June 6, 2014 10:48:42 AM
The Southeastern Conference was roughed up in the first weekend of the NCAA baseball tournament.
Less than a week after a record-setting 10 SEC teams were invited to the 64-team bracket, eight of them are gone. Only Vanderbilt and Ole Miss remain entering the NCAA tournament Super Regional round this weekend.
For Ole Miss (44-18), it is a chance to get back to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, for the fifth time, and first since 1972. The Rebels played host to Super Regionals in 2005, 2006, and 2009.
To accomplish its goal, No. 12 Ole Miss will have to beat the No. 1 team in the nation and the No. 6 overall national seed. Louisiana-Lafayette (57-8) defeated Mississippi State 5-3 Monday to reach the Super Regionals for the first time since its last and only College World Series appearance in 2000. ULL will play host to Game 1 of the best-of-three series at 7 p.m. (ESPN2) at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field.
Junior right-hander Chris Ellis (10-1, 2.16 ERA) is scheduled to start for Ole Miss. ULL hadn't named a starting pitcher at press time.
Ellis was named one of 21 semifinalists, and three players from the Southeastern Conference, for the Golden Spikes Award. He has 10 quality starts this season, including two shutouts and two complete-games.
The Rebels and Ragin' Cajuns have faced off three times. The first time was in the 1968 season in a tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The last meeting was in 1997 in Oxford.
The winner of this series will advance to the College World Series, which starts June 14.
Florida, the No. 2 national seed, was one of the teams that was projected to have a strong shot to advance to Omaha, but losses to College of Charleston and North Carolina at the Gainesville Regional sent the Gators home.
Perennial powers LSU and South Carolina also are out of the running much earlier than usual.
The Tigers appeared in control of the Baton Rouge Regional before losing two straight to Houston. The Gamecocks -- who won back-to-back College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011 -- lost twice to upstart Maryland.
"To be honest with you," said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan after Saturday's final loss. "I didn't see it coming."
O'Sullivan's comments were directed at his Gators, but the same could be said for the entire league.
The SEC is usually a mainstay deep into college baseball's postseason. It's produced nine national champions and seven runners-up since 1990. There has been at least one SEC team in every CWS since 1992.
Now that streak is in jeopardy. Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have been solid programs over the past 10 to 15 years, but have combined for just one CWS appearance in the last 42 years.
Vanderbilt (44-18) will play host to Stanford (34-24) in the Super Regionals this weekend. Coach Tim Corbin has built a powerhouse at Vanderbilt over the past decade, taking the Commodores to the CWS for the first time in 2011. They've advanced to the NCAA postseason nine straight seasons.
Vanderbilt faced Stanford earlier this season, sweeping a three-game series at home during non-conference play. The Commodores also have ace right-hander Tyler Beede, who could be a first-round selection in this week's Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Ole Miss also is a regular in the NCAA tournament. Coach Mike Bianco has taken Ole Miss to the Super Regional round four times in 14 years, but lost to Texas in 2005, Miami in 2006, Arizona State in 2007, and Virginia in 2009.
Ellis said those previous close calls don't add any anxiety for this year's team.
"I don't think any of the guys are feeling pressure or anything like that," Ellis said. "We're going to go down there, be us and let the chips fall where they may."
The overall lack of success in the SEC so far this postseason isn't a complete surprise.
Though there were several good teams -- few were great. Even the Gators, which won the SEC with a 21-9 league record, had a pedestrian 6-6 stretch during non-conference play.
South Carolina, in particular, struggled with injuries and was never quite able to match preseason expectations.
"That was a good season, but good is not good enough around here," South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said after Sunday's loss. "I understand that. We have to do better than good, and that's going to be the attitude as long as I'm the coach."
The SEC's troubles are part of the reason the Super Regional round -- which has 16 teams -- includes unfamiliar names like Kennesaw State, College of Charleston, Maryland and Texas Tech. Five of the top eight national seeds have already been eliminated, including No. 1 Oregon State.
Reports by The Associated Press werre included in this story.