TCU has their hands full with Louisville, Florida, and the Bubble Gang, but there is plenty of firepower awaiting the survivor of Bracket Two as well. We take a peek at the other four teams competing for a title in Omaha, beginning this weekend.
Oregon State (54-4) Pac-12 Champions, #1 National Seed
Oregon State put together one of the most impressive regular seasons in recent history, amassing just four losses over the course of the year in a conference that boasted two National Seeds. But their postseason feats have been overshadowed by the revelation that star pitcher Luke Heimlich is a registered sex offender, having entered the program after abusing a six year old cousin over the course of two years.
Often times, the narrative becomes “stick to sports”. And while we won’t dwell too long on the moral quandary facing a Beavers team that seemed primed for a National Championship, the crime and the game are tightly wound in this instance, as Heimlich excused himself from the team during the Super Regionals and it is a question as to whether or not he will reappear in Omaha.
Oregon State can win it all without Heimlich on the mound - after all, he is just one piece of a team that tore through the competition at a ridiculous pace. Surely the questions surrounding his acts and his presence - or lack of - will be distracting to a team that has yet to play outside of Corvallis since the news broke. How they will deal with it remains to be seen, but it wasn’t a factor as they dispatched a hot Vandy team easily in two games to reach Omaha. The Beavers score six runs a game, using a lot of extra base hits (101 doubles) and very few home runs - their home run leader is KJ Harrison with eight and they’ve hit just 29 as a team on the year. They don’t draw a ton of walks and they strike out at a pretty average rate - they are just balanced throughout the lineup and capable of scoring on you in a variety of ways.
Three to Watch:
Nick Madrigal (.383/.451/.541): Madrigal is a dangerous hitter at the top of the lineup for the Beavers, boasting a batting average that has hovered near .400 all season long, using the gaps all over the field to the tune of 19 doubles, and flashing speed on the base paths (16-20 steals). The infielder isn’t large in stature (just 5’7” and 161 pounds), but he has a little pop - four home runs on the year - and a sense of the moment, with several game winning hits on his resume. If he gets on base he creates havoc for opponents, and keeping him from setting the table will be key.
Jake Thompson (14-0, 1.52 ERA, 113:36 K:BB): Thompson is arguably the Beavers best starting pitcher, a right hander that went in the fourth round of this week’s draft, can hit the mid-90’s with a breaking ball he can throw for strikes in any count and a filthy slider. He’s not a power pitcher per se, but he gets great movement on his off-speed stuff and uses a simplified delivery to stay quiet on the mound. Likely the game one starter, Thompson will likely need to give the Beavers two great games in Omaha to advance to the finals.
KJ Harrison (.330/.396/.515): The only guy with game-changing pop in his bat, Harrison hit eight home runs and 13 doubles on the year. It’s hard to pick out a lot of stars in what is a very balanced lineup, but he’s the one guy that can consistently hit the long ball, and in a pitchy-heavy field, that’s something to keep an eye on.
LSU (48-17) SEC Champion, #4 National Seed
The Tigers looked dead to rights in March, threatening to break their then-seven year streak of earning a National Seed. A rough go in the Houston Classic, losing to TCU and Texas Tech, and struggles throughout the pre-season and beginning of the SEC schedule had them on the outside looking in. But... LSU is a post season powerhouse and proved it by getting hot at the right time, winning the SEC West, and cruising to a tournament title as well. They are 5-0 in the national tournament, and have a good shot to come out of Bracket One as the winner.
Three to Watch:
Greg Deichmann (.320/.429/.606): Deichmann leads the Tigers in home runs (19), RBIs (77), walks (48), and strikeouts (53). On a team with five players batting over .300, he might be the most dangerous of the bunch, doubling any other team member’s power output. Drafted by the Oakland A’s in the second round, he is as close to a surefire Major Leaguer as you can get.
Kramer Robertson (.319/.421/.504): Is Kim Mulkey’s son.
