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 capable of finishing their seasons in Omaha.
Florida State (40-7): The Seminoles had a 10-game winning streak snapped with an 8-5 loss to Maryland on Monday night but they continue to hold a commanding lead in the race for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Florida State’s magic number is two with weeks left in the regular season. The Seminoles won the opening games of the Maryland series to push their record to 12-0 in weekend series. What was impressive about their 10-3 and 9-2 wins was that they came against Maryland pitchers Jimmy Reed (1.83 ERA) and Michael Boyden (2.09 ERA). Reed, who hadn’t allowed a home run this season, gave up three to Florida State. The bottom three hitters in the Seminole lineup produced all eight of the runs Florida State scored off Boyden.
Baylor (38-8): The Bears clinched the Big 12 championship without playing a game as they took the week off for final exams. Baylor, 18-0 in league play, clinched the title when Texas lost to Missouri on Saturday. The Bears have league series remaining with Oklahoma and Texas. Baylor already is assured of finishing Big 12 play with a better conference winning percentage than 10 of the previous 15 league champions. The Bears need to go 4-2 to break Texas’ record for winning percentage in a season — the Longhorns went 24-3 in 2010. One more win will give Baylor its best winning percentage in league play, surpassing the 2000 team’s 23-7 record.
Louisiana State (38-11): The Tigers improved to 10-5 versus ranked teams by winning two of three at No. 24 Mississippi. LSU is tied for the Southeastern Conference lead with South Carolina with 16-8 league records, and the Tigers hold a four-game lead in the West Division over Arkansas and Mississippi State. Second baseman JaCoby Jones had a big series against Mississippi, going 5 of 12 (.417) with a double, a homer and seven RBIs to earn SEC player of the week honors. Jones had been dropped from the leadoff spot to No. 9 in the batting order but wound up hitting .500 for the week as he also went 2 for 2 in the midweek win over Tulane.
South Carolina (36-12): The Gamecocks won their sixth straight SEC series to move into a tie for the league lead with LSU. South Carolina won two of three games at Arkansas to improve to 16-8 after a 1-5 start in conference play. The series win was only South Carolina’s second ever in Fayetteville. How well are the Gamecocks playing? They fell behind 6-0 when Arkansas battered ace Michael Roth in the opener but rallied to pull out an 8-6 win. Grayson Greiner drove in four runs in the win, and the freshman catcher also threw out five runners attempting to steal in the series. After dropping the second game to the Razorbacks, South Carolina hit three homers and scored 10 runs in the final three innings of the third game to pull out a 10-7 victory.
Rice (33-13): The Owls bounced back from a series-opening loss to Houston that snapped a 16-game winning streak against their crosstown rivals to win the final two games. The series win was Rice’s 12th straight over Houston and moved the Owls into a first-place tie with Central Florida in the Conference-USA race. Rice evened the series with a 4-3, 10-inning win in the second game, then posted an 8-2 win in the finale that saw the Owls leave 15 men on base. Five of Rice’s runs in the final game came with two outs as the Owls went 7 of 14 after hitting .159 in two-out situations in their previous seven games.
Florida (35-13): After losing two of three at home to Arkansas, the Gators bounced back to win two of three at Kentucky to stay within two games of SEC leaders LSU and South Carolina. Florida won the opening game 5-3, scoring four times in the final two innings, and got a solid start from Karsten Whitson, who has battled arm problems all season, in a 5-1 win in the second game. In spite of the series win, the Gators have concerns with postseason play nearing. Closer Austin Maddox missed the Kentucky series with tendinitis, while the offense, which looked all-world good at the start of the season, continues to scuffle. Florida has allowed more than three runs in just three of its past 16 games but is 10-6 in those contests.
Oregon (34-14): The Ducks continue to build Omaha-worthy credentials just four seasons after George Horton resurrected the program. They improved to 12-4 against ranked opponents after winning the weekend series at Arizona. Oregon now leads the Pac 12 race by 1 ½ games, and have series wins against Arizona, UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State — the next four teams in the standings. The Ducks close the regular season with league series against Southern California and Oregon State. Oregon also plays Oregon State on Tuesday in the second game of the teams’ five-game Civil War. Oregon State won the first game 7-1 two weeks ago.
UCLA (31-13): The Bruins were three outs away from a series sweep of Purdue before the Boilermakers scored 10 times in the ninth inning to pull out a 15-11 victory. UCLA won the opening two games 5-1 and 3-2, and tacked on a nonconference win over Long Beach State to build some momentum for a tough stretch run that will see the Bruins play six of their final nine games on the road. UCLA trails Oregon by 2 ½ games in the Pac 12 race.