Play ball! Things to know about NCAA baseball regionals

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The NCAA baseball tournament opens Friday with play in 16 double-elimination regionals. Regional winners advance to best-of-three super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 19. Some of the top story lines:

WHO’S HOT

East Carolina (42-18) is on an 18-game win streak that’s the nation’s longest and one shy of the program and American Athletic Conference records. The Pirates own the dubious distinction of having the most NCAA Tournament appearances (31) without making a CWS.

At No. 8 overall, they earned their highest seed since 2001 and did it after losing top MLB pitching prospect Carson Whisenhunt to a season-long suspension and with weekend starter Jake Kuchmaner missing six weeks because of injury.

Stanford (41-14) carries a 16-game win streak into the tournament and VCU (40-18) has won 15 in a row.

WHO’S NOT

Arkansas (38-18), the No. 1 overall seed last year, has lost four straight. Vanderbilt (36-21), the 2021 national runner-up, has lost five of its last six. Virginia (38-17), which lost seven of eight during an April stretch, has dropped five of its last seven.

THE TOTAL PACKAGE

No. 1 overall seed Tennessee leads the nation with 141 homers, the most since Missouri State hit 144 in 1999, and their .604 slugging percentage is highest since College of Charleston’s .607 in 2008.

Tennessee’s 2.35 ERA is the best since Oregon State’s 1.93 in 2017, and Chase Dollander’s 0.72 walks and hits per nine innings is lowest since Nick Sandlin of Southern Mississippi had a 0.71 in 2018.

No team since UCLA in 2013 has gone through the tournament unbeaten. If the Volunteers (53-7) were to do that, and finish 63-7, they would be the sixth team all-time with a season winning percentage of .900 or better.

TOUGHEST REGIONAL

The Gainesville Regional stacks up as the toughest.

Florida (39-22) won four straight to reach the SEC Tournament championship game to put itself in position to host. Oklahoma (37-20) is the Big 12 Tournament champion after tying for second in the regular season.

Liberty (37-21) won two of three in Gainesville to open the season. Central Michigan (42-17) has the most wins among No. 4 regional seeds.

IVAN THE TERRIFIC

Big 12 player of the year Ivan Melendez has put up some of the best offensive numbers in Texas program history. The junior first baseman leads the nation in slugging (.903), is tied for first in home runs (29), is second in RBIs (87), fourth in on-base percentage (.522), and seventh in batting average (.406).

SONNY SHINES

Auburn’s Sonny DiChiara had no problem adjusting to the SEC after transferring from Samford. The senior first baseman is the conference co-player of the year, raised his batting average over 100 points to .379 and has hit 18 homers for the second straight year. His .556 on-base percentage ranks second nationally.

UNDER THE RADAR

Campbell’s Thomas Harrington will step into the national spotlight after dominating the Big South. The sophomore leads the nation with 11 wins, has a 1.72 ERA and has struck out 105 against 15 walks in 78 1/3 innings.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t start pitching until his junior year of high school and walked on at Campbell.

FAMILIAR FACES

Florida State, at 44 in a row, owns the longest active streak of NCAA appearances. Vanderbilt, at 16 straight, has the second-longest streak, followed by Florida (14). Texas is making its 61st appearance since 1947, most of any school.

FIRST-TIMERS

Two teams are in the field for the first time: Coppin State (MEAC) and Hofstra (CAA).

Coppin State (24-28) has been playing baseball since 1984 and has never had a winning record. The closest it’s come is 24-24 in 2019. Hofstra won four one-run games to win its conference tournament, including three walk-off victories.

CURSE OF THE 1 SEED

What’s become the annual word of warning, this year for Tennessee: The last No. 1 national seed to win the championship was Miami in 1999, the first year of the current tournament structure. Vanderbilt was a No. 2 seed when it won the title in 2019. The most recent No. 1 to reach the College World Series finals was Texas in 2009.

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