The SEC has 5 teams in the NCAA Tournament’s Super Regionals, again leading the pack of conferences and continuing their dominant showing last year when 3 SEC teams made the College World Series, including the 2 finalists.
What about 2022? Is it crazy to think the SEC will meet or even exceed last season’s record? Here’s our thoughts on the best-of-3 Super Regional showdowns.
Tennessee vs. Notre Dame
The Vols remain red-hot and host a Fighting Irish team that will seek to cool their bats. Notre Dame’s main starters, John Michael Bertrand (9-2, 2.27 ERA, 103 strikeouts in 99 innings pitched) and Austin Temple (4-1, 3.46, 86 Ks in 65 innings) are a dangerous pair of aces, but it’s worth wondering if Notre Dame has the pitching depth to survive the late innings.
Offensively, Notre Dame is a contact minded team (.295 average) without a ton of power (just 68 homers, no hitter having more than 11). Notre Dame was swept in a series at Louisville and also carries losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
It’s hard to imagine them surpassing the Vols, who finished their regional demonstrating pitching depth, with Blade Tidwell looking superb and leading the younger aces, and continued offensive excellence (.311 average, 150 homers, 7 hitters with more HRs than Notre Dame’s leader). We’ll take the Vols to get back to Omaha in a 2-game sweep.
Texas A&M vs. Lousiville
The Aggies swept through their region and now host Louisville. A&M’s pitching held out for the regional games, and their bats did enough damage late. Louisville, similarly, is not a great pitching squad, but can be dangerous with the bats, which could set up a good series. The Cardinals batted. 309 with 94 homers and stole 103 bases. A couple guys to watch are Dalton Rushing (.310, 22 homers, 60 RBIs) and Levi Usher (.294, 7 homers, 36 stolen bases).
Louisville swept a series against Notre Dame, won a series against North Carolina and lost another series at Virginia Tech. On the mound, their 5.23 ERA is troubling. Starter Jared Poland is solid, but the Aggies’ bats, particularly Dylan Rock (.340, 18 homers, 59 RBIs) can get to the Cardinals’ bullpen late. This one looks like a slugfest, but we’ll take the Aggies in a 2-game sweep, rallying from behind for a dramatic Game 2 win to reach Omaha in Year 1 under Jim Schlossnagle. Hired exactly 1 year ago, Schlossnagle has been to the College World Series 5 times.
Auburn vs. Oregon State
Auburn also had an easy time in its regional, scoring 51 runs in 3 games. Meanwhile, Oregon State squeaked past Vanderbilt and now will host the Tigers. It’s a long trip for Auburn, but if the hitting conitnues like this, they’ll definitely be back in Omaha. Perhaps the best sign in the regional was that it wasn’t just Sonny DiChiara mashing homers, but Auburn’s entire squad was hitting.
OSU is a humble offense, hitting just 55 homers, but boasting standout Jacob Melton (.360, 16 homers, 81 RBIs). Meanwhile, the Beavers have one big card to play in perhaps the best remaining pitcher in the NCAA Tournament, Cooper Hjerpe, who has a 2.40 ERA, 155 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .182 average with just 3 homers. Hjerpe came out of the bullpen for the first time this season to finish Vandy, and the Tigers figure to see plenty of him. We’ll take the Tigers, but this one goes the full 3 games and requires a DiChiara as Babe Ruth moment late.
Arkansas vs. North Carolina
Outlasting Oklahoma State allowed the Hogs to punch a ticket to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina. It was an odd regoinal for Arkansas, with the first two Oklahoma State scores looking like football games, as Arkansas won 20-12, then lost 14-10. For the season, Arkansas was more of a pitching-heavy team that chipped away on offense. But it was boom in Stillwater, although that does set up the possibility of bust in Chapel Hill.
UNC’s 100 homers demonstrate a capable offense, and Vance Honeycutt’s combination of 24 homers and 29 stolen bases is certanly impressive. On the bump, UNC is solid (4.14 ERA) though not overwhelming. The Tar Heels won a regular-season series at East Carolina, but lost series matchups against Louisville and Virginia Tech before winning the ACC Tournament. Arkansas’ offensive consistency is a little suspect, and we’ll take the Tar Heels to outlast the Hogs in Game 3 to win an excellent series.
Ole Miss vs. Southern Miss
On paper, Ole Miss and Southern Miss looks like a low-scoring series of pitching battles. The Golden Eagles hit .281 and didn’t hit a ton of homers or steal a ton of bases. They did hold opponents to a .228 average and just 38 homers. Meanwhile, Ole Miss hit .278, and with the exception of Tim Elko, didn’t hit a ton of homers. Elko hit 3 in the clinching regional win over Arizona, giving him 22 for the season. They also didn’t steal many bases, and held opponents to a .247 average and 69 homers.
Both teams had regional moments that showed surprising offensive pop, like Ole Miss’s 22 runs against Arizona or Southern Miss’s comeback win over LSU. But Ole Miss also beat Miami 2-1 and Southern Miss beat Army 2-0. This one feels like a pitching duel, and one that the Golden Eagles win in 3 games.
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