Field of favorites eyeing Omaha and College World Series

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Seven of the eight national seeds advanced from the regionals (North Carolina was the only national seed to lose), so several favorites are still in the hunt for one of the eight College World Series berths. Two-time defending champion South Carolina and 2011 runner-up Florida are among them. So is six-time champion LSU, which is second only to South California (12 titles) in national championships. Four Pac-12 teams remain alive, including Arizona and Stanford, which have five championships between them. Neither has won a title since the Reagan administration, however, so both programs would be refreshed by victory.

There are some surprises, though. No. 3 seeds St. John's and Kent State were not expected to make it out of the first weekend and Stony Brook became just the third No. 4 seed to win a regional, joining Missouri (2006) and eventual national champion Fresno State (2008).

Then there is Oregon. The Ducks are a national seed but they are underdogs nevertheless due to the fact that the program was resurrected just four years ago after being dormant for 28 years.

Here'a a look at each of the four Super Regionals. The first four will be played Friday, Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday; the second quadrant will be played on Saturday, Sunday and (if necessary) Monday.

The matchup: This TCU team is regarded as a notch below the Horned Frog club that two years ago rode one of the nation's best pitching staffs to the school's first CWS berth. It did show the ability to win with offense (a 28-run outburst against Dayton) or pitching (back-to-back wins over Mississippi) in the College Station Regional. The pitching staff isn't as dominant top to bottom as it used to be, but freshman righthander Preston Morrison (9-1) and sophomore righty Stefan Crichton (9-2) certainly know how to win. . . . . Sophomore RHP Adam Plutko (10-3, 2.56 ERA, 85 SO) is regarded as UCLA's top pitcher, but that was Nick Vander Tuig (9-3, 4.53 ERA, 64 SO) who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of last week's 7-1 win over New Mexico. The Bruins were never challenged in three straight regionals victories, pairing pitching with an offense that batted a collective .312. This team doesn't seem as dominant as last year's club, which featured the draft's first and third overall picks in Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. But perhaps the Bruins are better off sharing the load among the entire team than looking to just two players to lead them.

A pair of players to watch: TCU junior catcher Josh Elander (.316, 10 HR, 42 RBIs), a sixth-round draft pick by the Braves, started every game for the Horned Frogs, which speaks to durability. His power at the plate was equally important for an offense that sometimes struggled. . . . Some players press during their draft-eligible season. It was just the opposite for UCLA junior outfielder Jeff Gelalich (.372, 11 HR, 46 RBIs, 15 SB), who came into his own. The Reds thought highly enough of his development to select Gelalich with a supplemental first-round pick. They believe he will develop more power and already see a solid defensive outfielder with a strong arm and speed.

And the winner is: TCU displayed tremendous perseverance after losing its opening game in the regionals, but UCLA has the balance to get back to Omaha for the second time in three years.

The matchup: If Stony Brook wins, the team is all but assured of being adopted by the Omaha fans, who appreciate new faces from far away places. That's a huge if, especially since the Seawolves first must face 10,000 decidedly partisan fans at LSU's Alex Box Stadium. Junior third baseman William Carmona (.393, 12 HR, 70 RBIs) supplies the sock in an offense that is productive if not powerful. Stony Brook relies on making contact, moving runners along and bringing them home with timely hits. Senior RHP Tyler Johnson (11-1, 2.13 ERA, 47 SO) anchors the rotation, but someone will need to step up behind him. LSU also has one power bat that stands out among the others in junior first baseman Mason Katz (.323, 11 HR, 49 RBIs). Junior OF Raph Rhymes (.452, 3 HR, 52 RBIs) led the nation in batting average, flirting with .500 for a time. Pitching depth sets the Tigers apart and makes coach Paul Mainieri optimistic about the team's return to the CWS for the first time since its 2009 championship season.

A pair of players to watch: One big reason for Stony Brook's success is the presence of junior OF Travis Jankowski (.417, 5 HR, 46 RBIs, 36 SB) at the top of the order. Although he doesn't hit for power, Jankowski uses the whole field. His speed is evident on the basepaths as well as in centerfield, which convinced the Padres to use a supplemental first round pick to draft him. . . . LSU sophomore RHP Kevin Gausman (11-1, 2.72 ERA, 128 SO in 116 IP) was the first pitcher selected in the draft, going fourth overall to the Orioles. Gausman was a highly-regarded yet unpolished prospect coming out of Colorado two years ago. He possesses a mid-90s fastball, but what impressed scouts is his improved consistency and the potential to fill out his 6-foot-4 frame.

And the winner is: As much fun as it would be to see a new face in Omaha and pick Stony Brook, LSU is the smart play here.

