2018 NCAA Tournament: Corvallis Regional Preview
1. Oregon State (44-10, 20-9 Pac-12 Conference)
18th appearance (second straight); at-large bid; second in the Pac-12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: SS/2B Nick Madrigal (3), OF Trevor Larnach (27), SS Cadyn Grenier (63), RHP Drew Rasmussen (173), OF Steven Kwan (261)
Season In A Sentence: Building off a record-breaking 56-6 season from a year ago, the Beavers had a high bar to live up to but remained one of the most dominant teams in the country, finishing with 44 wins, a top-10 RPI and claiming huge conference series wins down the stretch against Stanford and UCLA.
Player To Watch: Trevor Larnach, OF: The junior outfielder has had a breakout season at the plate, slugging a team-leading 17 home runs and slashing .324/.447/.637, providing plenty of muscle for an offense that is hitting .318 as a team.
Best Weekend: vs. Stanford, May 11-13. Though the Beavers were never able to catch the Cardinal in the Pac-12 standings, they showed just how formidable they could be yet again in the postseason by winning the first two games of the weekend with ease, 6-2 and 10-0, against one of the best teams in the country.
Outlook: The Beavers will open their postseason with a potential rematch against a Louisiana State team that eliminated them from Omaha in the semifinals last June. It’ll unquestionably be a tough test, but the Beavers are the better team on paper and went a dominant 22-5 at Goss Stadium in Corvallis. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Beavers march to Omaha for a second straight year.
2. Louisiana State (37-25, 15-15 Southeastern Conference)
31st appearance (10th straight); at-large bid; third in the SEC West
BA 500 Prospects: OF Zach Watson (66), RHP Zack Hess (87), OF Antoine Duplantis (139), C Hunter Feduccia (330), RHP Cam Sanders (475)
Season In A Sentence: The national title runner-ups a year ago, LSU lost the core of that 2017 squad to the draft and graduation and had a difficult time adjusting early this season, but the Tigers played themselves onto the right side of the bubble with a strong finish and a loud SEC Tournament.
Player To Watch: Daniel Cabrera, OF: The freshman has provided a huge lift for an offense that lost several key leaders from last season, stepping up in clutch moments early in the season and putting together LSU’s most well-rounded offensive season. Cabrera is tied for the team lead with eight home runs and leads the team in on-base percentage and slugging, slashing .330/.421/.557 as a true freshman.
Best Weekend: vs. Arkansas, May 4-6. After getting swept at South Carolina and losing a series at Mississippi on consecutive weekends, LSU looked very much in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. A series win against the Razorbacks breathed new life into the Tigers and their postseason chances, and they went on to advance to the SEC Tournament title game a few weeks later.
Outlook: While the Tigers beat Oregon State in the semifinals in Omaha last June, this is a much different LSU team, and the Tigers won’t have the benefit of playing on a neutral field. The Tigers are an uncharacteristic 4-14 on the road this year and will have their work cut out for them in front of the boisterous hometown fans in Corvallis. They do come in red hot, however, and might be able to carry that SEC Tournament momentum into the regional.
3. San Diego State (39-19, 18-12 Mountain West)
18th appearance (second straight); automatic bid; second in the Mountain West Conference; MWC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: OF Chase Calabuig (445)
Season In A Sentence: The Aztecs got off to a soaring start, earning an early appearance in the BA College Top 25, but they faced stiff competition from Nevada and Nevada-Las Vegas for the conference crown before going undefeated in the conference tournament.
Player To Watch: Chase Calabuig, OF: The senior will go down as one of SDSU’s most celebrated players, as he’s one game away from setting the program record with 237 games played. Calabuig had a 54-game on-base streak that was snapped in the MWC Tournament and led the team with a .391 average in conference play, slashing .359/.426/.561 overall as the Aztecs’ steady three-hole hitter.
Best Weekend: Mountain West Conference Tournament, May 24-26. Simply put, the Aztecs needed to win the tournament to earn a bid, and they did so in impressive fashion, going undefeated in the tournament for the first time since 2000. They’ve won the tournament in five of the last six years. They won every game of the tournament in come-from-behind fashion, showing the grit necessary to compete in the postseason.
Outlook: Head coach Mark Martinez enters the regional 5-4 against teams that competed in Omaha the year prior, which applies to both Friday opponent LSU and regional host Oregon State. The odds still are against the Aztecs, though, as they’ve never advanced past an NCAA regional.
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4. Northwestern State (37-22, 18-12 Southland)
Fourth appearance (first since 2005); automatic bid; third in the Southland; Southland Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: The Demons went on a tear down the stretch, winning 16 of their last 20 games and going a perfect 4-0 in the Southland Conference Tournament to earn their first regional bid in 13 years.
Player To Watch: David Fry, 1B: A four-year starter for the Demons, Fry’s name is littered among the program’s all-time best offensive players. This year, Fry leads the team with 12 home runs and a .336/.444/.626 slash line and is Northwestern State’s best hope of blowing a game open with one or two swings.
Best Weekend: Southland Conference Tournament, May 23-26. With a triple-digit RPI, the Demons needed to win the conference tournament to earn a bid, and they did so by going a perfect 4-0, defeating New Orleans in the championship.
Outlook: While they can’t be ruled out, the Demons haven’t played in a regional in 13 years and lack the experience and talent of the teams they’ll be facing.