On Sunday night, Louisville (38-18-1) was announced as one of 16 regional hosts for the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Louisville will be vying for its first national title in program history and sixth College World Series appearance, but what does the roadmap look like for U of L to get to Omaha in this tournament?
Let’s look at the NCAA Regional that Louisville will be hosting this weekend.
All 16 regionals are essentially their own double elimination style tournament. If you lose twice in the regional, you are eliminated from the tournament. If you lose any of the first two games, the road to advancing gets even harder; teams that don’t advance to the regional final right away (win first game then the 1-0 game after) have to win five games in a four-day stretch, as Louisville previously had to do in their 2019 regional with Illinois State, Indiana, and Illinois-Chicago.
After that, the super regionals are a best-of-three series between teams that advance from their respective regionals. If Louisville advances, they will face the winner of the College Station regional between Texas A&M, TCU, Louisiana, and Oral Roberts. The winner of the super regional advances to Omaha for the College World Series.
#12 Louisville Cardinals (38-18-1)
How Louisville got here:
After missing the tournament last season and starting this season unranked, Louisville has reclaimed its standing as one of the ACC’s premier teams. Winning the Atlantic Division, Louisville boasts series wins over Michigan, Notre Dame, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, and non-conference wins over TCU and Vanderbilt.
How Louisville wins this regional:
There aren’t many teams in the tournament with a better home standing than Louisville, especially factoring in recent postseasons. Louisville has advanced to the Super Regionals every time they have hosted a regional since 2013, and boast a 29-6 home record this season. This year’s team has been led by a well-rounded offense that is fifth in the ACC in batting average (.305), third in runs scored (495), fourth in slugging (.513), and third in walks forced (307). They also boast the most all-conference nominees from the ACC (8), including Dalton Rushing, who leads the team with 21 home runs and a 1.174 OPS (fifth in the ACC). Ben Metzinger (.300 batting, 11 doubles, 17 HR, 62 RBIs), Cameron Masterman (.285, 11 doubles, 14 HR, 52 RBIs), and Ben Bianco (.291 batting, 11 HRs, 49 RBIs) add some strong power up-and-down the lineup, with Jack Payton (.351) and Isaac Humphrey (.335) being consistent hitters in every game so far. Levi Usher leads the ACC with 33 stolen bases and won ACC Defensive Player of the Year this season, giving the team a dynamic contributor in ways outside of just hitting.
Louisville’s pitching hasn’t been up to the elite standards from previous seasons (5.29 ERA ranks tenth in the ACC), but they have quality arms at their disposal. Jared Poland has emerged as the clear-cut #1 starter for the Cardinals, boasting a 2.92 ERA and team-high 91 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched. If Louisville is holding onto a late lead, Michael Prosecky has been superb as the closer for Louisville, holding a team-low 2.84 ERA with ten saves this season. Tate Kuehner (6-3, 3.77 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) and Garrett Schmeltz (1-0, 4.05 ERA) are quality lefties in the lineup, while Ryan Hawks (5-2, 4.64 ERA) has been performing strong in the last 11 games as a righty from the bullpen.
Oregon Ducks (35-23)
How Oregon got here:
Oregon boasted a strong RPI (28th as of 5/30/22) in the Pac-12, one of college baseball’s toughest conferences. While they went 10-14 against Q1 opponents, they did get a very strong series win against #2 overall seed Stanford, and they hold two big non-conference wins against Gonzaga. Their 18-12 conference record placed the Ducks fourth in the Pac-12, only behind the #2 and #3 overall seeds (Stanford and Oregon State) and a quality UCLA team. Additionally, Oregon has been battle-tested out west, facing tournament teams such as San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and rival Oregon State.
How Oregon wins the regional:
Like Louisville, Oregon boasts an exceptional offense. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in batting average (.306), and are top three in slugging (.475), on-base percentage (.390), runs (423), and home runs (72). They are second-lowest in the Pac-12 in strikeouts (372), a very handy stat against Louisville (573 K’s, third in ACC), Michigan (506 K’s, fourth in Big Ten), and Southeast Missouri State (489 Ks, leads OVC).
