Former Cal Golden Bear, Bay Area scribe, and ping guru Connor Buestad takes the WPW reigns for a no-nonsense Super Regional preview with a WPW touch. Buestad covers the Bay Area sports scene at Section925.com and is pissed off for greatness.
After what was a wildly entertaining first weekend of the NCAA College Baseball Tournament, the field of 64 has been pared down to baseball’s version of the Sweet 16. This coming weekend, eight different “Super Regional” sites will host a three game series, with the winner moving on to the College World Series. The Road to Omaha has never been more competitive, with the remaining field littered with future Big Leaguers all across the nation. Just as important, this crop of college ballers have not disappointed in the swag department, as everywhere you look, collegiate trend setters have been popping up.
Beginning on Friday, the Rice Owls will do battle with the NC State Wolfpack out in Raleigh, NC. The Owls of Rice were the 2 seed up in the Eugene regional in round one and had to stave off the Ducks in Nike country. Despite being arguably the best dressed squad west of the Mississippi, the Ducks gave way to Rice’s fearless pitching staff. In the final game of the weekend, Rice started their closer Zech Lemond, and eventually gave the ball to Friday starter Austin Kubitza to close out the Ducks in the 9th.
NC State will counter with a plethora of talent of their own. Pitcher Carlos Rodon leads the nation in strikeouts in 2013, while shortstop Trea Turner not only swings a great stick, but is also a force to be reckoned with on the basepaths.
Just west on Interstate 40, North Carolina Tar Heels will play host to the always tough South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks recently won back-to-back national titles in Omaha, most recently behind the bat and glove of Red Sox Jackie Bradley Jr.
Ray Tanner’s Gamecocks will have a stiff test in the (Air MVP Pro) Heels, a team that is ranked number one in the nation. If you stayed up to watch the UNC-FAU game on Monday night, you were treated to one of the best baseball games in recent memory. Countless lead changes and dramatic home runs finally gave way to a 13-12 UNC triumph in 13 innings. To say UNC is battle tested going into this regional with SC would be a gross understatement.
Down in the Baton Rouge Super Regional, the Bayou Bengals will host the Sooners of Oklahoma. Regulars in Omaha, LSU will once again try to punch their ticket behind a dynamic offense and a gutsy group of pitchers. In the SEC Championship two weeks ago, LSU was able knock off the Commodores of Vanderbilt to take the most respected conference championship in the nation. If you like pitching, you will be glued to ESPN watching these two teams chuck. LSU’s Aaron Nola (very appropriate) and Ryan Eades will counter OU’s Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton. All are expected to toe the rubber in The Show sooner than later.
Down in Tallahassee, there is a strong chance of Tomahawk Chop when the Seminoles (check out WPW’s FSU feature here) take the field vs. the upstart Hoosiers of Indiana. While IU’s basketball team fell flat in the basketball tournament, the Bloomington Nine just might make it to Omaha. Of course, they will have to get by the Noles—one of the first schools to wear vest jerseys, and surely trendsetters when it comes to gold and Seminole Red pinstripes, this team is always a pleasure to watch come June.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, the Cavaliers will host Mississippi State. Coach Brian O’Connor is one of the best coaches in the nation and will undoubtedly have the Cavs ready to execute in this series. UVA’s opponent from Mississippi won’t have alumnus Will Clark to lean on, but they do have standout Hunter Renfroe. The outfielder is known for hitting absolute missiles all over the yard. This weekend should be no exception.
It could easily be argued that the Vanderbilt Commodores are the best team in the nation. Their pitching staff lead by Kevin Ziomek is rock solid, and their lineup is downright scary. The ‘Dores 9 hole is hitting well over .300 and up and down the order there is great talent. Tony Kemp, who hit over .400 on the season, is perhaps the most exciting player in the college game today. What’s more, Vandy is not afraid to rock a wide array of jerseys. From throwback whites straight out of Ebbets Field to gold pullovers, you never know what type of Nike jersey’s VU will break out next.
Opposing Vandy in their regional will be the Louisville Cardinals (check out their WPW feature here). The Cards will try to do like their hoop team and bring home a National Title, but first, they will need to get past the SEC regular season champion ‘dores.
Meanwhile, out west, the UCLA Bruins will travel to Orange County to face the Cal State Fullerton Titans. The all-stirrup Titans trots out two phenom Freshman pitchers in Justin Garza and Thomas Eshelman. Both are young, both pound the pearl and fill up the strike zone like savvy vets. Just as Mark Kotsay used to do way back when, Titan Michael Lorenzen runs in from Center Field to close games for Fullerton.
UCLA will counter Fullerton with an array of arms themselves. Highlighted by Adam Plutko, the Bruins will be a bear to get runs against.
Finally, up in Corvallis Oregon, the Beavers will do battle with Kansas State. Often passed over because of their rain soaked location in the Northwest, the Beavers can swing it, and pick it, and run the bases, and whatever else great baseball teams do. They still have the same coach (Pat Casey) from five years ago when OSU won back to back Natty’s, and this year they have the firepower to do even more damage if and when they punch a ticket to Nebraska.
K State comes out of the always tough Big 12, and although they figure to be the underdog in this series, no one would bat an eye if they give the Beavers more than they can handle.
So tune into the ESPN family of networks this weekend and soak in some old fashion college hardball. With a trip to Omaha on the line, you won’t find a more passionate brand of baseball anywhere. Excessive eye black, rally caps, vicious chest bumps, emphatic strike calls, emotional dogpiles, this weekend has it all. The road to Omaha is winding down and only eight teams will be let through the pearly gates.