Ranking The Top 25 Underdog Regional Winners in the 64-Team Era
We’ve missed a lot in college baseball over the last couple of months, but nothing has been missed more than baseball being played on what was supposed to be regional weekend.
We got no walk-offs, no electric pitching performances, no dog piles at the end of the weekend, and in a bit of good news, no interminable rain delays.
What we also didn’t have were upset regional winners, so that’s what we’re going to celebrate in our latest Top 25.
A few factors drove these rankings. The most important factor is how unlikely a regional winner each team was. No. 4 seeds from low-major conferences are much less likely to get the job done on paper, of course, than No. 3 seeds from major conferences. So are teams that took very difficult paths to regional championships.
Context also matters some. In 2006, Missouri was the first No. 4 seed to win a regional, but it’s important to note that the Tigers were ranked 10th in the preseason that year, had a pitching staff led by Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow and were perhaps only a No. 4 seed because Scherzer missed time that season with injury. They were not a typical No. 4 seed.
For a more prominent example, take Fresno State in 2008. By winning a national championship as a No. 4 seed out of a non-power conference, it is the ultimate underdog story, but its ranking here suffers a bit because it was a preseason Top 25 team in 2008 that only fell to a No. 4 seed because of some struggles in the regular season. It got things figured out at the right time and made good on its potential, but the context of the path it took matters.
What each team did after winning a regional is baked into these rankings as well. For example, Stony Brook following up a regional championship by going to Baton Rouge and knocking off Louisiana State in a super regional can only help its case. Finally, the path to win the regional is a factor. If an upset winner had to go through a national seed or swept their way through the regional, it elevates their accomplishments.
Here is our ranking of the top 25 underdog regional champions.
1. No. 4 Stony Brook in 2012 Coral Gables Regional
Results: 4-1 in Coral Gables Regional, beat No. 2 Central Florida in final
If you’re grading by conference strength, Stony Brook winning a regional as a No. 4 seed out of the America East Conference is the biggest upset of them all. Of course, when the Seawolves then went to Baton Rouge and won a super regional against Louisiana State to get to Omaha, it hammered home that this was a much more talented team than its conference affiliation and history would lead you to believe. Still, the unlikely nature of a low-major team going through Miami and LSU to get to Omaha puts this upset at the top.
2. No. 4 Davidson in 2017 Chapel Hill Regional
Results: 3-0 in Chapel Hill Regional, beat No. 1 North Carolina in final
The Cinderella slipper fit well for the 2017 Davidson team, a group that was splitting fewer than three scholarships among the entire roster. It had to hustle just to get into the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and it had to win three games in two days on the last day of that tournament to secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid, where it got placed in the Chapel Hill Regional opposite No. 2 national seed North Carolina. But the Wildcats were up to the task, going undefeated to win the regional, including two nail-biting 2-1 victories.
3. No. 4 College of Charleston in 2014 Gainesville Regional
Results: 3-0 in Gainesville Regional, beat No. 2 Long Beach State in final
The Cougars had no trouble getting through the Gainesville Regional, hosted by No. 2 national seed Florida, on the strength of outstanding pitching. In three games, College of Charleston pitchers gave up seven total runs. Although they would lose the Lubbock Super Regional in two games to Texas Tech, Cougar pitching continued that trend against the Red Raiders, giving up two runs in two games.
4. No. 3 San Jose State in 2000 Waco Regional
Results: 3-1 in Waco Regional, beat No. 2 Florida in final
Making the first postseason appearance since 1971 and just the third in program history, San Jose State made the most of things in 2000, going 3-1 to win the Waco Regional, where they might have caught a break by having the hosting Bears eliminated in two games. The Spartans kept the good times rolling the next weekend, as they went about three hours to the southeast and won the Houston Super Regional over the hosting Houston Cougars.
5. No. 4 Virginia Commonwealth in 2015 Dallas Regional
Results: 3-1 in Dallas Regional, beat No. 1 Dallas Baptist in final
In some ways, the 2015 Dallas Regional was a celebration of the underdog, as Dallas Baptist earned a host spot for the first time after nearly a decade of punching above its weight. But instead of it being a coronation of the Patriots, VCU spoiled the party by going 3-1 and giving up just six total runs in four games. The Rams would go on to go 0-2 against Miami in the super regional, but that doesn’t take anything away from what they did in Dallas, when they simply outplayed the opposition for the entire weekend.
6. No. 3 Kent State in 2012 Gary Regional
Results: 3-0 in Gary Regional, beat No. 2 Kentucky in final
Perhaps taking advantage of the fact that Purdue was unable to host at home due to construction delays at Alexander Field, Kent State went to Gary, Ind., and went 3-0, including two one-run wins over Kentucky, to advance to the program’s first super regional. In the super regional round, the Golden Flashes went to Eugene and beat No. 5 national seed Oregon, advancing to the CWS thanks to a walk-off win in game 3. Once in Omaha, as icing on the cake, Kent State upset Florida to send the Gators home.
