Play ball: Things to know about NCAA super regionals

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Super regionals are the next stop on the NCAA baseball tournament’s Road to Omaha.
Four of the best-of-three series are Friday through Sunday: North Carolina State (33-17) at Arkansas (49-11), Stanford (36-15) at Texas Tech (39-15), Mississippi (44-20) at Arizona (43-15) and East Carolina (44-15) at Vanderbilt (43-15).
The four series Saturday through Monday: South Florida (31-28) at Texas (45-15), Notre Dame (33-11) at Mississippi State (43-15), Dallas Baptist (40-16) vs. Virginia (33-24) at Columbia, South Carolina, and LSU (38-23) at Tennessee (48-16).
The eight winners advance to the College World Series in Omaha starting June 19.
South Florida has emerged as the tournament’s lovable underdog, but LSU is the sentimental favorite of many fans for as long as the Tigers keep going. Their coach, active career wins leader Paul Mainieri, announced before the tournament he will retire after this season.
LSU had to win four of its last five SEC series to get an at-large bid as a No. 3 regional seed, and the Tigers beat Oregon twice in two days to advance.
Now it’s on to SEC rival Tennessee. The Volunteers swept the Tigers in Knoxville in March, beating them in walk-off fashion twice, and are the final obstacle between Mainieri and his sixth CWS appearance since 2008.
Home runs are up through the first weekend of the tournament. A total of 313 were hit in 103 games, an average of 3.04 per game. That’s up 17% from 2019 regionals — there was no tournament in 2020 because of the pandemic — when there were 243 homers hit in 94 games, or 2.59 per game.
The 313 homers were the most in regionals since at least 2005, according to the NCAA.
Mississippi State’s five straight super regional appearances lead the nation. Vanderbilt, the 2019 national champion, and Arkansas are in supers a fourth time in a row and Texas Tech is in a third straight.
LSU and Texas have the top two winning percentages in super regional play among teams with a minimum of 25 games. The Tigers are 114-36 (.760) and the Longhorns are 154-59 (.723).
North Carolina State, which won three straight as the No. 2 regional seed at Ruston, Louisiana, heads to No. 1 national seed Arkansas with the best road record in the nation. The Wolfpack are 17-3 (.850) in true road games and have won six straight as the visitor. Arkansas is 29-6 in Fayetteville.
Notre Dame batted a tournament-best .405 in regionals with 15 home runs and outscored three opponents 50-5. Irish first baseman Nick Kavadas hit five homers, including a grand slam, batted .600, slugged 2.100, had an on-base percentage of .750 after getting walked six times and drove in 13 runs.
Texas allowed four earned runs in 27 innings in regionals for a tournament-best 1.33 ERA. Notre Dame (1.67) and Texas Tech (1.67) have the other sub-2.00 ERAs. Mississippi State is averaging 14 strikeouts per nine innings.
SEC pitcher of the year Kevin Kopps of Arkansas carried the heaviest load, allowing no runs in 13 1/3 innings over three games. He threw 185 pitches, allowed six hits, walked none and struck out 15.
Stanford’s Brendan Beck has a 1.69 ERA over his last four outings spanning 32 innings, allowing six runs on 17 hits with four walks and 40 strikeouts.
All of Virginia’s players are first-timers in the NCAA Tournament, and the Cavaliers, aka the “Wahoos,” are in super regionals for the first time since 2015.
Coach Brian O’Connor has taken seven of his 18 teams to supers. This one made it as a No. 3 regional seed, and it had to beat Old Dominion twice to advance, the second win coming on Devin Ortiz’s 10th-inning walk-off homer Monday.
“They’re all special,” O’Connor said. “This one’s just incredibly special.”
Dallas Baptist, 10 years removed from its only other super regional appearance, is the only remaining team that’s won at least 40 games seven straight years.
Drew Gilbert, whose grand slam gave Tennessee a 9-8 walk—off win over Wright State in its regional opener, has homered in three straight games.
LSU fans will remember it was Gilbert who hit the 11th-inning home run that gave the Volunteers their 9-8 walk-off win over the Tigers on March 28.
Vanderbilt will face a tall task against East Carolina ace Gavin Williams. The 6-foot-6, 238-pound junior is 10-0 with a 1.82 ERA and has struck out 117 in 74 innings.
Williams has allowed just three earned runs in 25 innings in five road appearances this season (1.08 ERA).
“Looks like Paul Bunyan and throws the ball 97 mph and doesn’t back off. I mean, he holds his velocity,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “We haven’t seen a lot of pitchers that hold their velocity that long. He’s a freak.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed.