Five Pac-12 teams started the NCAA Baseball Tournament and after the Regionals, four remain. Considering the Regionals eliminated 75% of the teams, the Pac-12 did pretty damn well, but we are still only one-fourth of the way to crowning a national champion.
With the Regionals in the rearview mirror, we move onto the Super Regionals, which is a best-of-three series with the winners advancing to College World Series. Three of the Pac-12 teams left will host their Super Regionals, putting them a leg up as they try to book their spot in Omaha, while the one team to hit the road, Stanford, is arguably the most talented team the conference has.
It is very possible, albeit unlikely, that the Pac-12 makes up half of the College World Series field, something no conference has done since the ACC sent four teams to Omaha in 2006. These are heady times for college baseball out west.
UCLA Bruins vs. TCU Horned Frogs
As the number two national seed, UCLA was guaranteed to host a Super Regional if they made it. And after dominating the Los Angeles Regional with a perfect 3-0 record and outscoring their opponents 23-6 they sure earned it and then some. The Bruins got sensational starting pitching to go with an offense and bullpen that was expected to be strong to make the Regionals look like a walk in the park. Their reward? A 2010 College World Series rematch with TCU.
The Bruins and Horned Frogs were in the same bracket in Omaha two years ago and met three times. UCLA took game one before TCU got game two to force a deciding game three for a spot in the Championship Series. That one was all Bruins and they moved within two games of the national title, but that was two years ago.
After a rocky season filled with injuries, TCU is almost fully healthy now and their offense showed how dangerous it cane be when healthy last weekend in the Regionals when they averaged more than 10 runs a game. This isn't a vintage Horned Frogs team with dominant pitching that cruises through the Mountain West, but they are getting hot at the right time.
The concern for the Bruins is still their starting pitching. Adam Plutko has been on a roll over the last month, going 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA in his last five starts, but after that it is a bit of a toss up. Nick Vander Tuig was unhittable last week, but he's never done that consistently and Zack Weiss was shaky last weekend. Against a TCU offense that is on fire, starting pitching could lose this series. Luckily for the Bruins against a big-hitting Horned Frogs team, TV dictated that the games would be played at night all weekend when the air is heavy and the ball doesn't travel.
If UCLA can get good starting pitching, this should be their series to lose. Their offense has been fantastic this season and they have a major advantage over the Horned Frogs in the bullpen. TCU will try to throw as many left-handed pitchers as they can at the left-handed heavy UCLA lineup, but the Bruins have hit lefties well and shouldn't have a problem scoring runs. They are the number two national seed for a reason, are playing at home and as good as the TCU offense looked last weekend, their pitching gave up runs in chunks. This one should go very much like things went in Omaha two years ago.
Oregon Ducks vs. Kent St. Flashes
Oregon's reward for earning a national seed in just their fourth year since reviving the program was a visit from Cal St. Fullerton, arguably the best non-host team in the country. At least that's what it looked like before the Regionals, but after the Ducks dismissed the Titans in the winner's bracket game, Fullerton lost again and Oregon never had to play them again.
It looks like luck is still on Oregon's side because they don't have to play Purdue or Kentucky in the Super Regionals. No, they get Kent St., a nice story, but hardly a team that is going to put a scare into anyone, let alone the number five national seed.
The Ducks didn't get their usually fantastic pitching last weekend, but it didn't matter. This weekend, they will have to be better because while last weekend they faced some teams that struggle offensively, the Flashes don't. Playing at home, where the slow artificial turf allows their sensational defensive infield to get to more balls, Oregon should have an advantage and be able to lean on their pitching.
If the Oregon pitching returns to form, Kent St. is going to be in a bind and asked to play perfect, fundamental baseball to get a win. That is exactly what the Ducks want because no team in the country is as fundamentally sound as them and if you try to play the "who will make fewer mistakes" game with them, you are going to lose. The only way Oregon struggles this weekend is if the strongest point of their team, their pitching, struggles for a second consecutive week. Don't bet on it.
Arizona Wildcats vs. St. John's Red Storm
Just like Oregon, Arizona got a gift in their Super Regional match-up. As a non-national seed, the Wildcats were supposed to be on the road this weekend, taking on perennial power North Carolina, but then third-seeded St. John's swept through the Chapel Hill weekend. Now the Wildcats aren't just staying home, but they are playing a Johnnies team that finished tied in the Big East with Louisville, who Arizona demolished in the Regionals.
In fairness to Louisville, Arizona demolished everyone last weekend and probably would have made any team that was in the other dugout look foolish. The Wildcats were just completely locked in, outscoring their opponents 47-10 en route to a perfect 3-0 weekend.
St. John's won't throw anyone exceptional at Arizona. The Johnnies lean on their depth and experience, not exceptional talent to beat teams, which might be the only way to beat the Wildcats right now. No single player or even two or players can beat a team playing as well as Arizona right now, but a team clicking top to bottom might be able to.
Still, there is no doubt who the favorite is here. Robert Refsnyder, Joey Rickard, Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean, who went 27-for-57 and they still hit into some hard outs. Playing at home in a spacious ballpark, the Wildcats just hit the ball into the gaps time and time again then put their athleticism to work on the base paths. They also toss a Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year candidate in Kurt Heyer on Friday nights to match their pitching with the hitting.
While Arizona might not have earned a national seed and guaranteed home Super Regional during the regular season, they earned it last weekend. Now nobody is envious of St. John's, who will have to take on not just a high flying Arizona team, but a Wildcat crowd that will pack Hi Corbett Field for the frist home Super Regional in school history.
Stanford Cardinal vs. Florida St. Seminoles
The only Pac-12 team that has to hit the road this weekend, Stanford drew the unenviable task of having to go across the country to one of the more hostile environments in college baseball. That is where the Cardinal's scheduling will really pay off as they have made a habit of playing some of the best teams in the country home and away, in places like Texas, Rice and Vanderbilt. Nobody in the Cardinal dugout is going to be awed or intimidated by what they see this weekend.
Also on Stanford's side is Florida St.'s history of, well, choking. Despite being packed with talent and being highly ranked year after year, the Seminoles always find a way to fall short of expectations. Sometimes that is Omaha, and more times than they would like it has been in the Regionals or Super Regionals right at home in Tallahassee.
Stanford is going to need their experienced pitchers to come up big this weekend and shut down the Seminoles in a ballpark that can be very hitter friendly when the wind blows out. Mark Appel needs to be as good as he was last weekend when he struck out 11 and allowed just one run in a complete game and Brett Mooneyham needs to find the command that has eluded him at times.
If the Cardinal can get good starts out of Appel and Mooneyham, then turn things over to their big-hitting offense and A.J. Vanegas they will feel pretty good about their chances. Florida St. could be looking at another postseason disappointment and the Pac-12 could be looking at four teams in Omaha.