7. No. 3 Southwest Missouri State in 2003 Lincoln Regional
Results: 3-1 in Lincoln Regional, beat No. 1 Nebraska in final
The school now known simply as Missouri State had been to six regionals between 1995-2003, but it wasn’t until that last trip that it broke through and got past the regional round. After beating host Nebraska in game 7 of the weekend, the Bears scored 26 runs in two games in an all-underdog super regional against Ohio State to advance to the program’s first College World Series.
8. No. 3 Penn State in 2000 Montclair Regional
Results: 4-1 in Montclair Regional, beat No. 2 North Carolina in final
It’s tough to decide if the more interesting artifact from the 2000 Montclair Regional is that Penn State won it or that it was hosted by Rutgers. The Nittany Lions lost the opener against North Carolina, but came roaring back and won their next four games, eliminating all three other teams in the regional along the way. This was Penn State’s first postseason appearance since 1976 and it continues to be the program’s most recent trip.
9. No. 4 Fresno State in 2008 Long Beach Regional
Results: 3-1 in Long Beach Regional, beat No. 2 San Diego in final
The fact that Fresno State was a Preseason Top 25 team that simply struggled at times during the regular season hurts its ranking on this list, but what they accomplish late in the season is nonetheless a story for the ages. The Bulldogs righted the ship in time to win the WAC Tournament and get into regionals as a No. 4 seed opposite a very talented Long Beach State team. They won this regional, but what they did afterward is more notable. After going to Tempe and taking two of three against No. 3 national seed Arizona State to advance to the College World Series, Fresno State stuck around and won it all.
10. No. 3 UC Irvine at 2014 Corvallis Regional
Results: 3-1 in Corvallis Regional, beat No. 1 Oregon State in final
UCI winning a regional isn’t all that unique, but what is unique is going to the No. 1 national seed and winning a regional, which is precisely what UCI did in 2014 in going to Corvallis and taking down Oregon State. The Anteaters would go on to beat Oklahoma State in the super regionals to earn coach Mike Gillespie one final trip to Omaha before his retirement at the end of the 2018 season.
11. No. 3 Oral Roberts in 2006 Fayetteville Regional
Results: 3-0 in Stillwater Regional, beat No. 1 Oklahoma State in final
You could argue that Oral Roberts was at a particular disadvantage in the 2006 Fayetteville Region, given that it was going to have to overcome the regional’s No. 1 seed Oklahoma State and the host school, No. 2 seed Arkansas. Typically, those are one and the same in a regional, but they weren’t in this case. None of that seemed to bother the Golden Eagles, however, and they went 3-0 to advance to the program’s first super regional.
12. No. 4 Missouri in 2006 Malibu Regional
Results: 4-1 in Malibu Regional, beat No. 1 Pepperdine in final
This upset regional win was very nearly an 0-2 showing, as the Tigers lost their opener and then took 14 innings to take care of UC Irvine in an elimination game before winning the final three games of the weekend to secure a spot in a super regional. Missouri was the first No. 4 seed to win a regional, but it’s important to remember that it was really a No. 4 seed in name only in 2006 and it was also the rare at-large No. 4 seed. Its pitching staff featured Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow, and had it not been for Scherzer missing some time due to injury that season, Mizzou likely is sitting on a higher seed line.
13. No. 3 Kennesaw State at 2014 Tallahassee Regional
Results: 3-1 in Tallahassee Regional, beat No. 2 Alabama in final
Kennesaw State, which only began playing in Division I in 2006, got to its first regional in 2014, and while it was at it, it went ahead and got its first regional championship out of the way as well. It appeared the Louisville Super Regional against the host Cardinals would be a mismatch, given Louisville’s track record at that point, but KSU competed well there before being eliminated in two games.
14. No. 3 Florida International in 2001 South Bend Regional
Results: 3-1 in South Bend Regional, beat No. 1 Notre Dame in final
In its fifth regional appearance in six seasons, Florida International broke through to win a regional for the first time in 2001. After advancing to the regional final by winning their first two games, the Panthers took a loss to host Notre Dame before bouncing back to win the regional. Although they came up short against No. 3 national seed Southern California in super regionals, this achievement still stands alone as the best in FIU program history.
15. No. 3 St. John’s in 2012 Chapel Hill Regional
Results: 3-0 in Chapel Hill Regional, beat No. 1 North Carolina in final
The Red Storm cruised through the 2012 Chapel Hill Regional, winning games against host North Carolina in the winner’s bracket and in the final. St. John’s might have gotten to its first College World Series since 1980, but it had the misfortune of drawing Arizona, which would go on to win the national championship, in the super regionals.
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16. No. 3 Sam Houston State in 2017 Lubbock Regional
Results: 4-1 in Lubbock Regional, beat No. 1 Texas Tech in final
After a decade of competing well in regionals but never breaking through, the Bearkats won the 2017 Lubbock Regional by beating the previous season’s national runner-up Arizona twice and then beating Texas Tech on back-to-back days to advance to the first super regional in Sam Houston State and Southland Conference history. It’s the only time in the Tim Tadlock era at Texas Tech that the Red Raiders have been eliminated in a round of postseason play at home.
