Storylines to watch in the 2024 NCAA Baseball Super Regionals

The Super Regionals are here. And the diversity of their stories is… well, pretty amazing.

Seven of the top eight national seeds will be there. But so will Evansville, only the ninth No. 4 regional seed to ever escape. Florida State is in its 18th super regional, which is pretty impressive considering there have only been 25 tournaments in this format. Evansville and West Virginia are in their first super regional. This will be the second super regional for Kansas State, Clemson hasn’t been in 14 years, Georgia hasn’t been in 16 years.

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Ten No. 1 seeds won their regionals, but five from the No. 3 spot also won. Home field provided security, except when it didn’t. Arizona was shut out on its own field early in two games, the final push empty-handed by Dallas Baptist, 7-0. Arkansas was 34-3 at home this season until it lost to Kansas State and then Southeast Missouri State, 7-6. UC Santa Barbara was 27-0 at home this season against every team in the world not named Oregon. The Ducks beat the Gauchos twice last weekend, holding them to one run in 18 innings.

Five SEC teams play. That means six don’t play. The most shocking losses include Arkansas losing at home, South Carolina losing to James Madison for the first time in 41 years and Vanderbilt’s pitchers giving up 23 runs in two losses. LSU’s national title defense ended in Chapel Hill, but it took a 10-inning loss to the Tar Heels to do so. The Tigers took the lead in the ninth but couldn’t hold on to it.

To be fair, the last four national champions — LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt — are all gone. But 2018 winner Oregon State will be there this week, as will 2017 champion Florida and 2015 winner Virginia. They represent five of the last 32 Men’s College World Series titles. The other 27 winning teams are nowhere to be found.

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It’s a baseball Sweet 16 that’s been built in a variety of ways, often with unconventional heroes.

No. 1 national seed Tennessee romped its way through its regional, scoring as many runs as the number of homers — 12 — its pitchers gave up. The Vols now have 159 home runs for the season, 13 more than any other collection of bashers in the country. “That’s a long lineup,” Southern Mississippi coach Christian Ostrander said, watching the business end of the Tennessee attack as the Vols sent five homers in a 12-3 thrashing Sunday. “You can’t hold your breath.”

Here’s what he meant: Catcher Cal Starks hit two home runs Sunday and drove in four runs. He was ninth in the Tennessee batting order.

Connecticut made one mistake in game four to win in Norman, capping a Big East Tournament disappointment when the Huskies lost two two-and-overs, both in extra innings. UConn was one of the No. 3 seeds to advance to the regionals, but that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Just two years ago, the Huskies won 50 games and edged Stanford in the super regionals.

Kentucky pitchers have allowed one run in the last 21 innings in its regional, including shutting out Indiana State. No one had done that to the Sycamores 139 games ago since April 2022. “You have to pitch in the SEC to survive,” Indiana State coach Mitch Hannah said. “You see it in a 3-1 breaking ball. You see it in a 2-0 breaking ball.”

He was referring to Kentucky’s Mason Moore, who pitched six shutout innings Sunday at the Sycamores and extended his scoreless streak in the NCAA Tournament to 20.1 innings in two years. Moore wasn’t even at the ballpark the day before, recovering from a stomach virus at home and receiving IV treatment.

“My phone rings at 7:36 p.m. Saturday,” Wildcats coach Nick Mingione said. “It’s a text message from Mason. This is what he said: ‘We get started! Just to update you, I’m feeling better and back to normal. I’m ready to throw a ball game tomorrow and help us win, coach.'”

Which he did.

Kansas State won its three games in the Fayetteville Regional by a combined score of 33-12. Oregon, on the other hand, won its three games in Santa Barbara by a total of five runs. That’s not a lot of margin for error, but then again the Ducks’ pitchers didn’t allow many runs. Their three starters allowed only three runs in 23 innings. This is the same Oregon team that was shut out early in the Pac-12 Tournament, allowing only four total runs in two losses.

Florida entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-27 record and a 13-17 SEC mark, which is very low for a super-regional contender. But then who noticed Ashton Wilson? Through May 12, the sophomore reserve outfielder had only eight at-bats and two hits this season, but injuries created a void late in the year and he reached the Stillwater Regional with a .231 batting average. Then he hit a home run, scored five runs, hit .429 and was named the regional’s best player. Florida advanced, won three elimination games and entered the super regional at Clemson with a 32-28 record.

“There were ups and downs all year, but none of that matters now, we’re in the postseason,” Gators star Jack Cagliano said in a TV interview.

