2018 NCAA Tournament: DeLand Regional Preview
Stetson (45-11, 15-3 Atlantic Sun Conference)
19th appearance (first since 2016); automatic bid; first in the Atlantic Sun Conference; Atlantic Sun Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Logan Gilbert (19)
Season In A Sentence: After failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2017, Stetson started this year by winning 14 of its first 15 games and used a similar formula to close out the season, currently owning a 15-game winning streak and hosting a regional at Melching Field at Conrad Park for the first time in program history.
Player To Watch: Logan Gilbert, RHP: A near lock to hear his name called in the first round of the draft, Gilbert has been phenomenal as a junior. The righthander has posted a 10-1, 2.52 mark with 143 strikeouts in 100 innings. Those impressive numbers were enough for him to be named the Atlantic Sun pitcher of the year, making him the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons. Perhaps his strongest trait is not allowing men to get on base—he owns a .171 opponent's batting average and a 0.80 WHIP.
Best Weekend: Atlantic Sun Tournament, May 23-26. Stetson entered its conference tournament riding an 11-game winning streak and continued its stellar play. The Hatters defeated their opponents by a combined margin of 24-11 and the only close game was a 9-8 win over Jacksonville on Friday. In the championship game, Mitchell Senger posted a three-hit shutout and struck out six batters to propel his team to its eighth conference tournament title in program history.
Outlook: Stetson is having its best season ever, having won both its conference regular season title and tournament title for the first time in history. A date with Hartford awaits Stetson on Friday. With very strong starting pitching, the Hatters should continue to play strong baseball and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
2. South Florida (35-20-1, 14-9-1 American Athletic Conference)
13th appearance (second straight); at-large bid; second in the American Athletic Conference
BA 500 Prospects: LHP Shane McClanahan (8), LHP Andrew Perez (233)
Season In A Sentence: The Bulls began the season with 1-4 record but started to get hot in March with a nine-game winning streak and played well down the stretch to earn their third regional appearance in the last four years.
Player To Watch: David Villar, 3B: Entering the season, it looked like McClanahan would be the player to watch and the lefthander has put up solid, if not remarkable, numbers. However, it has been Villar who has led the way. In 56 games, the junior hit 12 home runs, recorded 55 RBIs and posted a team-high .379 batting average. He was also the lone Bull to earn a first team all-conference selection. Villar’s 36 extra-base hits are tied for the second most in a single season in program history.
Best Weekend: at East Carolina, April 13-15. South Florida went on the road to take on a nationally ranked East Carolina team that spent most of the year near the top of the conference standings. After losing the opener, 15-2, the Bulls bounced back with a 13-1 victory in Game 2 and claimed the series win with a 5-4 victory in the rubber game. The weekend marked South Florida’s first road series win of the year.
Outlook: South Florida boasts a balanced arsenal. Offensively, the Bulls can hit, with two players having double-digit home runs and 50 or more RBIs. The team’s pitching numbers don’t jump out and the team has a 3.85 ERA, but with a solid rotation and an assortment of strong relievers, the Bulls could surprise some people in June.
3. Oklahoma State (29-24-1, 16-8 Big 12 Conference)
44th appearance (sixth straight); at-large bid; second in the Big 12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Jonathan Heasley (266)
Season In A Sentence: The Cowboys struggled out of the gate and posted a 13-16-1 record in non-conference games, but a strong 16-8 conference mark earned them an NCAA Tournament bid.
Player To Watch: Colin Simpson, C: Simpson had a monster junior campaign and mashed 18 home runs while driving in 51 runs. He led the Cowboys in home runs, total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage and ranked second in runs and hits. Those numbers earned him an all-Big 12 selection.
Best Weekend: vs. Oklahoma, April 27-29. The Cowboys completed four, three-game weekend sweeps this year, but none sticks out more than the beatdown of rival Oklahoma. In that series, Oklahoma State shut out the Sooners, 8-0, in the first game and won the final two games by a combined 19-3 margin.
Outlook: Oklahoma State was one of the last four teams into the field and backed into its at-large bid, losing 10 of its last 12 games. If the Cowboys aren’t able to break out of that funk, their season will come to a quick end in DeLand.
First-Year Coaches Steve Holm, Jordan Bischel On Different Paths To Success
Central Michigan's Jordan Bischel and Illinois State's Steve Holm share similarities as first-year head coaches but took different routes to reach this point.
4. Hartford (26-29, 16-8 America East Conference)
First appearance; automatic bid; first in the America East Conference; America East Conference Tournament champions
BA 500 prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Hartford was picked last in the America East preseason coaches’ poll and far exceeded expectations, winning 16 conference games and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
Player To Watch: Nick Campana, OF: Campana has had a senior year to remember and capped it off by being named the America East player of the year. In 52 games, Campana led the team in batting average (.389), runs (45), doubles (17), total bases (124), slugging percentage (.626) and on base percentage (.472). Campana has also hit 10 home runs and knocked in 39 RBIs.
Best Weekend: America East Conference Tournament, May 24-26. Hartford battled its way to three wins in the tournament, none coming by more than five runs, and emerged as the America East Conference Tournament champion for the first time in program history. Third baseman Zachary Ardito led the way with a four-RBI day in the tournament's championship game.
Outlook: It has been a dream season for Hartford. Not only did the team defy the odds in making its first-ever regional, but did so after being picked last in the conference's preseason poll. Hartford has experience playing tough teams on the road—it started its season with back-to-back weekends at South Alabama and Oregon State—but the Hawks went 0-18 this season against teams with top-150 RPIs. They’ll have to turn that around to avoid going 0-2 in DeLand.