College Baseball: The Road to Omaha
The Miami Hurricanes (47-8), which regained the No. 1 spot in the final regular season Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and USA Today/ESPN polls released on Monday, were selected as the top seed for the 64-team NCAA Division I Baseball Championship that begins this Friday. Miami, making its 36th straight tournament appearance to extend its NCAA record, will host one of 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals.
In order, the other national seeds are North Carolina (46-12), Arizona State (45-11), Florida State (48-10), Cal State Fullerton (37-19), Rice (42-13), LSU (43-16-1) and Georgia (35-21-1). These teams automatically host a super regional if they advance past the first round.
Four Atlantic Coast Conference schools (Miami, North Carolina, Florida State, and North Carolina State) were chosen as regional hosts. The Big 12 (Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M) was second among conferences with three schools hosting four-team regionals, while the Big West (Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State), Pac-10 (Arizona State and Stanford), and Southeastern Conference (Georgia and LSU) each had two schools named as host sites. The other regional hosts are Coastal Carolina, Michigan, and Rice.
The SEC leads all conferences with nine teams, followed by the ACC and Big 12 with six apiece, the Pac-10 and Conference USA with five, and the Big West with four.
Two-time defending champion Oregon State was inexplicably left out of the field. The Beavers (28-24) failed to receive an at-large bid even though it won five series against teams in the 64-team field, including #1-seeds Arizona, Arizona State and Georgia, and #2-seeds Pepperdine and UCLA. OSU, the first defending champ to miss the tourney in 17 years, was robbed of the opportunity to win a third straight national title, a feat no school has achieved since USC won five in a row from 1970-1974.
In the meantime, Oklahoma (34-24 overall with a 9-17 record and an eighth place finish in the ten-team Big 12) was given an at-large berth. The Sooners did not win a single series against any of the 16 schools selected to host a regional and went 18-20 against the top 100 RPI teams, yet it received a #3 seed. Nonetheless, it is a slight that the Pac-10 and other baseball programs from the West have come to expect from a committee that has consistently favored schools in the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 for at least the past two decades. To wit, Oregon State was left on the outside looking in while Arizona was the only #1 seed not allowed to host and Cal was given a #3 seed (rather than a #2) in one of the toughest regionals in the field.
If the past is prologue, Miami will find the going difficult. Only one No. 1 overall seed has won the College World Series since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999 and that was none other than the Hurricanes in the first year of the new format. Meanwhile, no top-eight seed has won it all since Rice in 2003.
The winners of each regional will advance to the super regionals on June 6-9. The winners of the super regionals will comprise the eight spots in the College World Series, which starts Friday, June 14 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
Here is a sneak preview of the 16 regionals in order of the top eight national seeds (and their companion in the super regional), including regional seeds, season records, top prospects (as determined by Baseball America's rankings of draft-eligible collegians), key stats, and an overall tournament outlook.
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Coral Gables Regional
#1 Miami (Fla.) (47-8) vs. #4 Bethune-Cookman (36-20)
#2 Missouri (38-19) vs. #3 Ole Miss (37-24)
Top Prospects: RHP Aaron Crow, Missouri (#5); 1B Yonder Alonso, Miami (#12); 2B Jemile Weeks, Miami (#27); OF Dennis Raben, Miami (#34); RHP Cody Satterwhite, Mississippi (#77); RHP Carlos Gutierrez, Miami (#82); RHP Lance Lynn, Mississippi (#83); CF Blake Tekotte, Miami (#85); RHP Scott Bittle, Mississippi (#97); 3B Mark Sobolewski, Miami (#150).
Outlook: While Miami is the #1 national seed, you wouldn't know it by looking at the competition. Missouri, ranked 12th in the country by Baseball America, went 10-6 vs. Top 25 teams and is one of the toughest #2s in the entire field. Mississippi is a sleeper and even Bethune-Cookman is far from a pushover. Both Missouri and Ole Miss have the pitching talent and depth to pull an upset here. The Hurricanes, however, are the team to beat. They were ranked at or near the top of the polls all year long and enter the Regionals having emerged victorious over Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Virginia to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the first time since joining the league.
