantic Coast Conference champion: North Carolina

The Tar Heels showed serious character this week, going 4-0 with a couple of grueling extra-inning victories even though they were probably locked in as a national seed heading into the week. UNC rallied for five runs in the ninth to force extra innings against Clemson on Friday, then won it in the 14th. A day later, they pulled out a 2-1 win against North Carolina State in 18 innings—the longest game in ACC tournament history. In Sunday’s championship game against red-hot Virginia Tech, UNC freshman Taylore Cherry (5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER) picked up his first career victory; he entered the game with just 3.1 innings on the season. Trevor Kelly followed with four innings of one-hit, scoreless relief to nail down UNC’s 4-1 win.

America East champion: Binghamton

Second-seeded Binghamton clobbered top-seeded Maine 10-2 in Friday’s winners’ bracket game, so the Black Bears had to beat the Bearcats twice in the championship round to capture the automatic bid. Maine did beat Binghamton once, 6-1 on Friday, but the Bearcats bounced back with a 4-0 win Sunday behind Jake Lambert (8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K). Binghamton is headed to its second regional, and its first since 2009.

Atlantic Sun champion: East Tennessee State

The Buccaneers completed a perfect 4-0 run through the A-Sun tournament with a 7-2 win Sunday against Kennesaw State, earning ETSU a trip to regionals for the first time since 1981. The afore-mentioned Doane went nine innings to earn a no-decision in ETSU’s 11-inning victory against Stetson in its tournament opener, then returned to notch his NCAA-best and ETSU single-season record 12th complete game Sunday. Doane (9 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) bested fellow unanimous first-team all-conference pitcher Stephen Janas, who entered the game with a 9-0 mark for Stetson. Doane became the first ETSU pitcher to win 13 games in a season since Caleb Glafenhein in 2007.

Big Ten champion: Indiana

The Hoosiers bounced back from Saturday’s extra-innings, walk-off loss to Nebraska by earning a 4-3 win Sunday on Scott Donley’s walk-off RBI single in the ninth. Will Coursen-Carr (9 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) went the distance for the top-seeded Hoosiers, who are headed to their third regional (the others came in 1996 and 2009). Nebraska’s riveting run through the losers’ bracket fell just short, and the Cornhuskers finished the year 29-30, making them ineligible for the NCAA tournament.

Big 12 champion: Oklahoma

Matt Oberste

Matt Oberste (Photo by John Williamson)

The Sooners completed a 4-0 run through the Big 12 tournament with a 7-2 win in Sunday’s title game against Kansas. Jacob Evans (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) picked up the win with strong relief work, and Matt Oberste (2-for-4, 2 R, 4 RBI, HR) led the OU offense, as he has all season. Oklahoma’s pair of aces also came up big this week, as righty Jonathan Gray threw a three-hit shutout in Thursday’s win against Baylor, and lefty Dillon Overton (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K) was strong in Friday’s win against Texas Tech. It was an emotional week for the Sooners, as communities near Norman were devastated by a tornado on Monday. Underneath their jerseys, the Sooners wore a light blue T-shirt (the color of Oklahoma’s state flag) with the word “HOME” printed across them, to honor the victims of the tornado. The Sooners entered the week as a bubble team, with an RPI hovering around No. 50, but they closed the week as a likely No. 2 seed in a regional.

Big East champion: Connecticut

Junior lefthander Anthony Marzi (9 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) was dominant on two days’ rest in UConn’s 8-1 win against Notre Dame in Sunday’s championship game. L.J. Mazzilli gave Marzi all the support he’d need with a two-run homer in the first. The eighth-seeded Huskies ran through the tournament unbeaten (4-0) to capture their first Big East tournament title since 1994. They are headed to regionals for the third time in the last four years.

Big South champion: Liberty

The fifth-seeded Flames lost their Big South tournament opener to Radford on Tuesday, then rallied for five straight wins to secure their first trip to regionals since 2000. That run included back-to-back wins against second-seeded Coastal Carolina on Friday, snapping Coastal’s 20-game winning streak against the Flames and Coastal’s 17-game winning streak in Big South tournament action. On Saturday, Liberty knocked off top-seeded Campbell 2-1, as Ashton Perritt (3-for-5, RBI) delivered a tie-breaking RBI single in the top of the ninth, then worked a scoreless inning for his ninth save in the bottom of the frame. Josh Richardson (8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER) was strong in a no-decision for Liberty.

