Super men: Which eight teams will reach the College World Series?

Wednesday June 7th, 2017

The controlled chaos of the NCAA baseball tournament’s opening weekend has subsided, leaving 16 teams left standing, many of which are well-versed in the heightened pressure that sets in once a trip to the College World Series is on the line.

For as many familiar faces as there are in this weekend’s Super Regionals, only one national champion from this decade (Vanderbilt, the 2014 winner) has made it to the tournament’s second weekend. The door has been left open for decorated programs like Florida and Florida State to get back to the College World Series and position themselves for another run at an elusive first national championship. The SEC has an outside chance at sending five teams through to college baseball’s ultimate showcase. Meanwhile, Pac-12 powerhouse and No. 1 national seed Oregon State is one-step closer to a coronation—and the NCAA’s single-season winning percentage record.

Each Super Regional is a best-of-three series hosted by the higher-seeded team, and each of this year’s eight matchups is packed with star players and compelling storylines. Who will be booking flights to Omaha next week? Below, we take a series-by-series look at what’s ahead:

No. 1 Oregon State vs. Vanderbilt

Game 1: June 9, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: June 10, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Game 3 (if necessary): June 11, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: The Beavers did what you’d expect the best team in the country to do, outscoring Holy Cross and Yale (twice) by a total score of 27–3 on a leisurely stroll through the Corvallis Regional that boosted their season record to 52–4. As for the Commodores, they advanced by beating host Clemson twice in three games, including an 8-0 rout in the decisive game on June 5. Vanderbilt's MLB-bound stars showed up at the right time: Third baseman Will Toffey went 9-for-19 for the weekend and hit a pair of home runs in the clinching win to earn regional MVP honors; projected top-10 pick Jeren Kendall added eight RBIs; and potential No. 1 pick Kyle Wright struck out nine in seven innings of the Commodores’ first win over the Tigers.

The Pick: Oregon State. Wright has the stuff to steal a win, and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin embraces the small-ball tactics that would make make a Commodores win less of an upset than it might appear, but they struggled to string together consistent performances against the country’s top teams this year. Oregon State just has too much talent all over the field to drop two home games.

Of course, OSU is dealing with a far more serious concern, as it was reported this week by The Oregonian that staff ace Luke Heimlich had committed a sex crime while in high school. The university has not announced any disciplinary action against Heimlich and as of now he is still scheduled to pitch this weekend. 

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Long Beach State vs. Cal State Fullerton

Game 1: June 9, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN 2

Game 2: June 10, 3 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Game 3 (if necessary): June 11, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: Fullerton was the first team to lock up a Super Regional spot, making quick work of the Stanford Regional, which was pushed up a day to accommodate BYU’s rule against playing on Sunday. Long Beach State was the last team to punch its ticket, just before midnight Monday on the West Coast, with a win in the final installment of a three-part dogfight with Texas, the No. 2 seed in the regional. The host Dirtbags won two one-run games after a 12-inning loss to the Longhorns on June 3 sent them to the brink of elimination.

The Pick: Long Beach State. The Dirtbags’ pitching staff ranks top-10 nationally in ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio and WHIP. They're led by Dave Smith, who opened the regional with a 98-pitch shutout of San Diego State and came back to start the final game on Monday, and Darren McCaughan, who has thrown four complete games this year. Fullerton lost four of the teams’ six meetings during the regular season (both are members of the Big West Conference) and were swept at Blair Field in March.

Florida State vs. Sam Houston State

Game 1: June 10, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: June 11, 12 p.m. ET

Game 3: June 12, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: The Seminoles had to battle through the elimination bracket of the Tallahassee Regional after an upset loss to Tennessee Tech in their opener, staying alive with an 8-7 win over Auburn in 10 innings on a walk-off hit-by-pitch. In the do-or-die game against the Tigers, unheralded righthander Will Zirzow turned in a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 in just his fourth start of the year, to lead FSU to a 6-0 win. Sam Houston State, meanwhile, squeezed out a pair of one-run wins against host and No. 5 national seed Texas Tech and secure the first Super Regional trip ever for a Southland Conference team.

The Pick: Florida State. Despite an uninspiring .500 record in ACC play this year, the Seminoles had taken care of business against small-conference opponents all season long until Tennessee Tech ambushed them. Juniors Taylor Walls and Dylan Busby are running hot at the top of the batting order, and the rest of the lineup should have enough pop to wear down a Bearkats pitching staff that found a way to scrape by in Lubbock. The Seminoles’ 22nd trip to the College World Series is within reach.

