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Friday, 5 June 2015

#SuperRegionals Is Super Fun Baseball
The #RoadToOmaha is almost complete

A tournament that began with 64 teams just under a week ago finds itself down to the #Sweet16 and the Super Regionals.  The NCAA Division I baseball tournament is a crazy one and, if you followed along with the action last weekend, you would have seem some intense games, some blowouts, some #SC10 plays and plenty of the long ball!  In fact, in the opening weekend alone we saw 105 home runs hit, compared to last year's ENTIRE tournament seeing only 74.  Pitchers are getting rocked hard so far.  Will this trend continue and will we continue to see high scoring and/or blowout games in the next round? 

In the preview blog (found HERE as a memory refresher), #TwineTime mentioned a few key points to pay attention to in the opening weekend.  Some were spot on, some were way off base.  Let's take a look back at the weekend that was before previewing what to expect during the Super Regionals:

  1. The #1 Curse Lives On:  As mentioned, no team wants to enter this tournament seeded at the top.  This year UCLA continued the trend, being upset at home in the regional final vs. Maryland.  The Terps looked like a World Series contender throughout the regional and took 2 of 3 vs the Bruins.  The curse lives on for another season...
  2. SEC Dominates/PAC-12 Flounders:  The SEC entered the weekend with the best shot at continuing their winning ways and they did not disappoint.  Overall the SEC went 17-5 and have 5 teams competing in the Super Regionals.  And, since none of them will play one another, we could see 5 of the 8 teams in Omaha represent the league.  On the flip (or should we say flop) side of the coin is the PAC-12.  Usually always in the running for Omaha, the PAC-12 will be sitting these Super Regionals on the bench, with a dismal 10-12 record and everyone eliminated.
  3. Upsets You Say? Oh yes please:  #TwineTime made note of a few teams that could rock the status quo and of the 4 teams names, both Virginia and Louisiana-Lafayette proved me right.  Ok, Oregon and Pepperdine may have lost but the Waves did make the regional final, falling to Cal-State Fullerton.  But the big story on the upset front is VCU.  The #4 seeded Rams dominated Dallas Baptist and Oregon State in the opening two games and rebounded from a loss to Dallas Baptist in the regional final to take the winner take all final game.  In doing so, the Rams become only the fifth #4 seed to ever win a regional.  Remember Fresno State though in 2008?  They were a #4 and look how that ended!
  4. ACC A-OK?:  Ok let's not get too excited about them quite yet but the ACC did survive the opening weekend with an impressive 15-7 record and still have 4 teams remaining in the race to Omaha.  Florida State, Louisville and Miami all were impressive in their regional victories.  Virginia, a #3 seed, also proved to be a nice upset story with their wins over USC and San Diego State.  Could the ACC nab their 1st College World Series title this year?
Overall we see 7 of our 8 national seeds still playing for a spot at the College World Series.  Throw in a few #3 regional seeds, a surprise #4 seed and some intriguing rivalry match ups will all culminate in an exciting weekend of college baseball action.  Overall, #TwineTime accurately predicted the regional winners in 10 of the 16 regionals.  Not too bad I would say.  In fact, in 5 of those correct regionals, I correctly predicted both the winner and finalist.  Let's see if I can continue my winning ways this weekend.

Let's get to the Super Regional predictions, remembering for this round it is a simple best 2 out of 3 knockout format:

Charlottesville Super Regional

(3) Maryland vs (3) Virginia

The DMV reigns supreme in this match up.  Last year's runner-up Virginia seems back on track for another shot at the championship.  As I noted in the preview, Cal State Bakersfield was a weak #1 seed and, as expected, went 0-2 and was eliminated at home early.  Virginia pounced on the opportunity and went 3-0, culminated in an exciting 14-10 11 inning final win over USC.  Virginia will wear the hosting duties this weekend and having the home town fans supporting them could be the extra motivation for the Cavs.

Maryland was perhaps a bit more quiet in how they went about their business but they pulled off the upset of the opening weekend in eliminating the top seeded UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles.  The Terps did suffer a loss to UCLA in the opening game of the regional final but rebounded nicely later in the day to advance.  The 3-1 record could actually be a blessing in disguise.  Maryland has already faced an elimination game and HUGE pressure playing on the road vs a national top seed.  Virginia may be the host team but I don't think that will cause the Terps to hide in their shells.  Maryland has also never made it to Omaha.

#TwineTime pick:  Maryland over Virginia - 3 games

Fayetteville Super Regional

(1) Missouri State vs. (2) Arkansas

The top seed in their regional and #8 national seed Bears from Missouri State are the team many did not expect to be here.  There was plenty of rumblings about them even nabbing the final national seed but they did silenced their critics last weekend.  They demolished Canisius 14-1 in their opening game and then beat a very good Iowa team in back to back games to go 3-0 on the weekend.  If you are a fan of mid-major teams that are REALLY REALLY good, this is the team you will want to cheer for.  The only setback could be, due to scheduling conflicts, Missouri State will be on the road for this series.  Missouri State has only been in the College World Series once before, in 2003.