Colonial Athletic Association champion: Towson

Back on March 8, the Towson administration reaffirmed its October decision to cut its baseball program after this season. A month later, funding from the governor’s supplemental budget spared Towson baseball from the chopping block. Now Towson is headed to regionals for the first time since 1991. How’s that for a storyline? Pitching on two days’ rest, senior righthander Mike Volpe turned in a heroic 139-pitch outing in Saturday’s title game against William & Mary, allowing just two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out six in a complete game. Kurt Wertz (2-for-4, 3 RBI) led Towson’s 14-hit attack in the 5-2 win. The fourth-seeded Tigers went 4-0 in the tournament.

Conference USA champion: Rice

The Owls completed a 4-0 run through the C-USA tournament with a 5-4 win against Southern Miss in 11 innings on Sunday. Rice heads to regionals riding a nine-game winning streak. Zech Lemond (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER) sparkled in relief for the Owls, who won it on Keenan Cook’s walk-off RBI single in the 11th. The Owls have won nine conference tournament titles in three different league in coach Wayne Graham’s 22-year tenure, including five C-USA tournament titles in eight years in the league.

Horizon League champion: Valparaiso

A year after making its first trip to regionals since 1968, Valpo is headed back to the NCAA tournament. The third-seeded Crusaders went 3-0 in the five-team tournament, beating each of the other top three teams once. Freshman lefty Dalton Lundeen (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K) was masterful in Sunday’s title game against Wright State, as Valpo scored three runs in the first and never looked back, winning 3-0.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion: Canisius

Canisius outslugged Siena 12-11 in Sunday’s title game, propelling the Golden Griffins to their first-ever MAAC tournament title, and their first trip to regionals. Canisius improved to 42-15 overall, the most wins in MAAC history (breaking the record held by the 2008 Canisius team and the 2002 Marist squad). With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning Sunday, Jose Torralba was hit by a pitch to force in the winning run. Connor Panas (4-for-5, R, 3 RBI) led a 13-hit attack for the Griffs, who finally broke through in their fourth trip to the MAAC title round over the last five years.

Mid-American champion: Bowling Green State

The Falcons went just 24-29 overall and 13-14 in MAC play during the regular season, finishing seven games behind Kent State in the Eastern Division and landing the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament. They got hot at the right time, going 4-1 in the MAC tournament, capped by back-to-back shutouts Saturday and Sunday. A 7-0 win against Ball State in Sunday’s title game propelled Bowling Green to its first regional since 1999. Nine Falcons recorded hits as part of a balanced 13-hit attack in support of Nick Bruns (9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K).

Missouri Valley champion: Wichita State

The second-seeded Shockers lost their MVC tournament opener to Southern Illinois on Tuesday, then rallied for five straight wins to capture their 18th MVC tourney title. Wichita State will head to regionals for the first time since 2009. The Shockers had to beat top-seeded Illinois State in Saturday’s title game, and they got strong pitching from Cale Elam (7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) and Aaron LaBrie (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) in a 5-2 win against the Redbirds. Tournament MVP Garrett Bayliff (3-for-4, 2 R, RBI) led the Wichita offense in the title game.

Mountain West champion: San Diego State

The Aztecs went 5-1 at the MWC tournament, beating top-seeded New Mexico twice in a row this weekend to punch their ticket to regionals for the first time since 2009. Freshman third baseman Ty France capped his mammoth week by going 4-for-4 with three runs, three RBIs and a homer in Sunday’s 9-4 win against the Lobos. France went 16-for-21 in the tournament, with nine runs and eight RBIs. The Aztecs led 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth Sunday, but the Lobos rallied for two runs, and the tying run was cut down at the plate on Tim Zier’s relay throw home on Jared Meek’s double to right. Replays clearly showed that the runner—Alex Allbritton—slid around catcher Jake Romanski’s tag and touched the plate with his left hand, but he was called out, and the Aztecs put the game out of reach with four runs in the ninth. For more on San Diego State’s remarkable run, see long-time BA contributor Kirk Kenney’s report here.

Northeast Conference champion: Bryant

The top-seeded Bulldogs lost their NEC tournament opener to Long Island, then rallied through the losers’ bracket with four straight wins to clinch their first trip to regionals in their first year of eligibility after completing a transition to Division I. Kevin McAvoy threw a three-hit shutout in Sunday’s 8-0 win against Sacred Heart. Jordan Mountford went 10-for-19 with nine runs, six RBIs, four doubles and a triple to earn tournament MVP honors.