The matchup: St. John's brings a veteran lineup to the ballpark, including a weekend rotation comprised of junior RHPs Kyle Hansen (5-5, 3.46 ERA, 108 SO in 94 IP) and Matt Carasiti (7-5, 3.98 ERA, 64 SO) and lefthander Sean Hagan (8-2, 2.72 ERA, 66 SO). Those three will need to be at their best to slow down the high-scoring Arizona offense. That's not to say St. John's doesn't have some hitters of note, but the Red Storm doesn't figure to succeed in a slugfest. Speaking of run-producers, not many teams boast four players who have driven in at least 50 runs like Arizona junior OF Robert Refsnyder (.353, 6 HR, 61 RBIs, 12 SB), 3B Seth Mejias-Brean (.363, 56 RBIs, 10 SB) and shortstop Alex Mejia (.367, 3 HR, 51 RBIs, 6 SB) and senior DH Bobby Brown (.354, 4 HR, 50 RBIs, 7 SB).

A pair of players to watch: St. John's senior SS Matt Wessinger (.353, 6 HR, 47 RBIs, 34 SB) anchors the infield, regularly puts himself in scoring position and is a run-producer as well. What more can you ask of a player? . . . It's no wonder Arizona always seemed positioned for a successful weekend when the Wildcats had junior RHP Kurt Heyer (12-2, 2.03 ERA, 98 SO) to get them off on the right foot. His stuff isn't overpowering, just good enough to win. The Cardinals were impressed, selecting him with a sixth-round pick.

And the winner is: Arizona scored 15, 16 and 16 runs in sweeping three games at last week's regionals. Cut the offensive production in half and the Wildcats will still have plenty of runs to bring St. John's outstanding run to an end.

The matchup: This is the second straight Super Regionals appearance for Stanford, which is banking on a junior-dominated team to carry the Cardinal back to he CWS for the first time in five years. Junior OF/RHP Stephen Piscotty (.318, 5 HR, 55 RBIs / 6-2, 3.05 ERA, 20 SO) could be the difference, given he's a two-way standout who could get the ball in a decisive third game. . . . This is the fifth straight Super Regional for Florida State, whose difficulty is not getting to the CWS (the Seminoles have been there 20 times) but winning the thing (never). The opportunity for another shot at a title is in the hands of freshman LHP Brandon Leibrandt (7-2, 2.65 ERA, 74 SO) and freshman RHP Mike Compton (11-2, 2.78 ERA, 57 SO, who have been the team's top two starting pitchers.

A pair of players to watch: There will be a moment in the opening game of the series that will feature a matchup between first-round selections: Stanford junior RHP Mark Appel (10-1, 2.27 ERA, 127 SO in 119 IP) and Florida State senior OF James Ramsey (.385, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 10 SB). Appel was in the mix all season as the No. 1 overall pick before slipping to eighth, where the Pirates took him. Appel's mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup all are plus pitches and he shows good command and mound presence. Ramsey is a left-handed contact hitter with some power. He also has speed and good skills in the outfield. It has been suggested that his selection this high in the draft could be a cost-saving move by Cincinnati since he is a senior with less leverage than those selected ahead of him.

And the winner is: This may be the most even matchup of the weekend, but give the nod to Florida State since it's playing at home.

The matchup: North Carolina State is the latest in a lengthening line of ACC teams stepping forward on the national stage, all trying to replace Wake Forest (in 1955) as the conference's most recent national champion. N.C. State is unbeatable with freshman LHP Carlos Rodon (9-0, 1.61 ERA, 132 SO in 111 2/3 IP) on the mound. Unfortunately, he only pitches one game a week. Perhaps the most compelling figure on offense for the Wolfpack is freshman 3B Trea Turner (.344, 5 HR, 42 RBIs), who is 56-for-60 in stolen bases this season. . . . Florida certainly feels like it has unfinished business after finishing as the national runners-up a year ago. The Gators remain well-armed with a weekend rotation that returned intact, led by Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.83 ERA, 57 SO). The staff is strong from start to finish, sporting a 2.85 team ERA. That ranks fifth in the nation, and the best among teams still playing. Opponents, by comparison, have a 5.54 ERA against the Gators. The Florida offense has produced 71 home runs, a hefty total since restrictions were placed on the bats last season.

A pair of players to watch: North Carolina State senior OF Ryan Mathews (.336, 17 HR, 62 RBIs) was sidelined most of the season two years ago because of an appendectomy and made only three starts last season. Now he's playing like Wolfpack fans envisioned when he arrived from junior college. . . . Florida junior C Mike Zunino's father is a scout for the Reds, who had the 14th pick in the draft. Zunino (.316, 18 HR, 60 RBIs, 9 SB) was long gone by then, taken with the third overall selection by the Mariners. They coveted the opportunity to get the best catcher in the draft. He has power at the plate and good skills behind it.

And the winner is: Florida is the No. 1 national seed, which is reason enough to take the Gators. Another reason? The tantalizing possibility of a Florida-South Carolina rematch. That's how the first round of the CWS is bracketed if the Gators and Gamecocks cooperate.