The Hurricanes have three players – Yonder Alonso (.380/.454/.799 with 21 HR), Jemile Weeks (.373/.454/.660), and Dennis Raben (.314/.426/.541) – who are likely to be chosen in either the first or supplemental round of the amateur draft next week. Freshman southpaw Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.44 with 97 SO and 14 BB) and junior righty Carlos Gutierrez (4-2, 2.92 with 11 SV and 60 SO in 40 IP) are the go-to starter and closer, respectively.
Ann Arbor Regional
#1 Arizona (38-17) vs. #4 Eastern Michigan (25-32)
#2 Michigan (45-12) vs. #3 Kentucky (42-17)
Top Prospects: RHP Ryan Perry, Arizona (#26); RHP Zach Putnam, Michigan (#50); LHP Daniel Schlereth, Arizona (#60); OF T.J. Steele, Arizona (#115); SS Jason Christian, Michigan (#117); RHP Scott Green, Kentucky (#118); OF Colin Cowgill, Kentucky (#194).
Outlook: This Regional is up for grabs. Arizona, playing outside of its region as the #1 seed, is a heavy favorite over Eastern Michigan in the opener. However, U of A is 25-5 at home and only 11-12 on the road this season. As such, beating Michigan on its home turf or even Kentucky will be a much more difficult task.
Kentucky's Chris Rusin (6-2, 2.85), a 6-2, 190-pound lefthander, is expected to face Michigan's Zach Putnam (8-0, 2.64), the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, in the opener. The Wildcats are led offensively by Sawyer Carroll (.416/.507/.756 with 16 HR) and Collin Cowgill (.359/.487/.687 with 18 HR), while senior 1B-C Nate Recknagel (.372/.466/.758 with 23 HR) headlines the Wolverines offense. Chris Fetter (10-1, 2.39), a 6-8, 230-pound junior RHP, gives Michigan the best 1-2 punch in the Regional.
The winner of the Coral Gables Regional will face the winner of the Ann Arbor Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 North Carolina (46-12) vs. #4 Mt. St. Mary's (21-32)
#2 UNC Wilmington (42-15-1) vs. #3 Elon (43-16)
Top Prospects: RHP Brad Holt, UNC Wilmington (#98); RHP Stephen Hensley, Elon (#157); C Tim Federowicz, North Carolina (#169).
Outlook: Three schools from North Carolina and a patsy from Maryland. Mount St. Mary's is in the tournament for the first time. The Mountaineers finished fourth in the Northeastern but received an automatic invite by virtue of beating regular-season champ Monmouth twice in the conference tourney. North Carolina, the #2 national seed, looks like a shoo-in to host a Super Regional the following week. The Tar Heels, which lost to Oregon State in the championship game in Omaha the past two years, are led by perhaps the best contingent of young players in the country, including four sophomores – RHP Alex White (8-3, 2.86 with 87 SO in 72.1 IP), 1B Dustin Ackley (.399/.497/.588), OF Tim Fedroff (.383/.448/.634), and INF Kyle Seager (.365/.426/.627) – and highly touted freshman righthander Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.50 with 71 SO in 57.2 IP). According to Baseball America, Harvey was "throwing heavy mid-90s heat, a hammer curveball and even some very good changeups" in the ACC tournament this past weekend.
#1 Coastal Carolina (47-12) vs. #4 Columbia (22-28)
#2 East Carolina (40-19) vs. #3 Alabama (34-26)
Top Prospects: RHP Pete Andrelczyk, Coastal Carolina (#150).
Outlook: While generally unknown outside of college baseball circles, Coastal Carolina won its second consecutive Big South tournament championship and ninth overall. Only one program (Florida State) won more games and just three schools (FSU, Arizona State, and Miami) lost fewer than Coastal Carolina this year. Although the Chanticleers don't play a particularly tough schedule, they were 2-1 vs. top 25 teams. East Carolina won 13 consecutive games in March, 7 straight in April, and had a 9-game streak halted in early May when it was swept by Tulane at home. Alabama, which finished second in the SEC West, has as good of a shot at winning this Regional as any #3 seed in the tournament. Meanwhile, Columbia is in the field for the first time since Lou Gehrig played there. Well, not quite. The Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 1976.
