OMAHA, Neb. – The NCAA baseball tournament opens Friday with play in 16 regionals. Regional winners advance to super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 16. Some of the top story lines:
Regal in regionals
No one in the 64-team field has had more success in recent regionals than Louisville. The Cardinals must travel to Lubbock, Texas, as a No. 2 regional seed, so we’ll see if they can keep it up. They’ve hosted regionals each of the last five years and have gone 15-0. Their five straight appearances in super regionals mark the longest active streak.
Four other teams have won three straight regionals. Texas A&M is 9-0 over the stretch, all at home, but must go to Austin this week. Florida State is 10-1, and Florida and LSU are 9-1, all at home. FSU and Florida State are at home again this week and LSU plays in Corvallis, Oregon.
North Carolina State, on the other hand, has lost regional finals each of the last three years.
Stetson is a host for the first time and owns the nation’s longest active winning streak at 15 games. The Hatters haven’t lost since April 22 against NJIT. Other notable current streaks are Minnesota (nine straight) and Wright State and Canisius (eight each). Wright State has won 15 of 17, Missouri State 12 of 13, Coastal Carolina and Florida State 11 of 12 and Saint Louis nine of 10.
No team is colder than Oklahoma State, which was in first place in the Big 12 after sweeping rival Oklahoma in late April. Since then the Cowboys have lost 10 of 12, including the last six. Defending national champion Florida has lost six of seven and Ohio State has dropped six of 10.
Feeling a draft
Nineteen of D1Baseball.com’s projected first-round picks in the Major League Baseball draft are in the tournament. Some of the top prospects are Auburn pitcher and possible No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize; Florida third baseman Jonathan India; Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal; pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar of Florida, Ryan Rolison of Mississippi, Shane McClanahan of South Florida and Logan Gilbert of Stetson; and outfielders Trevor Larnach of Oregon State, Jameson Hannah of Dallas Baptist and Steele Walker of Oklahoma.
Bringing the metal
Dallas Baptist senior right fielder and leadoff man Devlin Granberg has the highest batting average in the tournament. At .426, he’s on his way to winning a second straight Missouri Valley Conference batting title. Other .400 hitters are Tennessee Tech’s Kevin Strohschein (.406), East Carolina’s Bryant Packard (.403), Tennessee Tech’s Chris Chambers (.400) and Southern Mississippi’s Luke Reynolds (.400).
Making their pitch
The top six ERA teams in the nation are in regionals: Stetson (2.58), Stanford (2.85), UCLA (2.94), St. John’s (2.95), Indiana (2.95) and Gonzaga (2.96). Nick Sandlin of Southern Miss brings in a 1.13 ERA, Oregon State’s Luke Heimlich has 14 wins against one loss and USF’s McClanahan averages 14.76 strikeouts per nine innings – all nation-leading numbers.
Oklahoma center fielder and cleanup hitter Kyler Murray is favored to win the Sooners’ starting quarterback job after backing up Baker Mayfield. Murray is batting .296 with 10 homers, 47 RBIs, a .556 slugging percentage and 10 stolen bases. He missed most of the Big 12 Tournament with a left hamstring injury. About the only thing that would keep Murray from playing football this fall would be if he’s drafted in baseball and decides to take the immediate money.
Florida State is making its 41st straight appearance, and Mike Martin has been head coach for 39 of them. With each one comes the question: Will this be the year Martin and the Seminoles win their first national championship? Martin, 74, became the NCAA’s all-time wins leader on May 5, and the Seminoles are hot after sweeping through the ACC Tournament.
But the path to Omaha is treacherous. The No. 2 seed in the Tallahassee Regional, Mississippi State, has had a knack for knocking off heavyweights. If seeds hold, the Seminoles would host a super regional against a Clemson team they split four games with in the ACC.
That pesky No. 1 seed
The last No. 1 national seed to win the championship was Miami in 1999, the first year of the current tournament structure. Florida was a No. 3 seed when it won the title last year. The most recent No. 1 to reach the College World Series finals was Texas in 2009.
Welcome to the party
The Hartford Hawks are the only team making their first appearance. They won the America East regular-season and tournament championships after being picked last in the preseason coaches’ poll. They’re 26-29 entering their regional opener at Stetson. The Hawks were a combined 0-9 against NCAA Tournament teams Oregon State, Wright State, Northeastern and UConn. They’ve had only five winning seasons since going Division I in 1985.
LIU-Brooklyn is in the tournament for the first time since 1972, its only other appearance as a Division I program.