Ohio Valley champion: Austin Peay State

The Governors won their third straight OVC tournament championship with a 3-0 run, capped by a 6-3 win in Saturday’s title game against Eastern Kentucky. After EKU scored three in the top of the first, Reed Harper ripped a three-run homer in the bottom of the frame, and the Governors went ahead for good with a run in the second. APSU ace Lee Ridenhour, sidelined by injury since April 26, returned to action with 2.1 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief to pick up the win, and Kacey Kemmer and Tyler Rogers followed with a combined three innings of two-hit relief. Rogers notched his 21st save of the year and his OVC record 33rd career save.

Southeastern Conference champion: Louisiana State

Chris Cotton

Chris Cotton (photo by Andrew Woolley)

The long-awaited showdown between the nation’s two top-ranked teams lived up to its billing. LSU played characteristically brilliant defense Sunday, helping it beat No. 1 Vanderbilt 5-4 in 11 innings. LSU’s outfielders made two game-saving plays, as center fielder Andrew Stevenson raced back and made a full-extension grab to strand the bases loaded in the fifth, and right fielder Jared Foster gunned down Zander Wiel at the plate in the seventh, keeping the game tied 4-4. Then, in the 11th, Chris Sciambra delivered a tie-breaking RBI single to center, scoring Foster. Tournament MVP Chris Cotton (2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 0 K) earned the win with stellar relief.

Southern Conference champion: Elon

Yet another team that rose from the ashes this week, Elon was pounded 10-1 by Furman in its SoCon tourney opener on Wednesday, then rallied for five straight wins to capture its second SoCon tourney title. Elon is headed to its first regional since 2010, and its fifth since 2006. Eight Elon players recorded hits as part of a balanced 13-hit attack in Sunday’s 6-5 win against The Citadel. Kyle Webb (6.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) and Spencer Medick (2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) held off the Bulldogs’ comeback bid.

Southland champion: Central Arkansas

Add the Bears to the list of teams that stormed back through the losers’ bracket to capture an automatic bid. UCA lost its opener to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Wednesday, then won five straight games, capped by a pair of wins Saturday against Oral Roberts and Southeastern Louisiana, 11-3 and 4-0. Connor Gilmore threw a two-hit shutout in the title game against the Lions, lifting UCA to its first trip to the NCAA tournament.

Summit champion: South Dakota State

The top-seeded Jackrabbits secured their first trip to the NCAA tournament with another white-knuckle run through a losers’ bracket. SDSU lost its opener to Western Illinois, then won four straight games, capped by a pair of shutouts against North Dakota State on Sunday, 2-0 and 1-0. Kolton Emery (7.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) sparkled in the first game Sunday, while Shane Kraemer (5.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R) and two relievers combined on another seven-hitter in the finale.

Sun Belt champion: Florida Atlantic

The Owls capped a 4-0 run through the Sun Belt tourney with a 16-8 blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette in Sunday’s title game. Seven Owls recorded multiple hits as part of a 16-hit barrage, and FAU broke the game wide open with nine runs in the second inning. Tournament Most Outstanding Player Brendon Sanger (2-for-5, 3 RBI) was one of five Owls to record multiple RBIs in the finale. FAU won its first Sun Belt tournament title to clinch its first trip to regionals since 2010.

Western Athletic Conference champion: Texas-San Antonio

After eliminating the top-seeded Roadrunners of Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday, the UTSA Roadrunners mashed their way to an 11-4 win against Dallas Baptist on Sunday to capture the WAC title. UTSA is headed to its third regional, and its first since 2005. The Roadrunners trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth Sunday, but they rallied for 11 runs over the next four innings in support of Brock Hartson (7.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER). John Bormann (3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2B) led UTSA’s balanced 14-hit attack.

West Coast Conference champion: San Diego

The Toreros went 3-1 to win the four-team WCC tournament, capped by a 2-0 win Saturday against San Francisco (which had beaten USD 10-8 on a walk-off three-run homer Friday). Freshman lefthander Troy Conyers (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K) was brilliant in his first collegiate start in Saturday’s 2-0 win against the Dons. Kris Bryant set a new BBCOR-era record with his 31st homer of the season in Friday’s 7-4 win against Brigham Young. No other Division I player has more than 20 home runs. No D-I player has hit 31 homers in a season since 2003, when New Mexico State’s Billy Becher hit 32. And Bryant’s season is not over yet.