2018 NCAA Tournament: Tallahassee Regional Preview
1. Florida State (43-17, 16-13 Atlantic Coast Conference)
56th appearance (41st straight); automatic bid; fourth place in the ACC Atlantic Division; ACC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Cole Sands (74), C Cal Raleigh (78), OF Jackson Lueck (214), LHP Tyler Holton (246)
Season In A Sentence: Mike Martin’s veteran-laden team weathered some early season injuries—including ace Tyler Holton going down with Tommy John surgery—and caught fire down the stretch, winning the ACC Tournament to solidify a national seed.
Player To Watch: Cal Raleigh, C: The switch-hitting junior catcher is coming off a sizzling ACC Tournament in which he won tournament MVP. He’s one of the more selective and powerful hitters in the country, leading the team with a .330/.455/.593 slash line and placing second on the team with 13 home runs.
Best Weekend: vs. North Carolina State, May 17-19. Eyeing a national seed heading into the final week of the season, the Seminoles made a huge statement by walking off twice against a Wolfpack team that had only lost one series all year. The 'Noles would go on to carry that momentum into the ACC Tournament to secure their national seed.
Outlook: The preseason No. 3 team, the Seminoles finally appear to be clicking in all facets as they enter regional play. They have as strong a one-two punch as any in lefty strikeout artist Drew Parrish and righthanded flamethrower Cole Sands, and their deep, formidable lineup is incredibly difficult to pitch to. The Seminoles are the clear favorites here.
2. Mississippi State (31-25, 15-15 Southeastern Conference)
37th appearance (third straight); at-large bid; third place in the SEC West
BA 500 Prospects: LHP Konnor Pilkington (60), OF Jake Mangum (134)
Season In A Sentence: The Bulldogs’ season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start as they were swept by Southern Mississippi and head coach Andy Cannizaro was forced to resign, but interim head coach Gary Henderson was able to turn the season around and win just enough in the final weeks to earn a regionals berth.
Player To Watch: Jake Mangum, OF: The junior switch-hitter has established himself as one of the toughest outs in college baseball over the last three years, with his outstanding barrel control and plate discipline. That remains the case this season, as he’s hitting .353/.432/.475 entering regionals.
Best Weekend: vs. Florida, May 17-19. The Bulldogs needed one more big splash to lock in a regional bid, and they certainly got it in the season’s final weekend. Not only did they become the first team to win a series against Florida all season, but they swept the No. 1 team in the country, which was the loudest statement any bubble team could ever make.
Outlook: Given what the Bulldogs accomplished against Florida and the adversity they battled through this season, they certainly won’t be intimidated heading into Tallahassee. Though a somewhat streaky team this season, Mississippi State has seemingly raised its play against tougher competition, sweeping national seeds Florida and Arkansas as well as winning a series against national seed Mississippi. The Bulldogs won’t go down without a fight.
3. Oklahoma (36-23, 14-10 Big 12 Conference)
38th appearance (second straight); at-large bid; fourth place in the Big 12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: OF Steele Walker (32), OF Kyler Murray (77), RHP Jake Irvin (140), RHP Austin Hansen (234)
Season In A Sentence: Playing under first-year head coach Skip Johnson, the Sooners seemed as though they would run away with the Big 12 Conference early in the season, opening the conference slate with eight straight wins before hitting a midseason lull; though they didn’t maintain that pace, they finished strong enough to earn an at-large.
Player To Watch: Steele Walker, OF: The junior outfielder is one of the best hitters in the country and a force to be reckoned with at the plate. He leads the Sooners in nearly every offensive category, hitting .352/.441/.606 with 13 home runs.
Best Weekend: at Texas Christian, April 6-8. The Sooners won a key series on the road against a then-ranked TCU squad to move to 8-1 in the Big 12 and emerge as a conference frontrunner. That would prove to be the high-water mark of the season for Oklahoma, as the Sooners lost their next three conference series.
Outlook: Playing in the No. 2 RPI conference in the Big 12, the Sooners are used to stiff competition and showed well in the Big 12 Tournament, where they sent conference winner Texas packing. Any team with a hitter of Walker’s caliber in its batting order has the potential to make some noise, but the Tallahassee Regional is undoubtedly a difficult draw.
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4. Samford (36-24, 16-8 Southern Conference)
Second appearance (first since 2012); automatic bid; second place in the Southern Conference; SoCon Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: The Bulldogs had appeared to be in the driver’s seat in the SoCon before a sweep against UNC-Greensboro threatened to derail their season, but the Bulldogs regrouped and won the SoCon Tournament to earn an automatic bid.
Player To Watch: Wyatt Burns, RHP: The sidearming senior closer is one of the most decorated relievers in the SoCon and in Samford program history. He has been untouchable out of the bullpen this year, striking out 77 to 10 walks in 59 innings and going 5-3, 1.68 with 12 saves. For Samford to win, he’ll likely need to throw a handful of key innings out of the bullpen.
Best Weekend: SoCon Tournament: The Bulldogs didn’t have the RPI to earn an at-large bid. They needed to win it all at the conference tournament, and they made it look easy, winning all four games and blowing out Mercer in back-to-back contests to claim the SoCon
Outlook: The Bulldogs are the second-best Bulldogs team in this regional. Samford has a balanced lineup with solid team power, but the Bulldogs are unlikely to go toe-to-toe with a roster as deep and talented as Florida State’s.