Arkansas also went 3-0 last weekend in Stillwater, knocking off Oral Roberts, Oklahoma State and St. John's in the regional final.  The Hogs will be looking to get back to the Omaha for the first time since 2012.  Arkansas is an offensive-led team that can pile on the runs.  Remember this is an SEC team so expect big plays and high scoring.  If they can solve the strong pitching from the Bears early and rattle the bullpen, the Hogs should be able to pull of the victories.

#TwineTime pick:  Missouri State over Arkansas - 3 games

Gainsville Super Regional

(1) Florida vs. (1) Florida State

We could not have asked for a better Super Regional than state rivals Florida vs. Florida State.  The SEC vs. ACC.  The Gators enter as the #4 national seed and will have home field advantage in this series.  Florida dominated Florida A&M, South Florida and Florida Atlantic in their regional pod, including their opening game 19-0 win over Florida A&M.  In fact, the Gators outclassed their competition by an overall score of 29-3.  They are playing perhaps the best of any team in the nation right now and the opportunity to eliminate their state rivals should just add fuel to an already burning fire.

Florida State, on the flip side, is trying to get back to Omaha and finally bring the college world series title to the ACC.  The Seminoles struggled in their home regional.  As I mentioned in my preview, Florida State often enters this tournament with a ton of confidence and expectations only to fall short.  If not for a walk off dinger in their 5- 4 (10 innings) opening game win over #4 Mercer, who knows if they would even be here.  The College of Charleston gave them all they could handle in two games but the Seminoles prevailed in closely contested 3-2 and 3-1 games.  While Florida State did go 3-0 on the weekend, they are going to need to find their bats if they want to stay with the Gators this weekend....especially on the road. 

Both teams have not been to Omaha since 2012, one will end that drought while continuing the disappointment for their rival.  Also remember, Florida State has 21 (21!!) CWS appearances and Florida has 8 CWS appearances....but neither have a title to show for it.

#TwineTime pick:  Florida over Florida State - 2 games

Coral Gables Super Regional

(1) Miami vs. (4) VCU

Speaking of the ACC, perhaps the best chance at an ACC team in Omaha comes from the Miami Hurricanes.  Miami has won the College World Series 4 times (1982, 1985, 1999, 2001) but have been unable to find their way back to Omaha since 2008.  This could be their year though.  Miami is the #5 national seed and looked very good in the opening regional, winning games vs. Florida International and Columbia.  Sure they suffered a shock 3-0 defeat to Columbia to open the regional final but look how they rebounded from that loss....with a 21-3 domination game!  The Hurricanes had their backs against the wall in an elimination game vs an upstart upset team and completely owned them.  That bit of confidence, added in with playing at home, will be tough for any team to handle.

Enter the underdog VCU Rams.  Better known for their results on the hard court during #MarchMadness, the VCU baseball team is starting to be the mid-major to watch.  Looking for their 1st ever appearance in Omaha, the Rams have a stellar bullpen supported by outstanding defense in the field.  During their regional, they only conceded 6 runs in 4 games.  They will need to rely on that bullpen and play in the field vs an offensive minded Miami team.  Keep the Hurricanes offense in check and keep the games close and the Rams have a shot at the upset.  This team has won 14 of their past 15 games and will look to continue that streak in Coral Gables.

#TwineTime pick:  Miami over VCU - 3 games

Baton Rouge Super Regional

(1) LSU vs. (3) Lousiana-Lafayette

The "Crawfish Brawl" as it is being dubbed finds two high powered teams from the state of Louisiana trying to make it to Omaha.

The Tigers from LSU enter as the #2 national seed and, with the Bruins bowing out, the highest seed remaining.  Does this make them the favorite to take home the trophy?  Based on their play in the regional, I wouldn't bet too hard against them.  LSU had no trouble with Lehigh or UNC-Wilmington, outscoring their opposition 14 - 3 en route to a perfect 3-0 weekend.  They enter the super regional match up off back to back shut out 2-0 win over Wilmington as well.  The offense can score when needed and the bullpen can shut down the opponents bats at the same time.  This is a dangerous team!  LSU has won more CWS championships (6) than any other team, with their most recent being in 2009.  Having missed out on Omaha last year, the Tigers will be looking to return to their holy land.

But welcome the Ragin' Cajuns from Louisiana-Lafayette.  As many expected, myself included, this was the class of the Houston regional.  I think the #3 seed was a bit of an oversight from the committee...these guys were heavily underseeded.  The Cajuns also went 3-0 on the weekend defeating Rice twice and the home town sandwiched in between.  Similar to LSU, ULL has tremendous defense in the field and rarely gives up the big plays.  The problem I see is whether they can solved the arms of LSU's top pitchers enough to generate the runs needed to win 2 games.  If they can continue the strong play in the field and find a rhythm at the plate, we could see an upset here.  ULL has only made it to 1 College World Series (2000) but would love their second appearance to come from knocking off a state rival.