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No. 4 LSU vs. Mississippi State

Game 1: June 10, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: June 11, 9 p.m. ET

Game 3: June 12, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: LSU used its relentless offense to cover up some initial shakiness on the mound, scoring 26 runs in its first two games and clinching the Baton Rouge Regional with a shutout of Rice. As for the Bulldogs, they came all the way through the loser’s bracket in a treacherous, rain-soaked Hattiesburg Regional, winning four games in two days and beating Southern Miss twice on Monday to set up an all-SEC West showdown in the Super Regionals.

The Pick: LSU. The Tigers swept the regular season series less than a month ago, and it’s hard to imagine top starting pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ not bouncing back after getting knocked around in regional play by Southeastern Louisiana and Texas Southern, respectively. Mississippi State first baseman Brent Rooker is hitting .395 this year and upped his home run total to 23 with a pair of bombs in the regional, but even if the Bulldogs’ bats can keep pace with their division rivals in the early going, their bullpen has been an adventure of late.

Texas A&M vs. Davidson

Game 1: June 9, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: June 10, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN 2

Game 3: June 11, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: Is “magic” an acceptable answer? Playing in its first NCAA tournament in the program’s 115-year history, Davidson stunned No. 2 national seed North Carolina twice in Chapel Hill to become just the sixth 4-seed to win a regional under the current tournament format. Meanwhile, after seeing 13 members of their 2016 College World Series squad drafted, the Aggies were one of the last four at-large teams in the field this year, but they swept a brutal Houston Regional as the 3-seed anyway, stopping the host Cougars one run short of a ninth-inning rally to clinch the title.

The Pick: Davidson. Why not? The Wildcats only use three scholarships on their entire team, but after surviving two one-run wins against the Tar Heels they shouldn’t be afraid of anybody. Texas A&M didn’t win a series in the month of May, and second baseman Braden Shewmake is the Aggies’ lone player with double-digit home runs. No. 1 starter Durin O’Linger needs to find a way to preserve the rest of Davidson’s pitching staff, and sluggers Will Robertson and Brian Fortier can’t go quiet when faced with another big venue, but if they can grab two wins from the second best team in the country, they can grab two wins from anyone.

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No. 7 Louisville vs. Kentucky

Game 1: June 9, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: June 10, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

Game 3: June 11, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: The first of only two regional pairings this year where chalk prevailed is a battle for Bluegrass State bragging rights, and it should be the marquee matchup of Super Regionals. After banking three wins in which they let early leads dwindle in the final innings, the Wildcats turned on the afterburners against NC State to close out the Lexington Regional with a comfy 10–5 win. The Cardinals had an easier time advancing, dispatching Xavier on Sunday to complete an unbeaten weekend and reach the program’s fifth consecutive Super Regional.

The Pick: Louisville. Projected top-five pick Brendan McKay will get a chance to impact all three games as a two-way player at first base and on the mound. The other first baseman in this series, Kentucky’s Evan White, should also hear his name called on the first night of the draft. Both teams can score in bunches, but ultimately the other two early-round picks in the Cardinals’ infield, third baseman Drew Ellis and shortstop Devin Hairston, will show that Louisville’s lineup is just a little deeper.

No. 6 TCU vs. Missouri State

Game 1: June 10, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Game 2: June 11, 6 p.m. ET

Game 3: June 12, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: TCU handled Central Connecticut State, Virginia and Dallas Baptist fairly easily in succession to hold serve in Forth Worth after letting the other three teams beat each other up elsewhere in the regional bracket. Missouri State, though, had to endure four one-run games to survive the Fayetteville Regional. A two-run homer by shortstop Jeremy Eierman proved to be the difference in the Bears’ clinching win over host Arkansas.

The Pick: Missouri State. The Bears have two players with 20-plus home runs on the year in Eierman and Jake Burger, and although TCU catcher Evan Skoug hit his 18th homer of the season in a regional final rout of Dallas Baptist, no other healthy Horned Frog has more than five. TCU will feel the absence of 2016 postseason breakout star Luken Baker once the balls start flying out of Lupton Stadium this weekend.

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No. 3 Florida vs. Wake Forest

Game 1: June 10, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN

Game 2: June 11, 3 p.m. ET

Game 3: June 12, Time/TV TBD

How They Got Here: The Gators found themselves pushed to a final game by Bethune-Cookman (who had never beaten Florida in 31 previous tries) before claiming the Gainesville Regional and heading to the tournament’s second weekend for the seventh time in the last nine seasons. The Demon Deacons did what they always seem to do: mash dingers. The nation’s home run leaders hit four in two wins over West Virginia to complete an unbeaten weekend in Winston-Salem.

The Pick: Florida. With a chance to catch their breath after a regional that was closer than expected, the Gators’ rotation will be rested and ready to keep Wake’s high-octane offense in check. The Deacs haven’t reached Omaha since they won the whole thing back in 1955, and they face a tall task trying to throw a more focused Florida team off course.

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