Image credit: Tennessee righthander Chase Dollander (Photo by Eddie Kelly)
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 4 Alabama State (6 p.m. ET, SECN)
No. 2 Georgia Tech vs. No. 3 Campbell (12 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 1 Tennessee (53-7)
Season in a Sentence: Tennessee dominated from start to finish during the 2022 season, winning the SEC regular-season and tournament titles, suffering just one series loss (to Kentucky on the road) and leading the nation in both ERA and home runs, and now goes into the postseason as the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship.
Best Pitcher: Chase Dollander, RHP—A transfer from Georgia Southern, Dollander took to the SEC nicely in 2021. He’ll go into regionals 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA, 99 strikeouts compared to 11 walks and a .159 opponent batting average. Crucially, Dollander also appears completely back to full strength after he missed some time and was brought back slowly from being hit with a line drive during the Alabama series in April.
Best Hitter: Trey Lipscomb, 3B—There are several viable choices for this distinction on the Tennessee roster, but let’s go with Lipscomb because of how good his story is. Stuck behind standout players like Andre Lipcius and Jake Rucker on the depth chart, Lipscomb got just 69 at-bats his first three seasons on campus. Now, he’s one of the best hitters in the country. He’s hitting .357/.433/.737 with 16 doubles, 21 home runs and 77 RBIs.
Outlook: It’s impossible to overstate the degree to which Tennessee has sailed through this season. The Kentucky series loss was confounding, but the Volunteers were dominant before that series loss and after it, including sweeping through the SEC Tournament when they had nothing but pride and a trophy to play for. Their talent and depth are unmatched and the only reason to see them as anything but the runaway favorite for the national title is if you believe there’s something to the fact that the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament hasn’t won a national title since 1999.
No. 2 Georgia Tech (34-22)
Season in a Sentence: Georgia Tech had precisely the kind of up-and-down season you might expect from a team that goes into regionals second in the country in hitting at .324 and tied for eighth in home runs with 110 but which also has a 6.55 team ERA, but it earned a two seed with a strong finish to the season.
Best Pitcher: Marquis Grissom, Jr., RHP—It’s not just that Grissom has arguably the best numbers on the pitching staff, it’s also that he might be rounding into form at the right time. He’s 4-5 this season with a 5.40 ERA, but he’s been Georgia Tech’s steadiest starting pitcher and he’s coming off of a good start in the ACC Tournament against Louisville when he gave up three runs on five hits in 6.2 innings.
Best Hitter: Kevin Parada, C—Parada has lived up to every bit of the hype as a generational offensive talent. He goes into regionals hitting .356/.451/.728 with 26 home runs, 85 RBIs and more walks (28) than strikeouts (27). Even though speed is not his calling card, he’s also stolen nine bases in 10 attempts.
Outlook: The Yellow Jackets have been predictably unpredictable this season. The offense can keep them in the game with just about any team in the country, but the pitching staff has often not been good enough to win games when the offense isn’t clicking at as high a level and a .967 fielding percentage means defense has also been their undoing at times. You have to like Georgia Tech’s chances the deeper it can get into this regional because its offense should feast as pitching staffs get taxed late in the weekend, but to pull a major upset and win the thing, it will need breakthrough performances on the mound.
No. 3 Campbell (40-17)
All-Conference Team Honorees: C Ty Babin (1st), DH Connor Denning (1st), INF Zach Neto (1st), INF Drake Pierson (1st), INF Jarrod Belbin (1st), OF Tyler Halstead (1st), SP Thomas Harrington (1st), RP Ryan Chasse (1st), OF Logan Jordan (2nd), SP Cade Kuehler (2nd), RP Ty Cummings (2nd).
Season in a Sentence: A preseason darling thought of as an Omaha sleeper, Campbell got out of the gate slowly but came on as it got into Big South play, eventually winning the conference regular-season title by three games and securing the automatic bid by virtue of winning the Big South Tournament.
Best Pitcher: Thomas Harrington, RHP—Harrington has been a workhorse this season. He threw at least six innings in all but one start this season, and that one short start came because a rain delay kept him from being able to continue. He’s 11-2 with a 2.21 ERA, 109 strikeouts, 16 walks and a .195 opponent batting average in 85.2 innings. His performance has not only helped the Camels back to the postseason but has also pushed himself into the discussion to be a first-round pick.
Best Hitter: Zach Neto, SS—Neto, like Harrington, is likely to hear his name called very early in the MLB draft this summer. He’s hitting .398/.506/.769 with 20 doubles, 15 home runs, 49 RBIs, almost twice as many walks (36) as strikeouts (19) and 16 stolen bases in 17 tries. He has plenty of help in the lineup, but he can do it all.
Outlook: Campbell has the high-end talent to be competitive in this regional. As good as the Georgia Tech lineup is, Harrington is good enough to shut it down, and its lineup can certainly expect to put up runs against the Yellow Jackets and four seed Alabama State. The question is about Campbell’s depth. Will its other pitchers be able to hold off powerful offenses like those it might face in Georgia Tech and Tennessee? And if it gets into games late in the regional against Tennessee, will its own offense be able to get much done against the high-velocity arms that the Volunteers will throw at it?
No. 4 Alabama State (34-23)
Season in a Sentence: After a steady regular season that saw Alabama State finish 21-8 in SWAC play, the Hornets went 4-0 in the SWAC Tournament, with three of those wins coming by one run, to secure their second regional appearance in program history and first since 2016.
Best Pitcher: Breon Pooler, RHP—Pooler, who has been ASU’s best starting pitcher each of the last two seasons, has a 10-2 record, 3.19 ERA, 85 strikeouts and a .224 opponent batting average in 84.2 innings. He is coming off of carrying a heavy workload in the SWAC Tournament. He started against Texas Southern and gave up one run on three hits in 7.1 innings and 96 pitches and then came back in the final against Southern and threw 74 more pitches on the way to giving up one run in 5.2 innings of relief.
Best Hitter: Corey King, DH—The only player to start all 57 of ASU’s games, King is hitting .367/.451/.637 with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. He also hits leadoff for the Hornets, not because he has speed like a traditional leadoff hitter—he hasn’t stolen a single base in 2022—but because he’s the likeliest hitter to get on base.
Outlook: Alabama State plays plenty of good competition in its midweek games, including playing Auburn twice this season, so it’s no stranger to playing in the types of games it will play in this weekend. Going toe-to-toe with Tennessee on Friday will be a monumental task for Pooler on the mound and for the hitters, but you play college baseball and fight for automatic bids to have opportunities to play in games like that.