#TwineTime pick:  LSU over Louisiana-Lafayette - 2 games

Fort Worth Super Regional

(1) TCU vs. (1) Texas A&M

Check your heart rate TCU fans....still beating?  Has it slowed down yet?  What a comeback from the Horned Frogs this past weekend.  On literally the cliff of defeat at the hands of NC State, TCU battled back from a 7-run (7!!) deficit to win the tie breaker game 9-8 in 10 innings.  To say Lupton Stadium was electric at the end of this game would be an understatement.  This team never gave up and battled back to get here.  That kind of tenacity, grit and hunger for a championship can only help them as they continue towards Omaha and, perhaps, a CWS title.  It wasn't pretty last weekend (they played 5 games in 3 days) but hey they won and here they are right?  TCU still has one of the strongest pitching teams in the nation and should win at least one game on that advantage alone.  TCU will also feed off the experience of being in Omaha last year.  They want to go back and revenge the result (1-2).  Playing at home again will only be an added bonus in this state rivalry series.

The Aggies took a similar path to this super regional.  While they dominated their opening game vs. Texas Southern, they struggled in their second game loss to California.  Being lucky enough to defeat Coastal Carolina, this team had to battle through a Golden Bears team twice to make it here.  A tough 12-inning victory followed by a close 3-1 game brings the Aggies to TCU and a shot at Omaha.  The Aggies will be battle tested but this time they need to play on the road, which could be a difference maker.  However, if we look at last year's results, only 6 of the 8 super regional hosts ended up winning...could Texas A&M be one of those visitor upset teams this year?

#TwineTime pick:  TCU over Texas A&M - 3 games

Louisville Super Regional

(1) Louisville vs. (1) Cal State Fullerton

The Cardinals seem to be the best shot at bringing a CWS title to the ACC.  They are the #3 national seed and had little trouble in their regional.  Outscoring their opposition 24-9, the Cardinals seem poised for a break out this year.  Michigan had two chances to solve the Louisville pitching but could not do enough to make a game of it.  Having the luxury of playing the super regional at home should also benefit the Cardinals.  There has not been much talk about Louisville entering this tournament but I think the under the radar approach could suit this team quite well.  The Cards are fighting for the 3rd consecutive trip to Omaha and this season don't be surprised to see them in Omaha and competing for this championship.

Ok Titans fans, I owe you an apology.  I really did not have much faith in your boys last weekend but you proved me wrong.  Going a perfect 3-0 and outscoring your opposition 22-6 is a sure fire way to get yourself noticed.  In fact, the defense on this team improved as the weekend went on, conceding runs of 3, 2 and 1 in order.  If Fullerton is to have a shot on the road this weekend they will need to keep those hot bats swinging and aim for the fences.  Can the Titans completely shut down the Cards?  Probably not...especially when you are relying on freshmen pitchers.  Can the Titans go swing for swing with Louisville to give themselves a chance?  They sure can...and this will be their key to success.  In the early 2000's, Fullerton was almost a staple in Omaha making the CWS 6 times in the first 10 years (including a title win in 2004).  Unfortunately they have not been back since 2009.  I'm not so sure 2015 will be the year to end that drought.

#TwineTime pick:  Louisville over Cal State Fullerton - 2 games

Champaign Super Regional

(1) Illinois vs. (1) Vanderbilt

It's weird, Illinois is the #6 national seed yet probably the underdog in this series and the least likely of the 2 Big 10 schools (Maryland being the other) to have a shot at making the CWS.  I mentioned Louisville flying under the radar well then the Illini must be completely grounded on the interest level.  Little conversation has revolved around this team but here they are playing at home with a shot at making their 1st ever CWS appearance.  The Illini should not be taken for granted just because they may not be considered a baseball hot bed.  They quietly went about their business last weekend, going 3-0 and outscoring Ohio, Notre Dame and Wright State 21-7.  Pitching is going to be the key for the Illini.  They are going to have not only match the runs on the board but outpitch a quality team to advance.  They will have the home crowd fan base behind them so that could help propel this team.  If they can limit the big hits and big run innings, they have a shot.

The defending champions entered the tournament as an after thought title contender.  After last weekend's action at home, they might just be considered one of the favorites to win not only this weekend (even on the road) but repeat as champions.  The 'Dores lit up their competition last weekend, going undefeated and scoring 36 runs in the process (giving up only 5).  Ok, that did include a 21-0 romp over Radford in the regional final but still.  Add in the fact their bullpen ran up 39 strike outs in 3 games and you can see how dangerous this team really is.  If Vandy can keep that momentum going, I am not sure Illinois (or perhaps anyone) can stop them.

#TwineTime pick:  Vanderbilt over Illinois - 2 games

Alright baggers and line drivers, those are the #TwineTime picks to advance to the College World Series.  If my predictions hold up, be prepared to welcome Maryland, Missouri State, Florida, Miami, LSU, TCU, Louisville and Vanderbilt to Omaha.  Of course I could be completely wrong and none of these teams will be there....but somehow I doubt that will happen.  Follow along with the action on ESPN if you are fortunate enough to get some of the games on TV (not in Canada unfortunately).