College Takeaways: Offense Explodes Saturday In Regionals

Image credit: Notre Dame catcher David Lamanna (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame)

The pressure ratchets up on day 2 of regionals. Half the teams in the field are facing elimination and the other half know that with a win they move to the doorstep of super regionals.

Accordingly, Saturday delivered plenty of drama and quality action. Here are eight thoughts about day 2 of regionals.

1. Yes, the ball was flying Saturday. Duke’s RJ Schreck and Southern Mississippi’s Christopher Sargent both hit three home runs in elimination games. Stanford’s Kody Huff hit two grand slams, Tennessee hit five home runs and South Alabama went deep three times in one inning. There were lopsided scores in several games, none bigger than in South Bend, where Notre Dame beat Connecticut, 26-3.

But the ball has been flying all season. It’s perhaps been a bit more noticeable over the last two weeks due to the high-profile of games and warmer weather – not to mention pitching getting stretched thin this time of year – but it’s nothing new.

When I earlier this season asked about a dozen coaches from around the country about the home run rate increase, I got about a dozen different responses. The simplest explanation is probably just that this is baseball in 2021, no matter whether you’re talking about the big leagues, the minor leagues, college baseball or anywhere else.

2. Notre Dame got the message from the selection committee: an ACC title and 25 conference wins are nice, but they’re not good enough to be a top-eight seed. The Fighting Irish saw your tweets too, about how they’re not really that good, that the ACC was down this year, and they barely played any non-conference games, so they’re just the product of a mediocre conference.

All of that only served to stoke Notre Dame’s fire. After beating Central Michigan, 10-1, Friday, the Irish exploded for a 26-3 win against UConn, the Big East champion and No. 2 seed in the South Bend regional. First baseman Niko Kavadas homered twice for the second game in a row, bringing his season total to 20, which matches the program record set by Frank Jacobs in 1991.

Coach Link Jarrett said it was the “most exceptional offensive” game he’d ever seen.

“It’s hard to summarize that type of performance,” he said. “I know the wind was pushing a little bit and I’m still learning the stadium. It makes up for some of those days in mid to late March if that wind is the other way and it’s a different game. That’s why we lean so much on the pitching, running, bunting because sometimes the conditions might not allow (for homers).

“It was awesome. I’m very proud of the effort and the execution.”

Notre Dame is now one win away from its first super regionals appearance since 2002.

3. Vanderbilt righthander Jack Leiter made his NCAA Tournament debut and did not disappoint against Georgia Tech. Leiter struck out 11 batters in six innings and held the Yellow Jackets to one run on three hits and two walks, as Vanderbilt won, 4-3.

Leiter reassumed the national strikeout lead, edging past teammate Kumar Rocker. Leiter has 146 strikeouts in 89 innings on the season, while Rocker has 144 strikeouts in 98.1 innings.

Leiter was in control throughout his outing and did not allow multiple base runners in an inning until the sixth. The Yellow Jackets’ lone run against him came on a solo home run from Kevin Parada in the fourth inning. The home run remains the most reliable way to score against Leiter, but Parada’s was just the second he has given up in 24.2 innings over four starts since he got a week off in early May.

4. Mississippi lefthander Doug Nikhazy also was outstanding Saturday. He struck out 16 batters, matching a program record, in seven innings against Florida State. Behind that outing, Ole Miss beat the Seminoles, 4-3, to advance to the Oxford Regional final.

Nikhazy held Florida State to three runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk in what might have been his final start at Swayze Field. The third-year sophomore figures to be drafted in the first few rounds next month and Ole Miss, as the No. 12 national seed, is likely to be on the road for super regionals, as Arizona, the No. 5 national seed, has also already advanced to the regional final.

Nikhazy has been excellent all season long – he on Saturday improved to 10-2, 2.21 with 130 strikeouts in 85.1 innings – but he’s been especially good on big stages. His best start of the season came at Mississippi State when he threw a one-hit shutout and now he delivered in a big way in the NCAA Tournament.

5. Gainesville was the site of the day’s two biggest upsets. In the afternoon elimination game, South Alabama poured it on host Florida for a 19-1 victory. In the winner’s bracket game, South Florida, the No. 4 seed, beat Miami, 10-2, to advance to the regional final.

South Alabama’s blowout win was a stunner. Eliminating Florida would have been one thing – routing the Gators was quite another. The Jaguars at one point pounded out 10 straight two-out hits, which Florida volunteer assistant coach Lars Davis calculated as a 1 in 934,000 chance when factoring in the players’ batting averages.

But the upsets weren’t done. South Florida, which needed to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, took it to Miami in a 10-2 win. The Bulls took control with five runs in the fourth inning and led 8-1 after five innings.

USF, which hasn’t won a series since March, is now one win away from super regionals.

6. East Carolina provided perhaps the most dramatic win of the night. Trailing Charlotte, 5-2, at the seventh inning stretch in the winner’s bracket game in the Greenville Regional, the Pirates scored five unanswered runs for a 7-5 victory.

ECU’s comeback picked up ace Gavin Williams after he gave up five runs in six innings in one of his worst starts of the season. Lane Hoover provided the go-ahead hit, driving in two runs on a single in the eighth inning.

The Pirates are now one win away from winning back-to-back regionals for the first time in program history.

7. So far, the tournament has seen relatively few upsets. Thirteen of the 16 No. 1 seeds have already advanced to the regional final, putting them in a strong position to advance to super regionals. The only teams to start 2-0 that are not No. 1 seeds are Dallas Baptist (Fort Worth), North Carolina State (Ruston) and South Florida (Gainesville).

Does that mean there won’t be further upsets Sunday? Of course not, but this weekend looked like it might be chalky when the bracket was released. So far, that’s playing out with few exceptions. While that’s made for slightly less interesting regionals, if the bracket holds over the next two days, it would set up some outstanding super regional matchups.

8. After two days of play, here’s how every conference that got multiple bids stacks up:

American: 4-0 (1.000)

ASUN: 1-3 (.250)

ACC: 10-6 (.625)

Big 12: 6-2 (.750)

Big South: 1-3 (.250)

Big Ten: 2-4 (.333)

Big West: 2-2 (.500)

Conference USA: 5-3 (.625)

MAAC: 1-3 (.250)

Missouri Valley: 3-1 (.750)

Pac-12: 9-3 (.750)

SEC: 13-5 (.722)

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