We have entered the best time of the year. Classes are done for the summer, most students have returned to their hometowns, some for the first time since winter break, and the weather is finally heating up here in the Northeast. On top of all that, the NCAA Baseball Tournament is set to begin this weekend, with the bracket announced this afternoon. No real surprises, as the 16 host schools were announced last night, and some great matchups set for the opening round. The toughest region by far belongs to Clemson, with host Clemson squaring off against Morehead State in the opening game, with Vanderbilt and St. John’st\ rounding out the region. This marks the second consecutive postseason in which Clemson, Vanderbilt, and St. John’s have been placed in the same region. The three teams combined to go 115-54 in 2018. The team to come out of that region will be battle tested and a favorite to advance to Omaha.
Florida Gators (42-17, 20-10 SEC)
The number one overall seed is also the favorite to win the College World Series. Armed with arguably the best 1-2 punch on the mound in Brady Singer (10-1, 2.25 ERA) and Jackson Kowar (9-4, 3.21 ERA), Florida’s pitching staff will be tough on opposing hitters, with closer Michael Byrne (1.99 ERA, 13 saves) rounding out games. Not to be overlooked is the strong offense for the Gators, led by junior third basemen Jonathon India (.362 average, 17 homeruns, 45 RBI) and senior catcher JJ Schwarz (.325 average, 12 homeruns, 47 RBI). As a team, Florida is hitting an impressive .281 with 81 homeruns and 58 stolen bases. Possibly the most complete team, as no hitter with 100 or more at-bats is hitting lower than .223, Florida is the team to beat heading into the Regionals.
Oregon State Beavers (44-10-1, 20-9-1 Pac-12)
Despite losing catalyst Nick Madrigal for most of the season, Oregon State still managed to tear through the Pac-12 en route to another regional host. With the emergence of junior Trevor Larnach (.324 average, 17 homeruns, 64 RBI), the Beavers’ offense is even better than last year, as six players with at least 100 at-bats own a batting average north of .300. No regular player owns an average below .262, making 1-9 a threat to opposing pitching staffs. Last year’s stellar pitching staff is almost fully intact, with Luke Heimlich’s 14-1 record and 2.49 ERA leading the way. Bryce Fehmel (9-1, 2.81 ERA) will likely be the second starter utilized in the post season, with Jake Mulholland (2.50 ERA, 14 saves) and Brandon Eisert (2.81 ERA, 5 saves) left to shutdown the late-innings. A deep, powerful pitching staff (8.8 K/9) will set up a deep run for Oregon State.
Ole Miss Rebels (46-15, 18-12 SEC)
The number four national seed Rebels are riding a hot streak, coming off an SEC Championship this past weekend. Led by projected first-round lefthander Ryan Rollison (9-4, 3.79 ERA), and an over-powering bullpen, the Rebels pitching staff is in the conversation for deepest in the nation. The three weekend starters, Rollison, Brady Feigl, and James McArthur combined for a 23-9 record and 9.3 K/9. Despite the loss of junior reliever Dallas Woolfolk, who stepped away for personal reasons earlier in the month, the Rebels’ bullpen is as strong as ever, thanks to the emergence of Parker Caracci (1.85 ERA, 10 saves). Caracci, a redshirt sophomore who had never thrown a collegiate pitch prior to the 2018 season, has emerged seemingly out of nowhere, boosted by a mid-90s mph fastball, has softened the blow of losing Woolfolk. On the offensive side, Ryan Olenek (.359 average, 3 homeruns, 27 RBI) leads a balanced attack buoyed by the powerful swings of Nick Fortes (11 homeruns) and Thomas Dillard (13 homeruns). A total of eight Rebels with at least 150 at-bats own an average of .300 or better, possibly the most lethal offense in the tournament field. Shall Rollison and company take care of business on the mound, the Rebel offense may be too much for opponents en route to a College World Series championship.
Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (48-9, 27-3 OVC)
While a team with just single-digit losses should hardly be considered a sleeper, Tennessee Tech missed out on hosting a regional after failing to capture their conference title. An other-worldly offense (.342 team average, 128 homeruns), with no player reeving at least 150 at-bats owning an average under .306, and two players north of .400, Tennessee Tech undoubtedly has the offense to make a run. However, the one factor holding back the Golden Eagles is a shotty pitching staff. Of the eight pitchers that have recorded more than 20 innings, just two own ERAs under 4, and just one is a regular starter. Faced with dangerous lineups in Ole Miss and Saint Louis (.285 team average), a lack of pitching depth will be exposed at some point in the regional. If Tennessee Tech does advance out of a tough region, Omaha is not out of the question.
Houston Cougars (36-23, 22-6 AAC)
After winning an American Athletic Conference regular season title, Houston failed to capture the conference’s automatic bid, after falling to East Carolina in the conference tournament. The road to Omaha will not be easy for the Cougars, as they must first escape the Chapel Hill Regional, besting North Carolina, Purdue and NC A&T. The key for the Cougars is their stellar pitching staff. With a 3.66 team ERA and paltry 3.5 BB/9, paired with a stout defense (.977 team fielding percentage), the Cougars limited opponents to five runs or less in 43 of the team’s 59 games. Not a particularly high-scoring club (5.02 runs per game), Houston will rely on the efforts Aaron Fletcher (6-3, 2.43 ERA) and company to keep their opponents off the scoreboard.
San Diego State Aztecs (39-19, 18-12 MWC)
Winners of the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State owns one of the most balanced teams in the nation, with a .305 team batting average and 3.90 team ERA. Keeping your opponent off the scoreboard is usually a good recipe for winning games, and SDSU has outscored opponents by 93 runs on the season. All six Aztecs with at least 200 at-bats own an average above .300, led by senior outfielder Chase Calabuig (.359, 5 homeruns, 46 RBI). On the mound, if the Aztecs are leading in the late innings, freshman sensation Casey Schmitt and his 0.28 ERA can be relied upon to secure a victory. Over the course of 32 innings, Schmitt has allowed just one earned run and one extra-base hit. SDSU faces a test in their first game, matched up with LSU, and then will likely have to go through Oregon State at least once to escape the loaded Corvallis Region.
Prediction: Florida over Oregon State in CWS Final