The Ducks have five qualifying hitters averaging over .300 at the plate, including All-Pac 12 infielder John Kasevich (.303 batting, .800 OPS, eight doubles, seven HRs, 40 RBIs). Anthony Hall brings great power with a team-high 1.019 OPS and 14 home runs this season. Brennan Malone is another all-conference selection that adds power to the Ducks lineup, hitting .320 with 13 doubles, ten home runs, and a team-high 51 RBIs this season.
Oregon has a respectable 4.60 ERA as a team, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12. Jace Stoffal (1-2, 5.40 ERA) and Isaac Ayon (4-4, 5.51 ERA) look like possible starters for the weekend, but both allow over .250 batting at the plate. Their bullpen has some solid pieces that could help if Oregon gets into the elimination bracket, with guys like All Pac-12 reliever Kolby Somers (5-3, 2.90 ERA, nine saves) and Logan Mercado (6-2, 2.52 ERA) available.
Michigan Wolverines (32-26)
How Michigan got here:
Michigan represents the Big Ten as its conference tournament champion, having beaten Illinois, #15 Maryland, Iowa, and Rutgers to claim its tenth Big Ten conference tournament title. The Wolverines boast wins over tournament teams like Maryland and Wright State.
How Michigan wins this regional:
Every team in this regional has quality hitting, and Michigan is definitely not an exception. The Wolverines rank fifth in the Big Ten in batting (.284), and third in runs scored (467), slugging (.479), and walks forced (296). Clark Elliott earned first team All-Big Ten honors with an outstanding season at the plate, averaging .344 at the plate with a team-high 1.092 OPS, 14 home runs, and 66 RBIs. Five Michigan batters have hit double digit home runs this season, and as many as recorded 15 or more doubles (with two more, Matt Frey and Jack Van Remortel, hitting 13 and 11 doubles, respectively). Joe Stewart (.344 batting, 15 doubles, 12 home runs, 53 RBIs) adds another all-conference player in the outfield, and he’s an exceptional runner with a team-high 23 stolen bases.
Where Michigan will need to see improvement, though, is on the mound. Michigan is 12th out of 13 schools in the Big Ten in ERA (6.89) and batting average (.295). Chase Allen (7-2, 3.95 ERA) had an outstanding showing in the conference tournament, allowing just one earned run in three games. Willie Weiss (3-2, 5.29 ERA) and Avery Goldensoph (1-0, 7.89 ERA) have been solid in recent games, but Michigan will need stronger outings from the mound if they hope to make a repeat of their 2019 College World Series run.
Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (37-20)
How SE Missouri State got here:
The Redhawks represent the Ohio Valley Conference as its conference tournament champion, having beaten SIU-Edwardsville, Tennessee Tech, and #1-seed Belmont along the way. This is SEMO’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and their fifth conference title in program history. SEMO also got a big non-conference win at Ole Miss, and a season-opening series win over Dallas Baptist, both whom made the tournament.
How SEMO wins the regional:
While SEMO is averaging a respectable .272 at the plate, that figure ranks them second-worst among all OVC schools. However, they do rank third in runs scored (413), home runs (92), and walks (272).
Shortstop Tyler Wilber earned First-Team All-OVC honors with a monster season, batting .330 with 14 doubles, 18 home runs, and a team-high 73 RBIs. He and three other Redhawks (Andrew Keck, Javon Mason, Lincoln Andrews) have hit 10+ home runs this season, with Keck earning Second Team honors in the OVC. Brett Graber also earned Second Team honors with a stellar .329 average, 16 doubles, nine home runs and 44 RBIs.
SEMO does hold a 5.61 team ERA (third in OVC), but that number might be weighed more harshly compared to the Power Five schools surrounding the Redhawks in this regional. To the Redhawks credit, though, they also hold the second-lowest batting average allowed (.272), and all it could take to win the regional is one pitching staff to have a lights out showing.
Jason Rackers (6-3, 4.45 ERA) would be my guess as to who starts on Friday against Louisville. He earned All-OVC honors as well and has been the top starter for SEMO. Kyle Miller (8-4, 2.91 ERA, six saves) has been the best reliever as an All-OVC Second Team player, with Blake Cisneros (4-1, 2.67 ERA, 26 appearances), Hunter Ralls (3-2, 3.40 ERA) and Anthony Klein (2-0, 4.55 ERA, 20 appearances) providing quality depth in the bullpen.