Gold: 5 Pac-12 takeaways from shocking NCAA Baseball Tournament reveal
First reaction: What?!?
Second reaction: Yikes.
Third reaction: I guess the Pac-12 Tournament matters a whole lot more than we thought.
The NCAA Baseball Tournament reveal on Monday was nothing short of a shocker for Pac-12 baseball fans, particularly the fans of Arizona, Arizona State and USC.
Arizona, which went just 12-18 in Pac-12 play yet advanced to the conference tournament title game with a 14-4, run-rule victory over Stanford on Friday, is in.
Arizona State, which went 16-13 in conference play and swept Arizona this season, is out.
USC, which finished with a better record than either — 34-23-1 overall and 17-13 in league play — is also out.
All three of those facts were stunning in and of themselves. Combined, and added to the fact that other west coast hopefuls like UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara were left out, makes one wonder if anyone on the selection committee lives west of the Mississippi.
Those are the big stunners.
Stanford getting the No. 8 overall seed despite a loss in the conference title game and a No. 15 RPI and Oregon getting a 2-seed while Washington got a 3 — those are smaller surprises.
Overall, it was one weird reveal.
Here’s a look at my 5 takeaways as 5 Pac-12 teams prepare for Regionals starting Friday …
Hale to the chief
Arizona baseball coach Chip Hale has been a bit maligned since getting the gig, as Wildcats fans had huge hopes, both for their former alum and in the week of the successful Jay Johnson era.
It’s fair to call the Wildcats’ performance under Hale thus far a bit underwhelming, at least until the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona headed just up the road to Scottsdale as the No. 8 seeded and defeated Arizona State, Oregon State and Stanford before falling to Oregon in a tight championship game.
As usual, the Cats were driven by their prodigious power, as Chase Davis and Kiki Romero continued their assault on opposing pitchers. But a pitching staff that ranks 8th in the conference in ERA stepped up to the plate — err, mound — with a 3-day stretch that rivaled any it’s had all year.
And now the Cats are going dancing. After their title game loss, Arizona was projected as 1 of the first few teams out, but it seems they weren’t even in the last few teams in.
They now head to Fayetteville, where they’ll have to contend with an imposing Arkansas squad, seeded 3rd overall, TCU and Santa Clara.
Stanford gets favorable draw
The odds look pretty good for a return visit to the College World Series for the Cardinal, who host what might as well be called the West Regional. Texas A&M, Cal State Fullerton and San Jose State join Stanford on its home dirt, and none is in the Cardinal’s class.
Even a potential Super Regional matchup with Miami isn’t too scary.
But a ton is riding on Stanford’s arms, especially Pac-12 pitcher of the year Quinn Mathews, who was roughed up by the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
If Mathews bounces back as the stud he is, the Cardinal could cruise back to Omaha.
One snub, two snub, red snub, redder snub
In a difficult Pac-12, which rinks among the tougher conferences in college baseball, getting to 17 conference wins used to mean something.
USC has to feel flummoxed after getting the cold shoulder from the selection committee, which deemed its No. 53 RPI unworthy.
The Trojans were ultimately done in by a 7-15 road record. Even a late-season sweep of fellow snub Arizona State wasn’t enough to convince the committee. Granted, USC probably doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt as a program after an extended run of futility, the likes of which the Trojans have never experienced on the diamond. USC was once one of the preeminent powers in college baseball but had fallen on rough times until this year, their best since 2015.
Arizona State, meanwhile, has to be kicking itself for its late-season swoon. The Sun Devils lost 10-of-14 games after Feb. 25, dooming themselves. Their RPI of 52 was also less than impressive.
Ducks get a bump
Winning the Pac-12 Tournament as a No. 6 seed turned out to be a big boon for the Ducks, who head to the Nashville Regional to square off with the likes of Vanderbilt, Eastern Illinois and Xavier.
The Commodores were seeded right around their No. 7 RPI as the No 6 overall seed, but Xavier (44 RPI) and Eastern Illinois (114 RPI)? Not a bad run for Oregon, which just finished a great run in Scottsdale.
The Ducks were left for dead after losing 5 straight, an age of nine earlier this month, but they won 6 straight to shoot up to a 2 seed.
Huskies trying to recapture the magic
First-year Washington coach Jason Kelly was the Huskies’ pitching coach and assistant head coach in 2018, the only time Washington advanced to the College World Series.
Once more it is the Huskies’ pitching that is leading the way, as Stu Flesland III, Grant Cunningham and Josh Emanuels each rank among league-leaders in ERA.
All 3 will be counted on in Stillwater, where Washington must contend with a field that includes Oklahoma State, Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist. The Huskies will be the road Dawgs in that crew, which could put a chip on their shoulders. Dallas Baptist might be the scariest squad in the bunch, as Dan Heefner has built the Patriots into a Conference-USA beast.