We are down to just 64 teams, fighting for the right to make the trip to Omaha. Sixteen regions will start play, (four teams) in each region. The winner of each region will advance to next weekends head to head matchups of the top remaining sixteen teams. These games will be a best of three format. Below are my fearless predictions of each region this weekend.
I like the Cardinal to win this region. The 8th ranked team in the country is red-hot, winning their last eight in a row. They have the best pitching in the region and should ride those arms to the title here.
SLEEPER—BYU mashes fastballs, and the team has a .324 batting average good for fifth in the country. Pitching is a big concern.
LONG BEACH REGIONAL
Call me crazy, but I like Texas here. The Longhorns boast two starting pitchers than can bring mid 90’s heat. Nolan Kingham and Morgan Cooper should be the difference.
SLEEPER—San Diego State The Aztecs defeated host Long Beach twice this season. All nine starters have a batting average of over .300!
I’ll take another lower seed and go with Texas A & M. The Aggies are coming off a poor performance in the SEC tournament, but are primed to make a statement here. Regional host Houston will be a tough out, but I believe the Aggies are the better team . Freshman Braden Shewmake could have a breakout performance at the dish.
SLEEPER—IOWA Jake Adams will be the best player in the region. He has 27 home runs on the year, tied for first nationally. His .747 slugging percentage is fourth in the country.
How can anyone pick against the Beaver juggernaut? I’m surely not. The top ranked team in the nation gets a very soft bracket to open tournament play. Luke Heimlich has the nations best ERA at 0.81. He has 120 strikeouts in 111 innings. He has not allowed a home run all season! The Beavers have the top pitching staff in the country, with a miniscule ERA of 1.84.
SLEEPER—NEBRASKA The Cornhuskers have closed the season strong, and would love to play host in Omaha.
I’m still in shock that Clemson is hosting a regional. The Tigers have struggled mightily in May, and literally stole the bid from Virginia. I honestly think they are the third best team here. Vanderbilt is my choice to win here. I know the Dores have struggled, but they have the best pitcher by far, in soon to be first round pick Kyle Wright. Outfielder Jeren Kendell is also a first round talent. Vandy is a frequent participant in Omaha. The run begins here.
SLEEPER—ST. JOHNS The Johnnies will take a major step up in competition, but have a true ace in lefty Sean Mooney, who owns a 1.22 ERA.
Home cooking might be the difference in Lubbock. Texas Tech will use solid pitching, led by Steven Kingery 9-1 1.69 ERA. The Red Raiders don’t beat themselves, and have had timely hitting all season. The return of Davis Martin from tendonitis, gives the Red Raiders two aces. That seals the deal for me.
SLEEPER—ARIZONA This team has been up and down over the last six weeks. When the Wildcats are playing well, they are tough to beat. J. J. Matijevic leads the nation with 29 doubles. He will be the best bat in the region.
I’ll go with the suddenly smoking hot Seminoles at home. The Seminoles have suddenly put everything together in the past few weeks. Pitching, hitting and defense have all been apart of the recent surge. They will need to stay hot, as this is perhaps the toughest region.
SLEEPER—AUBURN When you have two guys who can dominate from the mound in a short series, you have a great chance to make noise. That’s what we have here in Auburn. Casey Mize and Keegan Thompson are a formidable one-two punch. Mize leads the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio!
This region is simply a coin flip. Any of three teams could win this. The smart money might be on top seed Southern Miss, but I think upstate rival Mississippi State has the edge. The Bulldogs have triple crown hopeful Brent Rooker in the lineup, and several other standouts that include Jake Magnum. I know the Bulldog pitching is suspect, but I just have a feeling they have enough to get the job done here.
The Jags have scored 476 runs. That’s fifth best in the country. Don’t count them out.
BATON ROUGE REGIONAL
LSU may arguably be the best team in the country right now. They are peaking at the right time and coming off a dominant run at the SEC tournament. They have three pitchers that can beat you every time out, in Eric Walker, Jared Pouche’ and Alex Lange. They are also mashing the ball with shortstop Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann leading the way.
