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D1 Digest: Conference Champs & Mini Stock Report

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NEWLY MINTED CONFERENCE CHAMPS

A number of regular-season conference titles were clinched Friday, as many leagues have just one day left before conference tournaments. Here’s a rundown of some of the teams celebrating Saturday night:

Maryland blasted Purdue 18-7 to clinch its first regular-season conference title since 1971 (as a member of the ACC). The Terrapin offense is unconscious right now, averaging 12.7 runs per game over its last 16 contests. The Terps have scored in double digits 11 times in that 16-game span, and they’ve scored 12 or more runs in each of their last five games. Maryland is now 44-10 overall, 18-5 in the Big Ten, and No. 4 in the RPI. A top-eight national seed appears within its grasp.

• Southern Illinois split a doubleheader at Illinois State, but its 7-1 win in the rubber game secured the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the Salukis, who improved to 40-14 overall and 16-5 in the MVC. Evansville’s loss to Valparaiso later Friday made SIU the champion outright. SIU’s last regular-season title came in 1990. Hats off to coach Lance Rhodes for leading the Salukis to the top of the MVC in just his second season at the helm.

Belmont earned a wild 12-11 win over SIU Edwardsville on an RBI double from Mason Landers in the 11th inning. That victory clinched the Ohio Valley Conference title for the Bruins, who have at least a shot at an at-large bid with a No. 59 RPI.

Long Island clinched at least a share of its first Northeast Conference title in 22 years (and secured the No. 1 seed in the NEC tournament) when Wagner knocked off second-place Bryant on Friday. The Sharks have already set a Division I program record with 33 wins this season.

• Oregon State was knocked off by UCLA for the second straight day to fall to 19-10. Stanford won the head-to-head series in Corvallis, so even if they lose Saturday and OSU wins, Stanford will be the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament and has already clinched a share of the regular season crown. Stanford’s top-eight case has really picked up steam, and now a strong argument can be made that the Cardinal should be seeded even higher than the Beavers. Stay tuned.


NATIONAL SEED/HOST WATCH

Oklahoma is making a late run at hosting a regional, but suddenly the Sooners’ dark horse candidacy is looking mighty intriguing. Oklahoma clinched a huge road series at Texas Tech with a 9-6 victory Friday, moving OU up to No. 29 in the RPI and 15-8 in the Big 12, just a half-game behind first-place TCU. And Oklahoma won the head-to-head matchup against the Frogs, so OU would earn the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tourney if it can complete the sweep in Lubbock on Saturday. If that happens, Oklahoma will clearly be higher on the hosting pecking order than either TCU or Texas Tech, and possibly even Oklahoma State, which remains higher in the RPI currently but is lower in the standings. OSU did bounce back from Thursday’s loss to level its series at Baylor 11-5, and the rubber game is important for its hosting hopes. The Cowboys are currently tied with Texas Tech at 14-9 in the league, and OSU is 21 spots higher in the RPI, but Tech has the head-to-head advantage. Right now, if it comes down to those two teams for one hosting spot, it’s advantage Pokes, but they can’t afford to lose Saturday.

• In the ACC, Notre Dame and Virginia bolstered their hosting cases on Friday by leveling their key road series at Miami and Louisville, respectively. The Irish shut out the Hurricanes 5-0 behind a gem from Austin Temple (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R). Notre Dame (No. 12 in the RPI) improved to 16-10 in the ACC and moved percentage points ahead of 17-11-1 Louisville in the Atlantic Division race. Virginia rode homers from Jake Gelof, Devin Ortiz, Casey Saucke and Ethan Anderson to a 16-7 win against the Cardinals. Virginia is now 17-12 in the ACC and No. 13 in the RPI. The Cardinals, Irish and Cavaliers are all pretty bunched together in the ACC hosting candidate pack, so Saturday’s games will have plenty of significance.

Miami remains in solid hosting shape at 19-10 in the ACC and No. 9 in the RPI, but suddenly the regular-season crown is there for Virginia Tech’s taking. The Hokies beat Duke Friday to improve to 18-9 in the league, percentage points ahead of the Hurricanes. If VT completes the sweep, it will earn the top seed on the ACC tournament, and surely lock up a top-eight seed if it hasn’t already.

Florida State had serious hosting momentum a week ago; now its hosting chances are on life support. North Carolina clinched its home series against the Seminoles on Friday, dropping FSU to 15-14 in the ACC and No. 27 in the RPI. The ‘Noles will drop back out of our top 16 in our next projections, but if they can salvage Saturday’s series finale and make some noise in Charlotte, they still have a shot.