Jared Poche’ (10-3, 3.42 ERA, 67:36 K:BB): There was a time when Alex Lange was considered the ace of the staff, but after struggling through an inconsistent season, Poche’ has taken those honors. While his stats don’t jump off the page, his win-loss record does, and when it comes to crunch time, that’s all that matters. Though Lange is the first rounder with the more enticing stuff, Poche’ is the guy they need to perform at a high level next to them if they want to make it to the finals.
Florida State (45-21) ACC Tournament Champions
When you’re trying to name the eight teams in Omaha, FSU is probably the one you keep forgetting. The Seminoles are the classic case of a team that got hot at the right time, as they followed a 4-0 ACC Tournament with six straight wins after dropping the opening game of Regional play. The Noles are a balanced group that isn’t overall spectacular in any one way, but they have enough pop in their lineup and enough pitching to present a formidable challenge on their side of the bracket.
Three to Watch:
Dylan Busby (.315/.401/.596) Busby is ‘the guy’ for the Seminoles, leading the team in average, doubles, and home runs. He has a little speed (9-12 in steals), but doesn’t walk much (23) and strikes out a ton (59). He likely won’t see much to hit this weekend, and if opponents can avoid facing him with men on, there isn’t a whole lot of protection around him.
Tyler Holton (10-2, 2.25 ERA, 139:29 K:BB): Holton is not just the best pitcher on the Noles, he’s one of the very best in the country, showcasing a power arm with impeccable control each time he takes the mound. Holton can overpower and outsmart hitters, and oh yeah, he starts in right field as well, batting .268 with a pair of long balls.
Drew Carlton: (5-4, 1.98 ERA, 55:13 K:BB, 6 SV): Carlton is the best bullpen arm for the Noles, leading the team in saves, ERA, and appearances - with 31. He has been vulnerable in the late innings at times, but strikes out a ton of batters while not issuing many free passes. If he gets a lead in Omaha, he’s likely to keep it, and with one starts under his belt already, he could be a wild card for FSU if they make it to the weekend.
Cal State Fullerton (39-22) Third in the Big West
One of the true historically great programs in collegiate baseball, Fullerton returns to the CWS for the first time since 2015 and 17th overall, and boast four National Titles. The Titans will be making their second trip to Omaha under Coach Rick Vanderhook, who has been the lead man since 2012. Fullerton had to go through the Big
West Champions on their home field, dropping game one to Long Beach before winning the next two. They won’t blow you away on paper, but they are a solid ball club and could give teams fits in Omaha.
Three to Watch:
Scott Hurst (.332/4.24/.585): One of only three .300 plus hitters on the team, Hurst is by far the most dangerous guy in the lineup for a Titans team that averages under 5.5 runs per game. He leads the team in average, home runs (12), runs (54), and RBI (39), while boasting an impossibly good strikeout to walk ratio - he actually has one more walk (34) than strikeout (33).
Connor Seabold (11-5, 3.01 ERA, 120:22 (K:BB): If you want to know how Fullerton made it to Omaha, look no further than their stable of quality pitchers, led by Seabold. The junior has thrown 122.2 innings so far in 2017, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down much, if at all. His insane command enables him to pinpoint his pitches, keeping great hitters off balance - and from getting any good looks. The righty went in the third round to the Phillies and is a likely candidate to sign. He good.
John Gavin (8-2, 2.67 ERA, 89:30 K:BB): If you survive Seabold, your reward is Gavin, another power arm with more than 100 innings under his belt. The lefty will be a future San Francisco Giant after being selected in the eighth round of this year’s draft, taking his 6’6” 230 pound frame to his hometown team. Big, intimidating, with a 92 mph fastball, a filthy slider, and a change up he uses as his out pitch, he is a tough guy to face in any situation, and generally goes deep into games challenging hitters. The 1-2 punch of he and Seabold gives the Titans a chance in a tough field in Omaha.