OMAHA, Neb. — It’s not as if the Southeastern Conference needs validation in any sport. But setting the record for most teams from one conference in an NCAA baseball tournament understandably has the SEC puffing out its collective chest.
Of the 14 teams in the SEC, 10 will play in regionals beginning Friday. No league had previously put more than nine teams into the national tournament.
The accomplishment especially resonates at Florida, which is the No. 2 national seed behind Oregon State. Gators catcher Taylor Gushue has heard commentators say all season that his team doesn’t possess a lot of “wow factors.” Yet the Gators won the SEC regular-season championship and reached the conference tournament title game.
“Take 40 wins and the hardest schedule in the country to be your ‘wow factor,’” Gushue said Monday. “Just sitting there and being told there’s nothing special about you, it’s not the case. We’re good, and we’ll definitely show it.”
The SEC has produced nine national champions and seven runners-up since 1990, with South Carolina beating Florida in 2011 in all-SEC final and South Carolina and Mississippi State reaching the College World Series finals the last two years.
This year, eight SEC teams are among the top 17 in schedule strength. Only Kentucky ranks in the top 20 in scoring offense, but five SEC teams are in the top 20 in scoring defense.
Kentucky’s A.J. Reed leads the nation with 23 home runs and is third in RBIs with 70. LSU’s Aaron Nola is among the country’s most dominating pitchers.
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said he remembers hearing analysts say there was “nothing spectacular” about Mississippi State last year when it made its run to the College World Series finals.
“Every year you say that about an SEC team, it seems like,” he said. “There’s something they’re not particularly spectacular at in any facet of the game, but they end up doing a real good job in the postseason.”
LSU, at No. 8, is a national seed along with Florida. Three other SEC schools — Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — will host regionals.
Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be on the road for regionals.
“I’m not trying to toot our horn, but the reality is that you have to go through the gauntlet,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “When you play in this league, oftentimes you can get a wrong perspective of your own team because it’s so difficult to get through. I think you look at the teams that didn’t get in, and they very well could be in. There’s not a lot of difference between your 11th and 12th teams to the 1 and 2s.”
The six national seeds after Oregon State (42-12) and Florida (40-21) are, in order: Virginia, Indiana, Florida State, Louisiana-Lafayette, TCU and LSU.
Oregon State is the No. 1 seed for the first time after being No. 3 a year ago.
The tournament opens Friday with 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals. Best-of-three super regionals will be held next week, with those winners moving to the CWS in Omaha.
National seeds that win their regionals play at home in super regionals.
Oregon State starts the tournament against Summit League champion North Dakota State. UC Irvine and UNLV also are in the Corvallis, Oregon, regional.
Beavers coach Pat Casey said his team’s No. 1 seeding didn’t come with an easy path to Omaha. Barring an upset, the Beavers would be matched against Big 12 regular-season champion Oklahoma State in a super regional.
“I have no complaints,” Casey said. “It’s a tough job, trying to balance it out. You could take every regional, and everybody would have something to say.”
Miami coach Jim Morris isn’t pleased with the prospect of his ACC regular-season champion team having to play at Florida in a super regional. Though Farrell listed Rice and Vanderbilt as teams that were edged out for national seeds, Miami was in the running for one before it lost two of three in the ACC tournament.
“You never know the rhyme or reason for where you’re going to go,” Morris said on the ESPNU selection show. “It makes no sense to me, if we’re on the borderline, to be going to possibly the No. 2 seed.”
Florida will be challenged this weekend. It will be hosting the Big West’s second-place team in Long Beach State, a North Carolina squad with lots of postseason experience, and a 41-win College of Charleston team that’s the bottom seed in the regional.
“This is probably a regional we need,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We tend to play up to our competition or sometimes down to our competition.”