The College World Series will return to TD Ameritrade Park June 14. Each week until then, The Omaha World-Herald staff sports writer Steve Pivovar will take a look at eight teams that have a chance to finish their seasons in Omaha.
Follow Steve’s blog right here each week on our website to keep you up to date on the teams who might be talented and lucky enough to end up in Omaha June 14th.
Louisiana State (42-14): Put the gumbo on the stove because the Tigers appear headed for Omaha. They didn’t make it for the last year at Rosenblatt in 2010, nor were they around for last year’s baptism of TD Ameritrade. LSU is being projected as a national seed this season after winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship, taking two of three games at South Carolina to finish a game ahead of the Gamecocks. Kevin Gausman, projected to be one of the top five picks in the upcoming free-agent draft, pitched a complete-game victory in the opener to hand South Carolina’s Michael Roth his first loss of the season. After losing the second game, the Tigers won the title with a 3-2, 10-inning victory on Sunday. Raph Rhymes’ bid to become the first collegian to hit .500 since 1991 appears on the skids. He went 4 for 11 against South Carolina and is now hitting .469.
Florida State (43-12): The Seminoles won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship by five games but head into the league tournament having lost five of their last nine games. They bounced back from a series-opening loss to North Carolina, in which the bullpen failed to hold a 4-1 lead, to win the series with 3-2 and 6-2 victories. Florida State finished 13-1 in weekend series and is 7-4 against ranked teams. This was a team that was supposed to be in reloading mode this season but has spent the past six weeks atop at least one of the four major ratings. The Seminoles have gotten a lot of mileage out a rotation that includes freshmen Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton and sophomore Peter Miller.
Florida (40-16): The Gators had a chance to win the SEC but a 5-4 loss to Auburn on Sunday ended those hopes. Florida’s season might not have been the walk in the park some observers were projecting in February but the Gators still will be a force on the road to Omaha. Florida finished the season 18-10 against ranked teams and won 11 of 14 weekend series. The Gators rank first in the country in home runs, having hit 66 in their 56 regular-season games. Florida has gotten home runs from 10 different players this season, with Mike Zunino (15), Preston Tucker (14) and Daniel Pigott (9) leading the assault. Hudson Randall’s 6-0 over Auburn in the opener was significant as he became the first pitcher to blank the Tigers this season and became the first Florida pitcher in more than 13 months to throw a complete game.
Oregon (41-14): The Ducks moved up to fifth in this week’s Baseball America ratings, their highest spot since the program was reinstated four seasons ago. Their 41 wins also are a school record. Oregon went 4-0 last week to run its winning streak to eight games, and the Ducks have won 14 of their last 15 games. Oregon closes the regular season with five games this week, playing two nonconference midweek games against Portland before finishing off its Civil War series against Oregon State with three weekend games. The Ducks will enter the Oregon State series with a one-game lead over Arizona in the Pac-12 race. Oregon continues to rank in the top 10 nationally in pitching (2.93 ERA, 10th) and defense (.979 fielding percentage, 8th).
Baylor (42-12): The Bears are being projected as a top eight national seed, which would mean they could play their regional and super regional at home. That’s bad news for future opponents as Baylor went 29-3 at home this season. Victory No. 29 came in a 16-5 mauling of Texas, and the Bears split the last two games when the series shifted to Austin. Baylor won the Big 12 title by four games over second-place Texas A&M. The Bears’ 20-4 record in league play marked the second-best finish (by winning percentage) in Big 12 history. Only Texas’ 24-3 record in 2010 is better. Baylor leads the conference in hitting (.312), runs (354), hits (557), home runs (34) and RBIs (323), and is second in doubles (100) and walks (335).
South Carolina (39-15): The Gamecocks started SEC play 1-5 but went into the final day of league play with a chance to win the title. A 3-2, 10-inning loss to Louisiana State cost South Carolina the championship but the Gamecocks still finished a half-game ahead of Florida and Kentucky in the East Division race and will be the No. 2 seed in the league tournament. South Carolina won 17 of its final 23 league games. A good showing in the SEC tournament could secure a top-eight national seed for the two-time defending national champions.
UCLA (38-14): The Bruins are two games behind Oregon as the Pac-12 race heads into its final week but their strong strength of schedule — they’ve played 23 games against ranked teams — has them in the running for a national seed. UCLA won its series at Cal in spite of playing without starters Tyler Heineman at catcher and Pat Valaika at shortstop. Heineman was out with the flu, while Valaika took a ball to the face in practice. Both are expected to be back this week as the Bruins close out the regular season with a road game at UC Irvine and a conference series at home against Southern California. The Bruins ran their winning streak to seven by winning the first two games of its series at Cal but dropped the final game 6-5.
North Carolina (42-13): The Tar Heels are red hot heading into the ACC tournament, having stretched their winning streak to 13 with a league sweep of Virginia Tech. North Carolina won the Coastal Division by four games over the Hokies. Pitchers Kent Emanuel and Michael Morin have helped lead the late-season surge, and they both earned first-team selection to the All-ACC team. It marked the first time in school history that North Carolina had two pitchers named first-team all-conference. Morin has posted a 5-3 record, 17 saves and an 0.91 ERA, while Emanuel is 8-3 with a 1.80 ERA.