Parity reigned throughout the opening rounds of the College World Series 2018 NCAA baseball tournament, but even with challenges from new faces on the regional and super regional scenes, some of the sport’s perennial powers advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Defending champion Florida became the last of the eight teams to move on to Omaha on a walk-off home run against Auburn Monday night.
Texas is making its 36th College World Series appearance at TD Ameritrade Park, while North Carolina and Mississippi State both of whom have 10 or more appearances in Omaha—are back in the final eight for the first time since 2013.
Two-time champion Oregon State starts the College World Series with a rematch of the 2006 and 2007 championship series against North Carolina.
Arkansas is making its ninth College World Series appearance and first since 2015 after knocking off South Carolina in the super regional round.
Texas Tech might not carry the history of the other programs, but it has experienced recent success, as this year marks the third time in five years the Red Raiders are playing in Omaha.
Joining the experienced bunch is first-time participant Washington, which knocked off Cal State Fullerton to move on to Omaha.
All Times ET
Saturday, June 16
Oregon State vs. North Carolina (3 p.m., ESPN)
Washington vs. Mississippi State (8 p.m., ESPN)
Sunday, June 17
Arkansas vs. Texas (2 p.m., ESPN)
Florida vs. Texas Tech (7 p.m., ESPN2)
Monday, June 18
Oregon State/North Carolina loser vs. Washington/Mississippi State loser (2 p.m., ESPN)
Oregon State/North Carolina winner vs. Washington/Mississippi State winner (7 p.m., ESPN)
Tuesday, June 19
Arkansas/Texas loser vs. Florida/Texas Tech loser (2 p.m., ESPN)
Arkansas/Texas winner vs. Florida/Texas Tech winner (7 p.m., ESPN)
Wednesday, June 20
TBD vs. TBD (7 p.m. ESPN)
Thursday, June 21
TBD vs. TBD (8 p.m., ESPNU)
Friday, June 22
TBD vs. TBD (3 p.m., ESPN)
TBD vs. TBD (8 p.m., ESPN)
Saturday, June 23 (Games if necessary)
TBD vs. TBD (TBA, ESPN)
TBD vs. TBD (TBA, ESPN)
Monday, June 25
Championship Series Game 1 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Tuesday, June 26
Championship Series Game 2 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Wednesday, June 27 (if necessary)
Championship Series Game 3 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Games can be live-streamed on Watch ESPN or ESPN app.
Florida, Oregon State On Collision Course For Championship Series
Florida and Oregon State are arguably the two best teams in the field of eight heading to Omaha, and one of the main reasons to believe that is the wealth of future MLB players on their rosters.
The champion Gators have two first-round picks in third baseman Jonathan India, who was drafted No. 5 overall by the Cincinnati Reds, and pitcher Brady Singer, who went 18th overall to Kansas City.
Oregon State second baeman Nick Madrigal was taken fourth by the Chicago White Sox and outfielder Trevor Larnach went 20th to the Minnesota Twins.
In addition to the pair of true first-rounders, each team had a player selected in the compensatory round after the opening 30 picks.
Florida pitcher Jackson Kowar went 33rd to the Royals, while Oregon State shortstop Cadyn Grenier was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles at No. 37.
The Gators entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the D1Baseball.com Top 25, while the Beavers were right behind them at No. 2.
Only two teams beneath the Gators and Beavers in the top 10, No. 5 North Carolina and No. 8 Arkansas, advanced to Omaha.
Oregon State, which boasts the third-best offense in college baseball, is undefeated in the postseason after taking two games from LSU and Minnesota, as well as finishing off Northwestern State in the tournament opener.
The Beavers also possess the best staff ERA of the eight remaining teams in the tournament, while Florida is third behind Arkansas.
Florida enters Omaha with plenty of experience from a year ago, and as one of the most battle-tested programs this postseason, as it was forced to bounce back from losses to Florida Atlantic and Auburn to move on from the last two weekends of play.
Both teams face tough tests in their respective openers, but given how much they’ve thrived this season, it’s hard to pick against them.
SEC Looking To Continue Dominance in Omaha
Florida’s victory a year ago marked the fourth College World Series title for an SEC team since 2010.
In the same stretch, a program from the SEC made the championship series in all but one year with Coastal Carolina’s win over Arizona in 2016 being the lone exception.
Florida and LSU made up for the conference’s absence in 2016 by squaring off for the championship in 2017.
Three of the eight participants in this year’s field come from the SEC, with each of them possessing a chance to win their openers.
Mississippi State comes into the tournament off upset wins over Florida State and Vanderbilt, and it faced adversity from the start of the postseason after losing 20-10 to Oklahoma at the Tallahassee regional.
Just like Mississippi State and Florida, Arkansas knocked off a conference foe in South Carolina to make it to Omaha.
The Razorbacks faced a less difficult path than the Bulldogs, as they played all of their six tournament games at home.
If each SEC team wins Saturday and Sunday, Florida would play Arkansas with the opportunity to get one step from the championship series on the line, while Mississippi State would face the winner of the Oregon State-North Carolina clash.
If Florida and Arkansas win their openers, the SEC is effectively guaranteed to have a finalist since the loser of the potential clash between the Gators and Razorbacks would have a chance to crawl back into contention through the loser’s bracket.
Even if the SEC just gets one team into the championship series, it will be seen as a success for the conference, and given the opportunities in front of them in Omaha, it’s hard to see all three SEC teams being knocked out before June 25.