The winner of the Cary Regional will face the winner of the Conway Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Arizona State (45-11) vs. #4 Stony Brook (34-24)
#2 Vanderbilt (40-20) vs. #3 Oklahoma (34-24-1)
Top Prospects: 3B Pedro Alvarez, Vanderbilt (#1); 3B-1B Brett Wallace, Arizona State (#20); 1B Ike Davis, Arizona State (#30); SS-3B Ryan Flaherty, Vanderbilt (#68); C Petey Paramore, Arizona State (#114); RHP Brett Jacobsoen, Vanderbilt (#159).
Outlook: Arizona State, which was reportedly given consideration as the No. 1 overall seed, finished atop the Pac-10 and went 12-3 vs. top 25 teams. The offense is led by juniors Brett Wallace (.412/.527/.764 with 20 HR) and Ike Davis (.378/.451/.773 with 16 HR), while sophomore righthander Mike Leake (9-2, 3.18 with 94 SO and 16 BB in 104.2 IP) and senior reliever Tommy Rafferty (11-0 in 31 appearances) head the pitching staff. Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez (.312/.424/.591), projected as the No. 1 draft pick before the season began, missed several weeks with a hamate bone injury but returned in time to hit well in conference (.400/.481/.700). However, Vandy lacks the pitching to pose a serious threat in this Regional. Look for ASU to steamroll its way into the Super Regionals.
Long Beach Regional
#1 Long Beach State (37-19) vs. #4 Fresno State (37-27)
#2 San Diego (41-15) vs. #3 California (33-19-2)
Top Prospects: LHP Brian Matusz, San Diego (#2); RHP Tanner Scheppers, Fresno State (#10); 1B David Cooper, California (#31); RHP Tyson Ross, California (#35); 1B Shane Peterson, Long Beach State (#75); RHP Andrew Liebel, Long Beach State (#91); LHP Josh Romanski, San Diego (#110); RHP Vance Worley, Long Beach State (#121); SS Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State (#141); RHP Bryan Shaw, Long Beach State (#147).
Outlook: Four California teams hook up in what arguably may be the toughest Regional, top to bottom, in the country. Long Beach State received an automatic invite when it won the Big West championship by taking two of three from rival Cal State Fullerton during the final weekend of the season. The Dirtbags have a deep corps of pitchers, including two starters – senior Andrew Liebel (8-3, 1.81 with 92 SO and 17 BB in 109.2 IP) and junior Vance Worley (7-3, 4.41) – and one reliever – Bryan Shaw (2-1, 1.29 with 8 SV and 34 SO and 5 BB in 28 IP) – who will likely be taken in the top five rounds of next week's draft.
San Diego, ranked 7th in the country by Baseball America, should have received a No. 1 seed. The Toreros won the WCC regular season and conference tournament championships and beat fellow West Coast powers Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, and UCLA in non-conference tilts. There is no better pitcher in the country than Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.88 with 131 SO and 21 BB in 96 IP), and he is backed up capably by junior lefthander Josh Romanski (9-0, 3.76) and freshman righthander Kyle Blair (7-4, 4.12). Third baseman Victor Sanchez (.281/.357/.522), a freshman, slugged two home runs earlier this season in a mid-week game at Blair Field.
Cal is the sleeper in this Regional. Although the Bears have won only six of their last 15 games, they swept Long Beach State and took two of three from Arizona and Stanford, all of whom garnered #1 seeds. However, with a road record of 9-10, it remains to be seen whether Cal can beat the likes of Long Beach State, San Diego, and Fresno State away from home. If not for an injury to Fresno State's Tanner Scheppers (8-2, 2.93 with 109 SO in 70.2 IP), this Regional would undoubtedly offer the best overall pitching talent in the country.
