OMAHA, Neb. – As good as the record-setting Vanderbilt baseball team has been this season, North Carolina has been just a little bit better.
That was the opinion of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament selection committee, which on Monday picked the Tar Heels as the No. 1 national seed for the 64-team tournament.
“It was really a close, close call,” committee chairman Dennis Farrell said. “I’m not so sure I can really articulate what the determining factor was.”
The tournament opens Friday with 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals. Best-of-three super regionals are the next week, with those winners in the College World Series in Omaha.
The national seeds behind North Carolina (52-8) and Vanderbilt (51-9), in order, are: Oregon State, LSU, Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, Florida State and Oregon.
North Carolina averages 8.2 runs a game, and its .867 winning percentage is the best in the country.
The Tar Heels open against Canisius (42-15), which is in the tournament for the first time after winning the MAAC postseason title.
Vanderbilt (51-9) looked to have a good shot at earning the No. 1 seed after winning a record 26 regular-season games in the Southeastern Conference. Commodores’ pitcher Tyler Beede is unbeaten in 14 decisions.
Vanderbilt had the nation’s No. 1 RPI after the regular season, ahead of North Carolina. That was just one of the criteria used by the selection committee, Farrell said.
Farrell said the decision was made before the end of Vanderbilt’s 5-4, 11-inning loss to LSU in the SEC tournament championship game Sunday.
For Vandy’s sake, maybe it’s just as well it didn’t get top billing. The 1999 Miami Hurricanes are the only top-seeded team to go on to win the national title.
The SEC led all conferences with a record-tying nine bids. The ACC has eight, and the Pac-12 and Sun Belt have four apiece.
Arizona (34-21) won’t get a chance to defend its national title. The Wildcats were left out of the tournament for the first time in four years.
Miami (36-23) is in the tournament field for the 41st straight year, extending its own record.
Along with Canisius, first-time participants will be Bryant, Central Arkansas, Savannah State and South Dakota State. Colonial Athletic Association postseason champion Towson (29-28) is sure to be one of the tournament’s top stories. The Towson baseball and men’s soccer programs were destined to be cut because of athletic department financial problems and gender-equity imbalance. The baseball program was given a reprieve thanks to an injection of $300,000 a year for two years in state funding approved in April. Soccer was not saved.
San Diego, which ended Gonzaga’s postseason by winning the WCC tournament, and San Diego State qualified for the tournament in the same year for the first time. That extends a prolific season for slugger Kris Bryant, who has hit a nation-leading 31 homers for San Diego.
Bowling Green (24-29) is the only team in the field with a losing record.