2018 NCAA Tournament: Clemson Regional Preview
1. Clemson (45-14, 22-8 Atlantic Coast Conference)
43rd appearance (10th straight); at-large bid; first place in the ACC Atlantic Division
BA 500 Prospects: 1B/OF Seth Beer (46), RHP Ryley Gilliam (207), C Chris Williams (213), LHP Jake Higginbotham (305)
Season In A Sentence: Other than an early season sweep against North Carolina State, the Tigers played a stellar ACC campaign, winning the Atlantic Division, tying North Carolina with a 22-8 conference record and playing into the semifinals of the ACC Tournament—all characteristics of a national seed—but the Tigers just missed the cut and will go on the road to Tallahassee if both teams win their regionals.
Player To Watch: Seth Beer, OF: Who else? One of, if not the, biggest names in college baseball, Beer has yet to make a deep run into the postseason and will have his last opportunity as a junior on this stout, veteran-heavy Clemson squad. Beer is batting .316/.471/.656 on the year with a team-leading 20 home runs and is known to change the complexion of games with one swing.
Best Weekend: vs. Florida State, May 5-7. The Tigers exerted their Atlantic Division dominance by rallying back after a series-opening loss to the Seminoles to win a key ACC series. If not for Florida State beating the Tigers in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, that series win likely would’ve solidified a top-eight national seed for Clemson.
Outlook: The Tigers unquestionably have one of the best lineups in the country, but they’ll need to throw up zeroes on the mound as well. Clemson hosted both Vanderbilt and St. John’s in last year’s regional, which Vanderbilt won, but this Tigers team is another year wiser and has pitched better across the board. Clemson will also be playing angry after not getting the national seed it was seeking. The Tigers look like a team on a mission.
2. Vanderbilt (31-25, 16-14 Southeastern Conference)
14th appearance (13th straight); at-large bid; fourth place in the SEC East
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Reid Schaller (152), RHP Patrick Raby (190), SS Connor Kaiser (211), INF Ethan Paul (324)
Season In A Sentence: The young Commodores had an up-and-down campaign—as a lot of SEC teams did this year in a brutal conference—but Tim Corbin’s club stepped up in the moments it needed to in order to finish above .500 in the SEC and in the top 40 in RPI.
Player To Watch: Austin Martin, OF: The freshman center fielder had huge shoes to fill with the departure of Jeren Kendall, and he’s done an admirable job of filling them, batting .332/.448/.403 and stealing 21 of 29 bases as the team’s leadoff-hitting spark plug.
Best Weekend: vs. Kentucky, May 17-19. The last series of the regular season against the Wildcats was in many ways a play-in series for the NCAA Tournament with both teams very much on the bubble. The Commodores impressively swept Kentucky to lock up a bid and ultimately knock the Wildcats out of contention.
Outlook: The Commodores won this same regional against the same opponents a year ago, but they were a much different team with a true, dominant ace in Kyle Wright and veteran pieces in the lineup like Kendall and Will Toffey. Vanderbilt certainly can’t be ruled out, but it will be a tougher path than it was a year ago, as the 'Dores will face an older and deeper Clemson squad.
3. St. John’s (39-15, 15-3 Big East Conference)
37th appearance (second straight); automatic bid; first place in the Big East; Big East Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Opening the year in the BA Top 25, the Red Storm struggled through a couple of early season series losses but picked it right back up in conference play, running through the Big East with ease.
Player To Watch: Sean Mooney, RHP: Building off an outstanding freshman season, Mooney was stellar once again for the Red Storm going 11-2, 2.52 with 100 strikeouts to 25 walks in 89.1 innings. He gives St. John’s a chance to win every time he takes the mound.
Best Weekend: vs. Creighton, April 13-14. Early in the year, both the Red Storm and Bluejays were jockeying for first place in the Big East, with Creighton looking like a frontrunner in terms of RPI. But the Red Storm changed that quickly with a sweep of the Bluejays and never turned back from there.
Outlook: Ed Blankmeyer’s team is year in and year out one of the best teams in the Northeast and a gritty, blue-collar squad that plays fundamentally sound baseball. The Red Storm is used to prevailing on the road (16-9 in road games this year) and is coming back to the Clemson Regional for a second straight year. St. John’s is an underdog—but it’s also a team that thrives with that label.
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4. Morehead State (36-24, 18-12 Ohio Valley Conference)
Fourth appearance (first since 2015); automatic bid; third in the Ohio Valley Conference; OVC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: OF Niko Hulsizer (346)
Season In A Sentence: The OVC looked like a one-horse conference with Tennessee Tech leading the nation in wins, but Morehead State kept pace and exploded in the OVC Tournament to steal an automatic bid.
Player To Watch: Trevor Snyder, 1B: In a powerful offense, Snyder has the most power, leading the Eagles with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs and slashing .337/.380/.613. Opposing pitchers will need to treat him carefully in this regional.
Best Weekend: OVC Tournament, May 23-27. The Eagles weren’t going to earn an at-large bid with their RPI straddling triple digits, so they stepped up in the OVC Tournament in a huge way—going 2-1 against a Tennessee Tech team with an NCAA-best 48 wins to win the conference title.
Outlook: Morehead State is a highly offensive club that could keep pace with Clemson if the matchup devolves into a slugfest; however, the Eagles will have a tough time keeping the Tigers in the ballpark with a team ERA of 5.89.