Selection Sunday was pushed back one day due to rain on the East Coast Friday, but the NCAA Baseball Tournament field was announced Monday afternoon. Missing from the field of 64 for the first time since 1972 are the Miami Hurricanes. Miami finished the season at 31-27 (16-13 ACC) after being ousted by #2 national seed North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.
- Oregon State (49-4)- The top national seed, Oregon State dominated the regular season en route to a Pac-12 Championship. Head coach Pat Casey has relied on the excellence of his pitching staff, which leads the nation in ERA with a sparkling 1.84. Junior southpaw Luke Heimlich has anchored the staff, finishing with a 10-1 record and a nation-leading 0.81 ERA in 111.1 innings of work. Not to be outdone by their teammates, the Oregon State offense has been stellar as well. Led by sophomore Nick Madrigal, who boasts a team-high .377 average, the Beavers offense has hit to a tune of .289, while outscoring opponents a staggering 308 to 117. On the heels of their pitching, Casey’s Beavers enter the tournament as the favorite to bring home another title.
- Louisville (47-10)- Brendan McKay and the Louisville Cardinals were shocked in the second round of the ACC Tournament by eventual champion Florida State, but will still host a regional thanks to a strong resume. McKay led the team both on the mound and at the plate, hitting .363 with 17 homeruns, while adding a 9-3 record and 2.37 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 91 innings on the mound. McKay is well on his way to a third John Olerud Award in as many years, given to the nation’s top two-way player. In addition, junior infielder Drew Ellis led the team with a .376 average and tied McKay for the team lead with 17 homeruns. Louisville’s high powered offense will alleviate some of the pressure on the pitching staff.
- North Carolina (47-12)- Led by a powerful pitching staff, North Carolina earned the #2 national seed despite falling to Florida State in the final round of the ACC Tournament. Junior right-hander JB Bukauskas dominated batters all season, finishing with a perfect 9-0 record and a dazzling 2.02 ERA in 89 innings of work. Mike Fox’s bullpen has impressed as well, with Josh Hiatt leading the way with a 2.09 ERA and 13 saves. The offense is nothing to scoff at either, with a .283 team batting average. Junior shortstop Logan Warmoth paces the team with a .349 average and 9 homeruns. Fox also has threats on the base paths, with junior Brian Miller stealing 22 bases, while Warmoth added 18 of his own. Many of the Tar Heels have been in consideration for the early rounds of the upcoming MLB Draft.
Sleeper: St. John’s (42-11)- After a torrid start, going 22-3 in their first 25 games, St. John’s failed to continue their hot start, ending the season on a still impressive 20-8 run, but stumbled to the finish, going 2-3 in their final 5 games. Xavier defeated the Red Storm twice in the Big East Tournament, including in the championship game, dropping head coach Ed Blankmeyer’s squad to a 3-seed in the Clemson Regional. A well-balanced attack allowed St. John’s to earn an at-large bid, thanks in part to the efforts of freshman Sean Mooney on the mound. Mooney is second in the nation with a 1.22 ERA and also owns an 8-1 record in 96 innings. Freshman Joe LaSorsa (7-1) and sophomore Joe Kelly (3-1) lead the bullpen, pitching to a 1.88 ERA in 48 innings, and a 2.15 ERA in 46 innings, respectively. While young on the hill, a veteran lineup has led the Red Storm, highlighted by senior catcher Troy Dixon, hitting at a .394 clip, with 34 RBI. In addition to his work at the plate, Dixon has played flawless defense behind it, not committing an error yet this season. St. John’s fiery pitching staff and veteran-laced lineup could lead them out of a tough Clemson Regional, and eventually, all the way to Omaha.
Pitcher to Watch: Jake Thompson, RHP, Oregon State- Heimlich’s partner in Oregon State’s rotation, Jake Thompson has quietly been nearly as dominant as his teammate. In 103 innings, the redshirt junior has not lost a game, posting a perfect 12-0 record with a 1.31 ERA, while striking out 96 and holding batters to a paltry .183 average. Thompson is the second starter in the best weekend rotation in the nation, and arguably the best pitching staff in the nation. Only one pitcher with more than 15 innings pitched on the year owns an ERA above 4, that being sophomore starting pitcher Bryce Fehmel, who ended the regular season with a 4.21 ERA in 62 innings. In order for Oregon State to make a deep run, Thompson, along with Heimlich, will be counted on heavily.
Hitter to Watch: Brent Rooker, OF, Mississippi State- Redshirt junior Brent Rooker has obliterated pitching for new head coach Andy Cannizaro, ranking in the top 5 of each triple crown category, with a .404 average, 21 homeruns, and 76 RBI for the Bulldogs. Perhaps even more impressive are Rooker’s 29 doubles, tied for the best in the nation, or his .997 fielding percentage, with only one error charged to him. He also leads the team with 18 stolen bases. This kind of all-around performance is what has set Rooker apart from the other elite hitters in the SEC. The Bulldogs will count on Rooker heavily throughout the month of June, as Cannizaro will look for Rooker to keep the pressure off the other stars in the lineup.