The NCAA baseball tournament opens Friday with play in 16 double-elimination regionals. Regional winners advance to best-of-three super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 15. Some of the top story lines:
Central Michigan has won 18 games in a row and is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995. The Chippewas (46-12), who play Miami in the Starkville (Mississippi) Regional, need one win to tie the school record in coach Jordan Bischel’s first season. Other teams with double-digit streaks are Jacksonville State (12) and No. 1 national seed UCLA (10). No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt has won 22 of its last 23.
Arizona State, which won 21 straight to start the season, has lost five of its last seven. Baylor has lost four of five, Duke seven of 10, Florida six of 11, Michigan seven of 12, Louisville six of 10 and Auburn 11 of 17.
CURSE OF THE 1 SEED
The last No. 1 national seed to win the championship was Miami in 1999, the first year of the current tournament structure. Oregon State was a No. 3 seed when it won the title last year. The most recent No. 1 to reach the College World Series finals was Texas in 2009.
FEELING A DRAFT
At least a dozen projected first-round picks in the Major League Baseball draft Monday through Wednesday are in the tournament, including the likely No. 1 selection, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. Others are Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop, California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday, TCU pitcher Nick Lodolo, Baylor catcher Shea Langeliers, West Virginia pitcher Alek Manoah, Texas Tech infielder Josh Jung, Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson, North Carolina first baseman-outfielder Michael Busch, North Carolina State shortstop Will Wilson and Campbell pitcher Seth Johnson.
NAME YOU KNOW
Mississippi State senior center fielder Jake Mangum is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time hits leader (372) and is three hits from becoming the first Bulldogs player to collect 100 in back-to-back seasons. Mangum bats leadoff and has reached base in 212 of 235 career games started.
NAME YOU DON’T KNOW
Campbell’s Seth Johnson has gone from being a light-hitting shortstop in junior college to potential first-round draft pick as a pitcher. He hadn’t pitched since middle school before begging his coach at Louisburg College in North Carolina to give him a chance last year. He totaled six innings over five appearances, striking out 11 and walking none. Johnson transferred to Campbell and though his 3-3 record and 4.72 ERA are modest, he’s touched 98 mph and is consistently in the low 90s with a four-pitch repertoire.
Three players are batting better than .400 — Oregon State’s Rutschman (.419), Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin (.414) and Creighton first baseman Jake Holton (.405).
MAKING THEIR PITCH
The top six ERA teams are in the tournament: UCLA (2.59), Oregon State (2.98), Texas A&M (3.04), Fordham (3.08), Georgia (3.10) and UC Santa Barbara (3.21). UCLA leads the nation with 11 shutouts, 6.16 hits allowed per nine innings and 1.06 walks/hits per innings pitched. The Bruins are in the top 10 in strikeout-walk ratio (3.12) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.5). Louisville’s Reid Detmers, Vanderbilt’s Drake Fellows, Fresno State’s Ryan Jensen, Omaha’s Payton Kinney and UCLA’s Jack Ralston share the national lead with 11 wins apiece.
Seven players in the tournament have hit at least 20 homers: Vanderbilt’s Bleday (nation-high 26), Georgia Tech’s Kyle McCann (23), Arizona State’s Bishop (22), Mercer’s Kel Johnson (22), Miami’s Alejandro Toral (22), Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson (21) and Southern Mississippi’s Matt Wallner (21).
MARTIN’S LAST CHANCE
Florida State, at 42 in a row, owns the longest active streak of NCAA appearances. Mike Martin has led the Seminoles to the national tournament each of his 40 years as coach and has made it to the CWS 16 times. He retires after the season, making this his last chance to win his first national championship.
Vanderbilt, at 14 straight, has the second-longest streak of appearances, followed by Florida (12) and Clemson (11).
Omaha of the Summit League is in the tournament for the first time.