OMAHA, Neb. — The NCAA Division I baseball tournament opens Thursday with one regional beginning play. The tournament starts in earnest Friday. The 16 regional winners advance to super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska beginning June 17.
Here are some of the top story lines heading into regional play:
No. 1 national seed Oregon State (49-4) has won 16 straight games, including Pac-12 sweeps over California, Oregon and Washington State. No. 4 LSU (43-17) has won 11 in a row and outscored Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Arkansas 35-5 while winning the SEC tournament. No. 8 Stanford (40-14) went into its game against Sacramento State on Thursday night with wins in 21 of 23.
Clemson (39-19) was awarded a home regional despite having lost to Duke and Virginia in the ACC tournament, seven of its last nine and 11 of 16. Auburn (35-24) started May by getting swept at home by Alabama, the worst team in the SEC, and finished the month 3-10. Texas A&M (36-21) has dropped eight of 10.
FEELING A DRAFT
The tournament is loaded with prospective first-round draft picks as rated by Baseball America: Louisville pitcher/first baseman Brendan McKay; pitchers Kyle Wright of Vanderbilt, J.B. Bukauskas of North Carolina, Alex Faedo of Florida, Griffin Canning of UCLA, Luke Heimlich of Oregon State and Alex Lange of LSU; first baseman Pavin Smith and outfielder Adam Haseley, both of Virginia; outfielder Jeren Kendall of Vanderbilt; first baseman Evan White of Kentucky; third baseman Jake Burger of Missouri State; and shortstop Logan Warmoth and outfielder Brian Miller, both of North Carolina.
SEC player of the year Brent Rooker of Mississippi State brings in a .404 batting average, highest in the tournament, to go with 21 home runs, a school-record 29 doubles and 76 RBIs. Big Ten player of the year Jake Adams of Iowa is the national co-leader in home runs with 27; no player has hit more since Kris Bryant had 31 for San Diego in 2013. UNC-Greensboro’s Caleb Webster is batting .397, the best average by a freshman by 21 points. Wake Forest’s Gavin Sheets has 79 RBIs, most among the tournament field, and 20 homers.
MAKING THEIR PITCH
Oregon State owns a nation-leading ERA of 1.84, more than a half-run better than the next closest team. The Beavers are on track to become just the second team in 25 years to have a sub-2.00 ERA. The other was Arkansas (1.89) in 2013. The Beavers’ Heimlich (0.81) and Jake Thompson (1.31) are first and third in ERA, and Thompson (12-0) is first in victories.
THESE CAVS DON’T FAN
— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) May 31, 2017
Virginia’s Ernie Clement and Smith are the two best batters in the country when it comes to avoiding the strikeout. Clement has struck out seven times in 244 at-bats and Smith nine times in 217. Clement’s one strikeout per 34.9 at-bats is the best since Bobby Ison of Charleston Southern struck out once every 38.3 in 2014.
NO TITLE DEFENSE
Coastal Carolina failed to make the tournament, meaning the championship will change hands for the sixth straight year. Fifteen of the 28 programs that have won national titles are in the field of 64.
THAT PESKY NO. 1 SEED
The last No. 1 national seed to win the championship was Miami in 1999, the first year of the current tournament structure. The last five national champions were not among the eight seeds. The most recent No. 1 seed to reach the College World Series finals was Texas in 2009.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING
— TSU Athletics (@TXSOTigers) May 29, 2017
Three automatic qualifiers come in with losing records: Texas Southern (20-32) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Holy Cross (23-27) of the Patriot League and Radford (27-30) of the Big South.
WELCOME TO THE PARTY
Florida Gulf Coast (42-18) and Davidson (32-24) are in the tournament for the first time, and both are playing in the Chapel Hill Regional. FGSU’s athletic program became a full Division I member in 2011 and emerged on the national scene with its “Dunk City” basketball team that reached the Sweet 16 in 2013. The school’s highest-profile baseball player is Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (2008-10). Davidson has been playing baseball for 115 years and has had four straight winning seasons among six since Dick Cooke took over as coach in 1991.