The matchup: Oklahoma didn't appear to be long for the tournament when the Sooners opened the postseason with a loss to Appalachian State. Four straight wins followed, allowing the Sooners to advance. Still, Oklahoma is a bit of an enigma. Sophomore LHP Jordan John (8-7, 2.26 ERA, 104 SO) is a perfect example. His record is barely over .500 despite having the best ERA among starters. There is not much power beyond freshman C Hunter Lockwood (.250, 11 HR, 39 RBIs), although junior OF Max White (.339, 2 HR, 55 RBIs) remains a run-producer despite a precipitous drop in home runs (he hit 15 as a freshman). . . . No one predicted back-to-back titles for South Carolina, which is what makes the Gamecocks so compelling. One way or another they find a way to win. South Carolina's offense is productive if unspectacular. The team is averaging five runs a game, which puts more pressure on the pitchers. Senior LHP Michael Roth (6-1, 2.68 ERA, 76 SO) is among those who thrive under such circumstances. He has support from junior RHPs Colby Holmes (7-1, 3.00 ERA, 58 SO) and Matt Price (4-4, 3.63 ERA, 10 SV, 78 SO), among others.

A pair of players to watch: Oklahoma junior LHP Steven Okert (9-7, 2.78 ERA, 5 SV, 75 SO) both started and relieved for the Sooners before settling in as their closer. The fastest route to the major leagues often comes in the bullpen and Okert could get their quickly after being taken in the fourth round by the Giants . . . . Junior 1B Christian Walker (.319, 11 HR, 53 RBIs) has been a key component in both of South Carolina's championships, hitting in the middle of the order while providing leadership on the field. The Orioles used a fourth-round pick to take him, impressed with Walker's ability to hit for average and power.

And the winner is: South Carolina is the pick until someone proves otherwise against the Gamecocks, who ran their NCAA-record postseason winning streak to 19 straight games during the regionals.

The matchup: This Super Regional has the most compelling matchup because it features a Kent State team that has never been to the CWS against an Oregon team that made it once 58 years ago. The Ducks were never expected to return, seeing as the program ceased to exist 32 years ago. It was brought back in 2009 and now here they are two wins away from Omaha. Kent State gets production throughout the lineup, but George Roberts (.369, 7 HR, 62 RBIs) is the biggest run-producer. Pitching is the difference, however, with a staff ERA that is more than two two runs lower than the opposition (3.48 vs. 5.57). Pitching is what has propelled Oregon, too. The Ducks' staff ERA (3.02) is among the lowest in the nation, obscuring the fact the offense is averaging fewer than five runs a game.

A pair of players to watch: Kent State senior LHP David Starn (10-3, 2.01 ERA, 118 SO in 107.2 IP) is a former walk-on who became the school's career leader in victories (28), strikeouts (338) and inning pitched (329). The Braves made him their seventh-round pick in the draft. . . . Freshman RHP Jake Reed (7-4, 2.93 ERA, 61 SO) stepped right into the starting rotation, perhaps providing the difference between a good team and a team good enough to get to the CWS.

And the winner is: Oregon has a pitching staff that is ranked among the nation's best, home-field advantage and a head coach in George Horton who knows the way to Omaha, having won a national title at Cal-State Fullerton in 2004.

The matchup: Arkansas advanced to the Super Regionals for the third time in four years by sweeping through the Houston Regional. If wasn't so easy for Baylor, which had to win four straight elimination games -- the last two against No. 2 regional seed Dallas Baptist -- after stumbling in its opener. Arkansas is another team that has ridden its pitching this season. The staff ERA is 2.86, which ranks seventh in the nation. Much of the credit belongs to the starting rotation of junior RHP D.J. Baxendale (7-4, 2.83 ERA, 85 SO) and sophomore RHPs Ryne Stanek (7-4, 2.83 ERA, 76 SO) and Brandon Moore (5-2, 2.63 ERA, 33 SO). Half of Baylor's wins came during a 24-game winning streak during midseason. Josh Turley (9-1, 1.83 ERA, 75 SO) and Trent Blank (10-1, 2.32 ERA, 56 SO) are a solid 1-2 on the mound. They're backed by a lineup that batted a collective .312, which was 73 points higher than the opposition.

A pair of players to watch: Junior 3B Matt Reynolds (.343, 7 HR, 42 RBIs, 15 SB) led the Razorbacks in virtually every offensive category. The Mets used a second-round draft pick to get him, which is pretty high considering he shows only moderate power. . . . Baylor senior C Josh Ludy (.368, 15 HR, 69 RBIs) had only five home runs and 50 RBIs to show for his first three years at the school before this year's breakout performance for the Bears. The Phillies selected him with the final pick in the eighth round.

And the winner is: Arkansas is barely a .500 team on the road. Baylor is 33-4 at home. Da Bears.