College baseball regular season awards, selected by Michaela Chester

Evansville beat East Carolina 6-5 with a three-run homer from psychology graduate student Mark Shellenberger, who has already completed his student teaching. The tournament’s 2024 Cinderella has been crowned, and she’ll head to Knoxville this weekend. Should anyone really be surprised by the Purple Aces? They won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament 4-0, with three of the games ending with the mercy run rule in the seventh inning. The MVC team that stayed with them was Indiana State, and Hannah wasn’t surprised by Evansville’s accomplishments at East Carolina, fourth seed and all. “We knew Evansville was good. I think the only people who didn’t know Evansville was good were the committee. They’re as good as anybody we’ve seen,” he said.

As good as Tennessee? “Watch out,” Hannahs said, “because it’s going to be a good series.”

Clemson stranded 34 runners in three games but still won its regionals, and pulled off a spectacular hidden ball trick to help end Coastal Carolina’s threat and guarantee plenty of online clicks to see it. Georgia had to rally to beat Army 8-7 and play extra innings and more than four hours to beat Georgia Tech 8-6, with the Yellow Jackets leaving the equalizing runs on base. It was a lot of crisis control for one weekend. “I think it’s important that I tell the players all the time that they can never hit the panic button,” coach Wes Johnson said.

Virginia turned to a former Cavaliers quarterback to win its regional matchup against Mississippi State. In 2021, Jay Woolfolk started for Virginia against Notre Dame and went 18-33 passing for 196 yards and two interceptions. The Cavaliers lost 28-3. Now a full-time pitcher, he’s had control struggles this season, walking 34 batters in 44.2 innings. That’s one reason he hadn’t started a game since March 17, but coach Brian O’Connor went to Woolfolk to finish the regional and he pitched eight innings, giving up two runs with seven strikeouts and just one walk in a 9-2 win. “You give young men an opportunity like Jay Woolfolk had tonight, and you see what they’re made of,” O’Connor said. “Jay Woolfolk is going to do this for the rest of his life.”

Then there’s West Virginia. File this name in the “good things come in small packages” file.

Derek Clarke.

The left-hander, a Division II transfer who was born on Christmas Day, is 5-9. Maybe. But he was tall enough to throw a four-hit complete game at Dallas Baptist, giving West Virginia an early start in the regional, then finish the decisive game against Grand Canyon with two strikeouts. With that last K, the Mountaineers were in their first Super Regional.

“We represent a lot of people,” coach Randy Mazzie said. “Not just our university and community, but the 1.8 million people in the state of West Virginia.” Another thing to add to this Mountaineer feel-good story: Mazzie is retiring, and making history is his sendoff.

North Carolina State is back in the Super Regionals, hoping to erase some terrible memories by going to Omaha. Remember what happened to the Wolfpack in 2021 when they got to the brink of the finals? They were sent home due to COVID protocols.

Texas A&M will be there, its regional sweep including an extra-innings win over Texas, and for the Aggies, what could be sweeter than that? Coach Jim Schlossnagel’s goal is to build a real powerhouse at Texas A&M, and that includes full houses. So he’s a little sensitive about attendance figures, such as the decisive win over Louisiana last weekend. “I hope whoever’s in charge of attendance numbers can do my taxes,” he said, “because 7,600 is a joke.”

BRACKET: Check out the updated tournament bracket ahead of the Super Regionals

What they have created are super regional contests of varying flavors. Tennessee Power vs. Evansville Pluck.

Florida State, which has gone from 23-31 to 46-15 on the year, is eager to beat Connecticut and complete its comeback with a 24th trip to Omaha, where the Seminoles have yet to win a title.

Kansas State and West Virginia — Big 12 members that have never seen the men’s College World Series — are trying to find success in hostile ACC baseball strongholds, Virginia and North Carolina.

Oregon State and Oregon, the last remaining teams in college team sports still competing this school year, have been charged with turning out the Pac-12’s lights out forever, and they’re trying to keep themselves and their league alive for another week at Kentucky and Texas A&M.

Georgia, trying to win a Super Regional for the first time since 2008, against North Carolina State. Clemson, trying to prevent a second wind from Florida, a team that could show up in Omaha with the lowest winning percentage in Men’s College World Series history.

There are a lot of plans to be made this weekend, as the 16 teams are just two days away from Omaha. That is if it doesn’t rain.


Disclaimer : The content in this article is for educational and informational purposes only.

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