LSU clinched a massive road series at Vanderbilt with an 8-3 win Friday, as Dylan Crews continued to look like a superstar, homering twice to lead the LSU offense. A week after the Tigers tumbled down the host pecking order by getting swept at Ole Miss and falling into the 30s in the RPI, they’re suddenly right back in the hunt at 16-13 in the league and No. 24 in the RPI, with a chance to bolster their case more if they can complete the sweep. Vandy, meanwhile, remains No. 3 in the RPI but falls below .500 in the league at 14-15, and another loss Saturday would be a death knell for their hosting hopes, regardless of their RPI. As it is, even if they win Saturday they will need to win more games in Hoover than they lose in order to finish above .500 in SEC play, which is an unofficial requirement to host.

Florida now has a chance to pass Vandy in the pecking order. The Gators blanked South Carolina 8-0 to clinch the series and climb above .500 in the SEC at 15-14, quite a turnaround for a team that was just 6-12 a few weeks back. The Gators are also in good RPI shape at No. 15, and a sweep Saturday to earn a winning record in the SEC might be all they need to host.

Georgia has certainly fallen behind these other SEC hosting candidates, despite an RPI that remains in good shape at No. 14. The Bulldogs were blown out at home by Missouri for the second straight day, 10-3, dropping them to 14-15 in the SEC. Georgia needs to salvage Saturday’s series finale and make a serious run in Hoover to have a chance to host.

Arkansas remains a great test case for the committee, with a robust conference record but a poor RPI for a host candidate. The Hogs lost a back-and-forth affair at Alabama to fall to 18-11 and No. 31 in the RPI, but they can still win the SEC West with a victory tomorrow coupled with a Texas A&M loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels slugged their way past the Aggies on Friday to even the series and keep A&M tied with Arkansas. The Aggies remain in good shape to host but really need to win Saturday in order to boost their top-eight-seed ambitions.

Auburn split a doubleheader at Kentucky, dropping the first game 5-1 but winning Game Two 6-3, setting up a rubber game Saturday. No change in Auburn’s top-eight seed position; the Tigers are No. 5 in the RPI and 16-12 in the SEC, and they probably need to win Sunday to remain in top-eight-seed position.

UCLA, meanwhile, surely erased any questions about its at-large status by winning this big road series, regardless of its RPI. The Bruins are now 19-10 in the Pac, and if they win Saturday to complete the sweep then they will be the No. 2 seed in the conference tourney.

Oregon won the opener of its series against fellow regional club Arizona, 4-3. Keep an eye on the Ducks as a darkhorse hosting candidate; they’re up to No. 20 in the RPI, with a 17-12 record in the Pac-12, good enough for sole possession of fourth place behind Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA.

Southern Miss clinched an important series against Middle Tennessee with a 17-0 blowout Friday, bolstering its regional hosting ambitions. After losing six times in a nine-game stretch in late April/early May, Southern Miss has rebounded well, reeling off four straight wins against regional contenders UTSA and MTSU. At 40-14 overall, 22-7 in C-USA and No. 17 in the RPI, the Golden Eagles are back on track toward hosting, especially if they can complete the sweep Saturday.

• Sun Belt powers Texas State and Georgia Southern both clinched their respective series Friday to keep their hosting ambitions in good standing. The regular-season champion Bobcats took down Georgia State 5-4 on the road and climbed to No. 26 in the RPI, which is approaching host territory when coupled with a dominant 43-11 overall record and 25-4 mark in the SBC. And Georgia Southern blasted UT Arlington 18-9 to improve to 22-7 in the league with a No. 7 RPI. Will the committee place more value on Texas State’s regular-season title or Georgia Southern’s stronger RPI and head-to-head series win over the Bobcats? The conference tournament will surely play a role.

Dallas Baptist‘s hosting chances took a big blow — perhaps a decisive blow — with an 11-10 loss at Indiana State, as the Sycamores clinched the series. DBU’s RPI remains strong at No. 10, but the Patriots are now 4.5 games behind MVC champ Southern Illinois and three games behind second-place Evansville. A third-place Valley team so far behind the conference leader is not going to host a regional, regardless of its RPI.

• Here’s one that affects both the hosting race and the at-large bubble: Gonzaga won the first game of its crucial WCC showdown series at San Diego, 8-4. We have continued to project the Zags to host based in part on an expectation that their RPI would climb into the teens if they can win the USD series in this final weekend, but as of this writing Gonzaga remains at No. 26. But the Toreros’ at-large hopes took a hit, as they fell to No. 54 in the RPI and slipped to third place in the WCC, a game behind surging Portland (17-8).


BUBBLE WATCH

• Most of the ACC bubble teams have done what they needed to do this weekend to shore up their at-large hopes. North Carolina clinched its third straight series with a 10-4 win against Parker Messick and Florida State. At 14-15 in the ACC and No. 20 in the RPI, the Tar Heels now look like a no-doubt regional team. Likewise, Wake Forest (the first team out of our projections this week, based on an unfavorable final matchup on the road at NC State) effectively punched its ticket to regionals by clinching a series at NC State with Friday’s 6-2 victory. The Demon Deacons are now 14-14-1 in the league and No. 16 in the RPI. Georgia Tech also effectively secured its spot in the field of 64 by clinching a road series at Pittsburgh with a 19-3 blowout. The Yellow Jackets are now 14-15 in the ACC and No. 23 in the RPI.