The winner of the Tempe Regional will face the winner of the Long Beach Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Florida State (48-10) vs. #4 Bucknell (29-22-2)
#2 Florida (34-22) vs. #3 Tulane (37-20-1)
Top Prospects: C Buster Posey, Florida State (#4); RHP Shooter Hunt, Tulane (#11).
Outlook: Florida State, the #4 national seed, will be making its 31st consecutive appearance in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, including 29 straight under coach Mike Martin. The Seminoles are led by Buster Posey, who may go 1-1 in the First-Year Player Draft next week. The 6-2, 200-pound junior currently leads the nation in AVG (.471), OBP (.571), and SLG (.858). The catcher has thrown out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers while picking six runners off base. The hard-throwing righthander has also made eight appearances on the mound and is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities. He has struck out 10 batters and has not allowed a run in 7.1 innings of work.
Florida finished second in the SEC East but had a dismal record of 7-13 on the road. Look for Tulane to beat Florida in the opener if Shooter Hunt (9-3, 2.45 with 119 SO and only 49 H in 91.2 IP) is given the start. Bucknell, which earned an automatic bid by virtue of winning the Patriot League Championship, is a good bet to go two-and-out.
#1 Oklahoma State (42-16) vs. #4 Western Kentucky (33-25)
#2 Wichita State (44-15) vs. #3 Texas Christian (43-17)
Top Prospects: 3B Conor Gillaspie, Wichita State (#23); RHP Andrew Cashner, TCU (#24); SS-RHP Jordy Mercer, Oklahoma State (#64); RHP Aaron Shafer, Wichita State (#84); LHP Anthony Capra, Wichita State (#152); SS Dusty Coleman, Wichita State (#185).
Outlook: A strong case could be made that Oklahoma State deserved one of the national seeds. Ranked sixth by Baseball America, the Cowboys went 12-7 vs. top 25 teams, while sweeping Arizona and Texas and taking three of four from Nebraska. Oklahoma State's 26-4 record at home gives them the nod over highly competitive Wichita State and Texas Christian clubs. The Shockers are led offensively by junior Conor Gillaspie (.421/.506/.708) and the starting trio of Rob Musgrave (10-1, 1.96 with 92 SO and 18 BB in 96.2 IP), Anthony Capra (9-0, 2.47), and Aaron Shafer (10-3, 2.74). The Horned Frogs counter with sophomore RHP Tyler Lockwood (7-1, 2.21) and 6-foot-6, 180-pound reliever Andrew Cashner (8-3, 1.80 with 9 SV and 74 SO vs. 19 H in 50 IP), a fireballer who consistently hits 96-98 on the radar guns and possesses what Baseball America terms an "electric" slider.
The winner of the Tallahassee Regional will face the winner of the Stillwater Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Cal State Fullerton (37-19) vs. #4 Rider (29-26)
#2 UCLA (31-25) vs. #3 Virginia (38-21)
Top Prospects: LHP Tim Murphy, UCLA (#63); 2B David Adams, Virginia (#102); SS Brandon Crawford, UCLA (#134); RHP Jacob Thompson, Virginia (#161).
Outlook: Cal State Fullerton let the Big West title slip away last weekend but still earned a #5 national seed and the right to host a Regional, as well as a Super Regional if it can survive the likes of UCLA and Virginia this week. The Titans swept the Bruins this season, outscoring them 32-11 in three games. For its part, UCLA, which finished third in the Pac-10, nosed out Cal for a #2 seed when it shut out its conference rival on back-to-back days last weekend. Virginia may be the darkhouse, and it should be noted that the Cavaliers' 5-10 record on the road includes six losses to Miami and Florida State.
#1 Stanford (33-21-2) vs. #4 UC Davis (34-22)
#2 Pepperdine (36-19) vs. #3 Arkansas (34-22)
Top Prospects: C Jason Castro, Stanford (#21); RHP Brett Hunter, Pepperdine (#51); 3B Logan Forsythe, Arkansas (#76); OF Eric Thames, Pepperdine (#90); C Jake Jefferies, UC Davis (#133); RHP Justin Fitzgerald, UC Davis (#192); RHP Bryan Evans, UC Davis (#196).