Talk about hot, the Owls have won 18 of 22. All phases of the game are clicking. Two way talent, Dane Myers can beat you with his bat or his arm.
CHAPEL HILL REGIONAL
North Carolina is surely the class of this region. With a raucous home crowd and ACC pitcher of the year J.B. Bukauskas on the mound, the Tar Heels have the edge. Bukauskas is 9-0 on the season and strikes out eleven men per nine innings.
SLEEPER—FLORIDA GULF COAST Kutter Crawford is one of the best pitchers, that most people know nothing about. He sports a 1.58 ERA and competes with the best, with outstanding mound presence.
I just love this Kentucky team. They play good hard-nosed baseball. They can pitch and hit with anyone in the country. The problem all year, has been suspect defense. If they clean up their act in the field they could find themselves in Omaha. SEC pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle is the ace of a good staff. The 6-11 hurler is also a fiery cheerleader from the dugout.
SLEEPER—NORTH CAROLINA STATE The Wolfpack have been up and down all season. They can beat anyone, at anytime. Keep an eye on Brad Debo. Debo has a .342 batting average, and 21 multi hit games.
The Cardinals should get it done, in front of the home folk. They have sputtered the last two weeks of the season, but still boast the best talent in the region. Two-way star Brendan McKay is a top 5 draft talent! He has 17 homers on the season and is one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the country. If the Cardinals get to the eighth inning with the lead, top closer Lincoln Henzman slams the door. He leads the nation with 16 saves.
SLEEPER—XAVIER Musketeer southpaw Zac Lowther is a beast on the mound. He can beat anyone in a one-on-one matchup. He strikes out 13 per nine innings, and took a perfect game into the ninth inning earlier this season against Villanova.
FORT WORTH REGIONAL
I like the Horned Frogs and all their experience on the big stage in this regional. Remember Jared Janczak has made two starts in Omaha already. He owns an 8-0 record this year with a sterling 1.99 ERA. This is the time of year, when the Frogs excel.
SLEEPER—VIRGINIA I am still in shock that the Cavaliers are not hosting a regional. Pavin Smith has had an outstanding year at the dish, striking out only nine times all year. Jake McCarthy wrecks havoc once on base with 27 steals on the year. The Cavaliers are also no stranger to Omaha, making them very dangerous.
This could be my favorite regional to watch. Both Arkansas and Missouri State are worthy of making it to Omaha. I’ll side with the home team here and give the nod to the Razorbacks. The Hogs have the better starting pitching, while the Bears have a big edge in the bullpen. The battle between Chad Spanberger and Jake Burger could be epic. Burger has mashed 22 home runs and has a .459 on base percentage for the Bears. Spanberger just completed destroying SEC pitching blasting five home runs and collecting 10 RBI’s.
Wake Forest has been a pleasant surprise all season long. They are second in the country with 96 home runs. Gavin Smith leads the team with 20 bombs and 79 RBI’s. This is one of the weakest regions in my opinion, and the Deacons are the weakest of the hosting teams. If they get any decent pitching, they should club their way to the next round.
SLEEPER—MARYLAND Just when you think the Terrapins have made a statement, they regress. They have tons of talent and are led by BIG 10 pitcher of the year Brian Shaffer.
The Gators almost looked dis-interested in the SEC tournament last week. They have a dynamic trio of frontline pitchers in Brady Singer, Alex Faedo and Jackson Kowar. That trio will be the difference in this region. The Gators are still struggling to find an offense to go with the outstanding pitching, but J.J. Schwarz and others are starting to heat up.
SLEEPER—SOUTH FLORIDA The Bulls would love to crash the party on Florida. They may well have the team to do it. Shortstop Kevin Merrell sports a .386 batting and is a pest on the base paths. They have already beaten the Gators once this season and boast four players in the starting lineup who have a .300 or higher batting average.