The Washington Times - June 6, 2008, 10:29AM

June 6, 2008

The road to Omaha is a long one - longer than the one that leads to March Madness, and much longer than the one that leads to the BCS’ so-called national championship game. One thing is for sure, however: There is always plenty of excitement along the way. This year is no exception as we approach the Super Regionals, where eight teams will have their tickets punched for the College World Series beginning June 14 at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium, the shrine of college baseball.


There will be no three-peat for Oregon State (28-24), which was hit hard by graduation as All-American pitchers Kevin Gunderson and Jonah Nickerson, outfielder Cole Gillespie and catcher Mitchell Canham have all departed Corvallis since the Beavers outlasted North Carolina last season. Speaking of the Tar Heels, UNC (49-12) is still alive as the No. 2 overall seed. The ACC has been arguably the best conference in college baseball this season and features three of the top four seeds. In fact, all eight national seeds are still alive after regional play last weekend. The best-of-three Super Regionals series open tonight with four games, while the other four matchups kick off tomorrow. By Monday night, we’ll know who will be packing their bags for Omaha. Here’s all you need to know to follow along this weekend:



The No. 1 overall seed, Miami (50-8), went undefeated in their regional, clinching a spot this weekend with an 11-2 win over Ole Miss. The Hurricanes are one of four ACC teams looking to get to Omaha, and they’re a good bet to do so. They are led by a solid pitching staff ranked in top 20 nationally in most statistical categories, and feature star first baseman Yonder Alonso, who is hitting .376 with 18 home runs and 74 RBI this season and was taken with the seventh overall pick in by Cincinnati in yesterday’s MLB draft. They will take on Arizona (41-17) out of the Pac-10, who won the Ann Arbor Regional as the No. 1 seed. The Wildcats’ solid pitching staff will have to be on their game to upend the Hurricanes and send the U of A to Omaha for the 21st time.


Coastal Carolina (50-12) hosts the aforementioned Tar Heels after posting 47 runs in three games to sweep their regional. The Chanticleers dominated the Big South once again this year, but they’ll face the best pitching staff in all of college baseball this weekend. After junior hurler Bobby Gagg takes his turn, Coastal will have a tough time matching up with a Tar Heel staff that posted an NCAA-low 2.79 ERA and is led by the ACC’s Pitcher of the Year, Alex White, who hurled a three-hitter to help UNC advance.


The biggest surprise among this weekend’s participants is Fresno State (40-28), which shocked regional top seed Long Beach State and then dispatched San Diego to advance as the No. 4 seed in its region. The Bulldogs face the daunting task of beating No. 3 overall seed and perennial power Arizona State (48-11), which is looking to advance to Omaha for the third time in four years. The Sun Devils have had arguably the easiest road to this point and it looks like that might continue this weekend.


Florida State (52-11) was shocked in their regional opener by Bucknell, getting shut out 7-0. The nation’s top offense then woke up in a hurry, putting up an outlandish 64 runs in four games - wins over Florida and Bucknell, and two victories over Tulane - as the Seminoles worked themselves out of the losers’ bracket and into the Super Regionals. Florida State is led by Player of the Year Buster Posey, a catcher drafted fifth overall by the San Francisco Giants in yesterday’s MLB draft, and will face the Wichita State (47-15), which upended Oklahoma St. in regional play. The Cowboys were miffed at being snubbed when the national seeds were announced. It looks like the committee was right as Wichita State advanced, but the Shockers will have to find a way to cool off the Noles’ bats if they want to advance to Omaha.


The No. 5 overall seed Stanford (38-22-2) took the same road as FSU to get here. They lost their opener to UC-Davis and then proceeded to win four straight on the arms of Drew Storen, Dan Sandbrink, Jeremy Bleich and Austin Yount. This may be the lowest-scoring regional as Stanford faces Cal State Fullerton (42-20). The Titans are led by a trio of talented hurlers in Cory Arbiso, Jeff Kaplan and Daniel Renken. Stanford swept Fullerton earlier in the year, so the psychological edge goes to the home team here.


This in-state rivalry gets a little hotter (literally and figuratively) this weekend as No. 6 overall seed Rice (45-13) hosts Texas A&M (46-17) in Houston. The Owls took out one of the nation’s hottest teams at the time, Texas, in regional play and are looking to return to the College World Series for the third year in a row. Ryan Berry anchors the Rice pitching staff. A&M came into postseason play ice cold, but drew a rather easy regional pool and got it together. They’ll have to play much better, however, if they are going to get past Rice and advance to Omaha.


LSU (46-16-1) had little trouble in regional play. The No. 7 national seed has now won 23 straight and is by far the hottest team coming into the weekend. The Tigers’ bats are hot (36 runs in three games) and their pitching is almost as flammable right now (nine runs allowed in the regional). They will have to take on an experienced UC-Irvine (41-16) squad that took out regional host Nebraska to advance. The Anteaters (one of the better college nicknames out there) are looking to make it back to Omaha after taking out Texas and Wichita State to get there just a year ago. Will that experience be able to slow down a Tigers squad that won the SEC and hasn’t been to postseason play since 2005?


Another solid SEC squad, No. 8 seed Georgia (39-22-1) takes on the fourth ACC team to reach super regional play in North Carloina State (41-20). Both teams hosted and won their respective regionals. Georgia boasts one of the best hitters in all the land in junior shortstop Gordon Beckham, who launched 24 homers and hit nearly .400 during the year. The No. 8 overall pick in yesterday’s MLB draft by the White Sox leads the way against a Wolfpack pitching staff that had a 3.36 ERA on the year heading into last weekend. Both teams swept their regionals, so this should be a very intriguing and hotly contested super regional.