Outlook: Three of the four schools are from California. It is the only Regional in which all four teams received at-large berths. Stanford and Pepperdine finished second in their conferences, while Arkansas placed fourth and UC Davis sixth. The Aggies will be making their inaugural appearance in the NCAA tournament. Arkansas is well rested, owing to the fact that the Razorbacks didn't make it into the eight-team SEC tournament last week. Yes, that's right, Arkansas finished ninth in its conference and yet earned a #3 seed. The best player in the Regional is Stanford's Jason Castro (.369/.418/.592 with 11 HR), who ranks as one of the premier catchers in college baseball and is a surefire bet to be taken in the first round of the upcomng draft. Meanwhile, Pepperdine's Brett Hunter (1-0, 3.68 in only 14.2 IP) has missed nearly all of the season with an arm injury. His draft status is a huge question mark at this stage.
The winner of the Fullerton Regional will face the winner of the Stanford Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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Houston (Rice) Regional
#1 Rice (42-13) vs. #4 Sam Houston State (37-23)
#2 Texas (37-20) vs. #3 St. John's (N.Y.) (41-14)
Top Prospects: RHP Bryan Price, Rice (#47); CF Jordan Danks, Texas (#86); LHP Scott Barnes, St. John's (#128); OF Kyle Russell, Texas (#153); LHP Cole St. Clair, Rice (#162).
Outlook: Three of the four schools call Texas home. Although Rice, the #6 national seed, went 0-2 in the Conference USA tournament, the Owls had won 10 straight and 22 of 23 prior to last week's debacle. Moreover, Rice is 11-3 vs. top 25 teams. Two of those losses were to Long Beach State in the opening series of the year and both defeats were by one run. After a disappointing campaign, Texas heads to Houston on a hot streak. The Longhorns have won 12 of its last 14 (including a 4-0 run vs. Texas A&M) and swept its three contests in the Big 12 conference championship last week. Freshman righthander Chance Ruffin (7-3, 2.04 ERA with 72 SO and only 47 H in 70.2 IP) heads the pitching staff. St. John's finished first in the Big East but got walloped in the conference tournament by Villanova and Seton Hall. Sam Houston State received an automatic invite by winning the Southland tourney.
College Station Regional
#1 Texas A&M (43-16) vs. #4 Illinois-Chicago (34-20)
#2 Dallas Baptist (37-17) vs. #3 Houston (39-22)
Top Prospects: RHP Kyle Thebeau, Texas A&M (#168); LHP Wes Musick, Houston (#177).
Outlook: This Regional looks like one of the weaker ones to me. Texas A&M, the host and #1 seed, was the regular-season Big 12 champ, yet it has lost eight of its last nine games. Dallas Baptist is the only Division I independent to make the field of 64 this year and will be making their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Houston won the Conference USA tourney in upset fashion after Rice got bumped in its first two games. Illinois-Chicago won the Horizon tournament and an automatic bid. This Regional is Texas A&M's to lose, and it should be viewed as a gift from the selection committee.
The winner of the Houston (Rice) Regional will face the winner of the College Station Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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Baton Rouge Regional
#1 LSU (43-16-1) vs. #4 Texas Southern (16-32)
#2 Southern Mississippi (40-20) vs. #3 New Orleans (42-19)
Top Prospects: 2B Johnny Glovatella, New Orleans (#127).
Outlook: Look for Lousiana State, the #7 national seed and the hottest team in the country with 20 consecutive wins heading into the Regional, to pummel Texas Southern in a matchup of Tigers and to face Southern Missisippi or New Orleans in the finals over the weekend. Texas Southern is one of the worst teams in the field. TSU, which only won a third of its games this season and finished 7-17 in the Southwestern Athletic, swept the conference tournament and earned an automatic bid. Prior to its strong finish, Texas Southern had lost 21 of 24 contests, including a stretch in which it was on the wrong end 11 games in a row. LSU is led by sophomore outfielder Blake Dean (.346/.425/.628 with 16 HR) and junior first baseman Matt Clark (.328/.426/.727 with 22 HR), a transfer from Riverside CC (CA) and the son of former major league pitcher Terry Clark.
