Preview: Four Pac-12 teams begin postseason run Friday
The NCAA selection committee gave Pac-12 baseball a huge boost by awarding Oregon the eighth and final national seed for the 2013 NCAA tournament. The Ducks join in-state rival No. 3 Oregon State as a team with a clear path to Omaha, provided they keep on winning. UCLA and Arizona State also qualified for the tournament, giving the Pac-12 four bids in this year's event. UCLA will host its regional, while Arizona State will travel to Southern California to participate in a weekend hosted by powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. Here's a postseason look at each qualifying Pac-12 team:
[Related: NCAA baseball championship bracket]
Oregon State (45-10, 24-6 Pac-12 Champions)
The Beavers never slumped in 2013, and their lethal versatility earned a Pac-12 championship, one clinched in walk-off fashion on the last day of the regular season. Pat Casey's club, which won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, is again a popular pick to make noise in Omaha. Oregon State's postseason journey begins Friday at 5 p.m. PT against fourth-seeded Texas-San Antonio. No. 2-seed Texas A&M and No. 3-seed UC Santa Barbara will also duke it out in the Corvallis regional.
Given Oregon State's phenomenal pitching depth, this first postseason round is the Beavers' to lose. All three of Casey's regular season weekend starters sport earned run averages of 2.10 or lower, while nine Oregon State hurlers own clips at or under 2.82. That kind of pitching depth should shine in postseason play, especially in the unlikely scenario that UTSA trips up the Beavers early and forces them to win the regional by coming through the loser's bracket.
Texas A&M (32-27, 13-16 SEC) hasn't been great offensively this year, and they've especially struggled on the road (6-13). UCSB (34-23, 17-10 Big West) is solid but not spectacular in all phases of the game, while UTSA (35-23, 15-11 WAC) relies on offense: they feature two sluggers with double-digit home run totals, but only a 4.34 staff ERA.
Oregon (45-14, 22-8 Pac-12)
Entering Monday's selection show, the Ducks were a lock to host a regional, but their selection as the eighth and final national seed surprised pundits. The seeding is a tremendous victory for the small ball-happy Ducks, whose road to Omaha goes exclusively through Eugene's pitcher-friendly PK Park.
George Horton's squad, though, will not enjoy a cakewalk through its own regional. No. 2-seeded Rice (41-17, 15-9 Conference USA) boasts a nasty pitching staff that has combined for a 2.72 ERA, while No. 3-seeded San Francisco laid claim to being the best team in the Bay Area in a season that saw road wins over Oregon State and Stanford. No. 4-seeded South Dakota State (35-22, 16-10 Summit League) rounds out the Eugene regional and will be Oregon's first opponent at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Ducks' 2.79 staff ERA sets them up for a potentially entertaining mound dual with Rice, but offensive execution will be key for an Oregon squad that relies on small ball galore. George Horton's club has successfully sacrificed 92 times this season, by far the most in the Pac-12. And although Ryon Healy packs some offensive punch for the Quack Attack, the team is hitting only .260 on the season, so further situational precision will be absolutely necessary to derail a Rice team that is one good-looking No. 2 seed.
UCLA (39-17, 21-9 Pac-12)
Much like Oregon, the Bruins are not a fearsome force offensively. UCLA earned its postseason hosting position through excellent pitching (2.79 staff ERA - same as the Ducks), conference-best defense (.980 fielding percentage), and situational offensive success that overcame a Pac-12-worst .249 team batting average.
The Baby Blue will host well-rounded No. 2 seed Cal Poly (39-17, 17-10 Big West), slugging No. 3-seeded San Diego (35-23, 15-9 WCC), and No. 4-seeded San Diego State (31-29, 15-15 Mountain West). For UCLA, all three potential matchups are scary because they all feature offensively capable ball clubs that can put the light-hitting Bruins into a major disadvantage with just one swing of the bat.
There will immediately be a lot of pressure on UCLA's pitching staff when they face Tony Gwynn's Aztecs to open play at 6 p.m. Friday. Red-hot San Diego State won four consecutive elimination games, including two in a row over heavily favored New Mexico, to take the Mountain West championship. Their freshman third baseman Tyler France, who finished 16-for-21 on the tournament, is on an otherworldly tear that has put the Aztecs' earlier offensive struggles into the rearview mirror.
Cal Poly shows no definite weaknesses, while San Diego features tall slugger Kris Bryant (1.360 OPS), who has blasted 31 home runs on the season - a record in the new BBCOR bat era. The Torreros, though, struggle mightily on defense (.956 fielding percentage) compared to the other slick-fielding teams in this regional. This one is wide open.
Arizona State (35-20-1, 16-4 Pac-12)
The Sun Devils are back from NCAA postseason purgatory. The college baseball program with the most MLB pedigree earned a No. 2 seed in the Cal State Fullerton regional, where they're confronted with a tough field that features the high-powered New Mexico offense and Columbia, the Ivy League champion.
The Sun Devils open at 4 p.m. Friday against the Lobos (37-20, 25-6 Mountain West), who boast the nation's best offense. New Mexico leads the NCAA in multiple categories, including average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Their 52 home runs should provide for a nice power matchup with Arizona State, which led the Pac-12 with 45 taters this season.
Top-seeded Cal State Fullerton (48-8, 24-4 Big West) destroyed their conference this season and played well against tougher competition, too. Their 2.56 team ERA makes them the prohibitive favorite to win this regional, but the Sun Devils do have the offensive pop to make noise.
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David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He’s a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.