The College World Series returns to TD Ameritrade Park on June 15. Each week until then, The World-Herald will take a look at eight teams that have a chance to end their seasons in Omaha.
Florida State (33-7): The Seminoles continue to run away with the Atlantic Coast Conference race, with a weekend sweep of Miami improving them to 19-2 in league play. Florida State’s sweep of Miami was its first since 2002. The Seminoles have their best record in league play since 1999, when they also started 19-2. After winning the first two games against Miami by 11-2 and 6-1 scores, Florida State claimed its sweep on Sheman Johnson’s 10th-ining, walk-off single that produced an 8-7 win. The single capped a big weekend for Johnson, who had six hits in the series. One cause for concern was seeing shortstop Justin Gonzalez, who homered twice in the opening win, leave Sunday’s win with a hamstring injury.
Kentucky (35-6): It’s not easy to take the attention away from a basketball program that won a national championship but the Wildcats are starting to get their due share of notice. Kentucky has the best record in the nation and its 13-5 mark in the Southeastern Conference after claiming two wins against Louisiana State. The Tigers won the opener before Kentucky came back to post 8-1 and 7-6 victories. The Wildcats already have won 10 more games than they did in going 25-30 last season, and the 35 victories already are the sixth-most in program history. The series-clinching win left Kentucky 12-3 in one-run games this season after it went 5-6 in similar contests in 2011.
Baylor (35-7): The Bears are another team that excels in tight spots as they have set Big 12 records by winning 24 straight games, including 18 in conference play. Baylor has won 13 of the 24 games by one or two runs, including 11 of the past 15. The Bears lead the league by 5 ½ games over second-place Texas after sweeping Texas A&M last weekend. Closer Max Garner became the first Baylor pitcher to record saves in all three games of a Big 12 series. The Bears, who have not lost since dropping a 5-4 decision to Texas-Arlington on March 16, are ranked No. 1 this week by Collegiate Baseball. It’s the first No. 1 ranking in program history.
Florida (31-9): The Gators won their second straight weekend series to stay in the race for the SEC title. Florida improved to 11-7 in conference play by winning two of three from Georgia. The first win came in dramatic fashion as the Gators scored an unearned run in the 16th inning of a 3-2 win. Mike Zunino hit his team-high 11th homer in helping Florida win Sunday’s final game of the series 6-3. The Gators are tied for the national lead in homers with 48. Austin Maddox is closing in on the school record for saves. Maddox, who posted five saves last season, is 11 for 11 in save opportunities this season and needs two to tie the school record held by Danny Wheeler and Josh Fogg.
Rice (30-12): The Owls had an eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a loss to East Carolina but are off to their best start after 42 games since 2009. Rice improved to 7-1-1 in weekend series by winning the first two games as Matthew Reckling threw a one-hitter in the opener. Reckling improved to 7-0 with a 1.44 ERA in the 2-0 win. The Owls won the second game 6-2 on Craig Manuel’s walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning. Pitching and defense are Rice’s strong suits as the Owls rank second in the nation in fielding percentage and are 26th in ERA. They also are second nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (9.1) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.8).
South Carolina (30-11): The Gamecocks got off to a rough start in SEC play, losing five of their first six games. Since then, they are 10-2 in league play, with a weekend sweep of Auburn running their SEC winning streak to eight. At 11-7, South Carolina is tied with Florida in the SEC East Division and tied for third in the overall standings. The Gamecocks got wins from starters Michael Roth (4-0), Jordan Montgomery (4-0) and Colby Holmes (6-0). Third baseman L.B.Dantzler led the offense that produced 29 hits and 28 runs against the Tigers. Dantzler went 5 for 13 and hit his seventh homer, tying Christian Walker for the team lead.
Stanford (25-10): The Cardinal ended its Pac 12 struggles with a sweep of Arizong State, scoring 17, 8 and 9 runs in the three wins. Stanford hit .381 in the sweep and got a monster series from freshman third baseman Alex Blandino, who went 9 for 16 with four homers and 11 RBIs. He was named Collegiate Baseball’s national player of the week. Blandio won Saturday’s game with a walk-off RBI single that produced an 8-7 win. The sweep of the Sun Devils was Stanford’s first since 1999. The three wins pushed Mark Marquess’ career total to 1,447 , fourth on college baseball’s all-time list.
Central Florida (34-8): The Knights have never played in Omaha but that could change this season. Central Florida swept back-to-back road series at Southern Mississippi and Tulane to maintain their one-game lead over Rice in the Conference-USA standings. The Knights are 12-3 in league play and are 10-0 in weekend series. Central Florida got some clutch pitching against Tulane as the Green Wave had 32 hits in the three games but the Knights pulled out 1-0, 8-7 (12 innings) and 8-6 wins. Central Florida earned a No. 7 ranking in Monday’s coaches poll, tying the highest rating in school history.