Clemson was in our projected field this week based on our expectation that it would sweep last-place Boston College this weekend to get to 13-16 in the ACC, and so far the Tigers have taken care of business, winning the first two games of the series to improve to 12-16 while remaining in the top 30 of the RPI. Clemson needs to finish the sweep on Saturday and may still need to bolster its case in the ACC tournament, but it remains alive.

On the other side of the coin, Pittsburgh is in deep trouble at No. 68 in the RPI and 13-15 in the RPI. And NC State is probably still OK, but the Wolfpack has slid into precarious ground at No. 40 in the RPI, with a 14-14 mark in the ACC. Saturday’s series finale might wind up being a very big game for NC State, which needs to avoid a sweep.

Ole Miss can breathe easy after blowing out Texas A&M 14-6 to even the series. At 14-15 in the SEC and No. 34 in the RPI, the Rebels should cruise into regionals even if they don’t take Saturday’s rubber game.

• The two at-large contenders in the ASUN are facing off this weekend in Lynchburg, Va., and Kennesaw State clinched a massive road series victory with a 7-5 win at Liberty, giving its at-large hopes a huge jolt of life. The Owls are now one game ahead of the Flames with one game two go, but Liberty won two out of three at KSU back in April, so a Liberty win Saturday would result in a 3-3 split of the season series between the two teams. Kennesaw is back up nine spots to No. 43 in the RPI, and Liberty is right there at No. 44 as of this writing, so both teams are very much alive in the at-large race — and Sunday’s rubber game is very important for both.

• As Kendall Rogers wrote yesterday, Georgetown has been one of college baseball’s great (and unexpected) turnaround stories, and the Hoyas followed up Thursday’s win against Big East power Connecticut by clinching the series with a wild 14-13 win Friday. The Huskies scored five runs in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, but Nolan Matsko delivered a walk-off RBI double in the 10th for the Hoyas. Could 16th-ranked UConn be slipping onto the bubble? The Huskies already clinched the Big East title, but they’re just 45th in the RPI and have lost four of their last seven games. They need to rebound and play well in the conference tournament to generate some momentum heading into Selection Monday.

• A day after clinching its fourth straight Big South regular-season title, Campbell clinched its final series against Radford with a 14-7 victory. Every victory matters as Campbell tries to build an at-large resumé just in case it fails to capture the automatic bid; the Camels are 36-16 overall, 20-3 in the conference and No. 59 in the RPI. They’ve got a chance.

College of Charleston is in similar position as Campbell, having already wrapped up the regular-season title in the CAA. The Cougars are also trying to cobble together an at-large resumé, and they took a small hit with an 8-3 loss Friday against Towson, dropping CofC to No. 53 in the RPI.

• Friday was a mixed bag for the Conference USA bubble teams. Old Dominion helped its cause with an 11-4 win at Western Kentucky to clinch the series. ODU climbed to 18-11 in the league and No. 47 in the RPI. The Monarchs are essentially in a dead heat with UTSA, which also improved to 18-11 in C-USA and sits at No. 48 in the RPI after beating UAB 7-2.

Louisiana Tech also earned a key victory Friday, taking down Charlotte 8-3 on the road to level the series. The Bulldogs are a game ahead of the ODU-UTSA-FAU trio in the standings at 19-10, with a No. 52 RPI — in other words, it’s very difficult to separate all of these bubble teams, and every game will matter Sunday as well as in the conference tournament. And the 49ers are still in the at-large hunt too at 17-12 in C-USA and No. 71 in the RPI, but clearly their RPI disadvantage means they’ve still got more work to do than these others. For FAU at No. 93, it’s at-large or bust.

And as noted above, Middle Tennessee was blown out by Southern Miss 17-0, dealing MTSU’s at-large hopes a major blow. But like Charlotte, the Blue Raiders are still alive at 17-12 in the league with a No. 51 RPI. Avoiding a sweep on Sunday is critical.

• Michigan stormed from behind to beat Rutgers 9-7, and our man Shotgun Spratling pointed out that suddenly the Scarlet Knights might be sweating their at-large position a little bit.

Mercer‘s late-season swoon continued with a 5-1 loss at Samford, which clinched the series. The Bears have lost seven of their last 10 games to plunge to No. 54 in the RPI and 11-9 in the SoCon, dashing their at-large hopes. But SoCon regular-season champ Wofford remains in great at-large shape at 15-4-1 and No. 33 in the RPI following Friday’s 4-3 win at VMI.

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