#1 Nebraska (40-14-1) vs. #4 Eastern Illinois (27-28)
#2 UC Irvine (38-16) vs. #3 Oral Roberts (46-12)
Top Prospects: RHP Aaron Pribanic, Nebraska (#89); RHP Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine (#183).
Outlook: Nebraska enters the playoffs with a mixed record. While possessing fine overall and conference (17-9) marks, the Cornhuskers have lost five of their last six games, including 1-2 in pool play at the Big 12 tournament. Nonetheless, Nebraska (28-3-1 at home) is always tough in Lincoln and is a slight favorite over UC Irvine to capture the Regional. Senior Johnny Dorn (6-1, 2.38), a 6-3, 210-pound righthander, is the team's ace and may be saved to pitch game two against the winner of the UCI-Oral Roberts opener. The Anteaters and the Golden Eagles, on the other hand, won't be in a position to save their #1s for Nebraska. UCI's Scott Gorgen (10-3, 1.90 with 109 SO and 57 H in 104 IP) will likely face Oral Roberts' Jerry Sullivan (9-2, 3.61 with 104 SO and 23 BB in 99.2 IP) to earn the right to play Nebraska in the winner's bracket. Senior OF-DH Brian Van Kirk (.421/.509/.751 with 17 HR), a transfer from the University of Tennessee, just might be the best hitter in the Regional.
The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will face the winner of the Lincoln Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Georgia (35-21-1) vs. #4 Lipscomb (32-28)
#2 Georgia Tech (39-19) vs. #3 Louisville (41-19)
Top Prospects: SS Gordon Beckham, Georgia (#6); RHP Joshua Fields, Georgia (#18); 3B Chris Dominguez, Louisville (#119); OF Charlie Blackmon, Georgia Tech (#142); RHP Trevor Holder, Georgia (#148); LHP David Duncan, Georgia Tech (#151).
Outlook: While Lipscomb, making its first tournament appearance ever, and Louisville might argue otherwise, this Regional should come down to Georgia, the #8 national seed, and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have the home-field advantage but come into the weekend having lost four of their last five games, including an 0-2 showing in the SEC tournament. Georgia lost two of three to Georgia Tech during the season and were outscored 22-8. However, Georgia's Gordon Beckham (.394/.507/.798 with 23 HR and 17 SB) and Joshua Fields (2-2, 1.52 with 16 SV and 53 SO vs. only 9 H in 29.2 IP), both likely first rounders, could prove to be the difference makers in the battle of state supremacy.
#1 North Carolina State (38-20) vs. #4 James Madison (38-17)
#2 South Carolina (38-21) vs. #3 Charlotte (43-14)
Top Prospects: 1B Justin Smoak, South Carolina (#8); SS Reese Havens, South Carolina (#29); 3B-OF James Darnell, South Carolina (#58); RHP Clayton Shunick, North Carolina State (#170).
Outlook: North Carolina State finished second in the ACC Atlantic with an 18-11 record, then went 1-2 in pool play and was bounced from the conference tournament. Led by junior Clayton Shunick (7-5, 2.12 with 100 SO and 21 BB in 89.1 IP), the Wolfpack is 26-8 at home and figures to be a marginal favorite over South Carolina. The Gamecocks are spearheaded by juniors Justin Smoak (.377/.502/.745 with 21 HR), Reese Havens (.363/.490/.637 with 16 HR), and James Darnell (.310/.385/.584 with 18 HR). North Carolina Charlotte (Atlantic 10) and James Madison (Colonial) possess outstanding records but come from weak conferences and were automatic invites.
The winner of the Athens Rouge Regional will face the winner of the Raleigh Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.