17. No. 3 Florida Atlantic in 2002 Tuscaloosa Regional
Results: 3-1 in Tuscaloosa Regional, beat No. 1 Alabama in final
The Owls’ offense came out hot in the 2002 Tuscaloosa Regional, scoring 28 combined runs in its first two wins of the weekend against Auburn and Southeast Missouri State. SEMO was in the winner’s bracket after beating host Alabama, which helped clear the path for FAU to not have to face off with the Crimson Tide until the final. After dropping the first game to the Tide, FAU fought back to win game 7 of the weekend. The success of that 2002 season helped propel FAU to three more consecutive regionals in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
18. No. 3 California in 2011 Houston Regional
Results: 4-1 in Houston Regional, beat No. 2 Baylor in final
California was out to send a message in the 2011 postseason. The previous fall, the Cal administration announced that the baseball program would be discontinued. By the time the 2011 regionals rolled around, the program had been saved, thanks in large part to a groundswell of support from former players and the university community, but the team still played like the future of the program hung in the balance. The Bears bounced back from an opening game loss to Baylor to win the regional in Houston on the way to getting all the way to the College World Series.
19. No. 3 Dallas Baptist in 2011 Fort Worth Regional
Results: 3-1 in Fort Worth Regional, beat No. 4 Oral Roberts in final
What a wacky portion of the bracket this was back in 2011. Not only did the Fort Worth regional come down to the No. 3 and 4 seeds, with the Patriots breaking through to their first super regional, but the super regional opponent was fellow No. 3 seed Cal in a matchup that had to be played in Santa Clara because neither program had a host-quality facility at the time. This success, and the opening of Horner Ballpark, helped lay the groundwork for DBU to host a regional four years later.
20. No. 3 Ohio State in 2003 Auburn Regional
Results: 3-0 in Auburn Regional, beat No. 1 Auburn in final
In the early years of the 64-team era of postseason play, Ohio State was a force to be reckoned with. The Buckeyes got to regionals four out of the first five seasons the format was used and pushed through to super regionals in 1999 (after hosting a regional) and in 2003, going through No. 4 national seed Auburn. Going 3-0 in Auburn set up one of the few all-underdog super regionals in history between OSU and Southwest Missouri State.
21. No. 3 Louisville in 2007 Columbia Regional
Results: 4-1 in Columbia Regional, beat No. 1 Missouri in final
In the big picture, this postseason run for Louisville will be remembered as the start of a new era, as the Cardinals were on the path to the College World Series in coach Dan McDonnell’s first season at the helm. At the time, it was seen as quite the charmed run, as Louisville sidetracked a very talented Missouri team and eliminated a historic college baseball power in Miami before taking on Oklahoma State and winning two games by a combined 29-2 score in the super regional round, sandwiched around a close loss.
22. No. 3 Washington in 2018 Conway Regional
Results: 3-0 in Conway Regional, beat No. 2 Connecticut in final
In workmanlike fashion, fitting of the type of program Washington is, the Huskies got through the 2018 Conway Regional with little incident, advancing the team to the super regional round for the first time. There, things were much more difficult on the road against a Cal State Fullerton program with tons of College World Series DNA, but Washington passed that test as well to clinch its first-ever trip to Omaha.
23. No. 2 Mississippi State in 2018 Tallahassee Regional
Results: 4-1 in Tallahassee Regional, beat No. 3 Oklahoma in final
As a No. 2 seed out of the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi State doesn’t fit the bill of a typical underdog, but it was when you consider everything that had happened to that point and what occurred that weekend. During the season, the Bulldogs played for interim coach Gary Henderson after Andy Canizzaro’s firing one week into the season. Then, things didn’t look great once they got to Tallahassee, as they were blown out in the opener against Oklahoma and were down to their final strike trailing 2-0 to Florida State in an elimination game before Elijah MacNamee hit a three-run homer to put the team ahead. After a close win over Samford, MSU blew out Oklahoma twice to get to the super regional round against Vanderbilt, where it took two of three on the road to clinch a most improbable CWS run.
24. No. 3 Maryland in 2015 Los Angeles Regional
Results: 3-1 in Los Angeles Regional, beat No. 1 UCLA in final
One year after winning the regional in Columbia, South Carolina as a No. 2 seed, Maryland upped the degree of difficulty by winning the Los Angeles Regional as a No. 3 seed against the No. 1 overall seed in the entire field, UCLA. The fact that the Terrapins got it done by out-pitching the Bruins, a team that almost never gets out-pitched, makes it all the more impressive.
25. No. 3 Southern Mississippi in 2009 Atlanta Regional
Results: 3-1 in Atlanta Regional, beat No. 1 Georgia Tech in final
Near the middle of a streak of 10 consecutive regional appearances from 2003-2012, Southern Mississippi put together its best postseason run in program history. As the No. 3 seed in Atlanta, the Golden Eagles had a tough path that forced them to play the host Yellow Jackets three times, but they were up to the task. The next weekend, they did something even more impressive and took two out of three against No. 8 national seed Florida to advance to the program’s first College World Series.