The 2012 College World Series bracket in Omaha, Neb., is all set after a thrilling series of games on Monday afternoon and night. What are some of the story lines we should be following when play begins on Friday, June 15?
South Carolina and the Pursuit of a Three-peat
The South Carolina Gamecocks head to Omaha with back-to-back national championship victories in 2010 and 2011. Is a third one ready to happen in 2012? The Gamecocks (45-17) went 3-0 in the Columbia, S.C. regional by defeating Manhattan (7-0) and Clemson twice (5-4, 4-3). They stayed in Columbia for the Super Regional against the Oklahoma Sooners. They won Game 1, 5-0, and then need two days to complete Game 2, which they won, 5-1.
The Gamecocks are led by ace pitcher Michael Roth (7-1, 2.50 ERA), first baseman Christian Walker (.308 BA, 11 HR) and left fielder Tanner English (.311 BA). They will take a 21-postseason-game winning streak and an 11-game winning streak in the College World Series to Omaha. This experienced team should certainly haunt the rest of the field.
Stony Brook and the No. 4 Seed
The Stony Brook Seawolves (52-13) were given a No. 4 seed during regional play, making them the equivalent of a No. 13 seed or lower in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They took that and ran with it all the way to Omaha. They upset the No. 1 seed Miami Hurricanes in Coral Gables, Fla., lost to Central Florida, defeated Missouri State in the loser's bracket and then won two straight games against Central Florida to advance to the Super Regionals.
They traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to face the LSU Tigers in the Super Regional round, where they had to play in Alex Box Stadium, one of the toughest places to go on to the road and win. Game 1 was an epic struggle in which there was a punch-counter punch from innings 9-11. The game was tied at 4-4 before the start of the 12th inning, just as rain forced the completion of the game to Saturday morning. LSU won that game, 5-4.
Stony Brook bounced back with a 3-1 victory on Saturday afternoon, led by a complete game effort from Tyler Johnson. That put them one win away from heading to the College World Series, where just one No. 4 seed has reached before (the Fresno St. Bulldogs that won it all in 2008).
On Sunday night, Frankie Vanderka threw his own complete game in a 7-2 victory to pull off the shocking upset. They became the first America East team to advance to Omaha. Can this program keep making its run and pull off the nigh impossible?
Kent St. Does the MAC Proud
The Mid-American Conference has had a lengthy drought in putting a team in Omaha -- Eastern Michigan in 1976 -- but the Kent St. Golden Flashes ended that on Monday night with a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Oregon Ducks, a team that hadn't been to Omaha since 1954 (and, in 1981, had its baseball program dropped to the club level before returning in 2009). A Jimmy Rider double and the glaring sun in the eyes of left fielder Brett Thomas gave the ninth-inning victory to the Golden Flashes.
It wasn't easy at all for Kent St. to get there. It opened regional play as a No. 3 seed against the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats in Gary, Ind., and needed 21 innings for a 7-6 victory. They then beat No. 1 seed and host Purdue, 7-3. A rematch against Kentucky resulted in a 3-2 victory and a spot in the Super Regionals.
Kent St. held off a late rally by Oregon in Game 1 for the 7-6 victory, but Game 2 saw some shoddy defense lead to a 3-2 defeat. In Game 3, Kent St. did suffer another late collapse, but that resulted in a tie game in the eighth inning. That allowed for the dramatics we saw in the bottom of the ninth.
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To have not only a No. 3 and No. 4 in the College World Series but also for those teams to be from the North is quite the accomplishment. While it might be too much to make anything of this immediately, it certainly does give hope to other teams in the North that they can produce winners and make it to Omaha.
The College World Series begins on Friday, June 15, and will last until June 25 or June 26, depending on a possible Game 3 in the championship series. Who do you winning college baseball's ultimate prize?