Philadelphia, PA – This holiday weekend there will be 22 different conference tournaments decided across the college baseball landscape. Championship series are on the docket from today until next Tuesday, with a slew of teams, from regular season champs like Florida State, to underdogs hoping to surprise like Mississippi State, all vying for their conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
However there are some teams that won't be looking at brackets at all this weekend. Though that's not to say they won't be looking forward to the NCAA Tournament.
The Big West, West Coast and Pac-12 Conferences will all wrap up the regular season this weekend and with no conference tournament for any of the three, it will be the winner of the regular season crown that earns an automatic bid to NCAA Regionals.
One of the major arguments against conference tournaments is that sometimes the perceived "best team" doesn't end up winning. This can be especially crushing to a team in a smaller conference whose only chance to advance to the postseason is to secure their conference title, such as what happened to Delaware State (41-17) in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this year.
Proponents of sending the regular season champ to the NCAA's over the conference tournament format will argue that no tournament makes the regular season mean more, and the last weekend more exciting as it doesn't decide seeding for a tournament, but rather an overall champion.
Heading into the final regular season series for the three western conferences, none has crowned a champion yet, meaning that the other various league tournaments will not have the only must-win games this weekend.
In the West Coast Conference, Pepperdine and San Diego are both deadlocked at 14-7 in conference play entering the final series of the regular season, which just so happens to match the pair.
Although these teams have played to a tie going into this final series and Pepperdine will host, San Diego comes in as the favorite. The Toreros have an RPI ranking of 20 this season, while reaching the top-50 in a number of statistical categories, including batting average (.316, seventh) and earned run average (3.21, 37th).
The Toreros also have the best player in this series in sophomore third basemen Kris Bryant, who has had a phenomenal season leading the WCC in home runs (14), slugging percentage (.687) and RBI (56), while also hitting at .369 clip.
Pepperdine will need to get elevated play from Joe Sever (.386, six HR, 50 RBI) and Zach Vincej (.346, 22 RBI, 18 doubles), it's two best offensive weapons, to stay in the game, as well as for a pitching staff with a team ERA of 3.66 to keep USD under control.
The key game in this series may just be the first one. Friday's matchup pits Pepperdine's best starter Jon Moscot (5-5, 3.25) versus San Diego's ace Paul Sewald (8-2, 2.71), with both teams clearly wanting to open the series in a positive way and put added pressure on their opponent.
In the Pac-12, a pair of nationally-ranked teams in Oregon and Arizona are still vying for the conference's automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Wildcats are currently one game back of the Ducks.
Unlike Pepperdine and San Diego, these two squads won't go head-to-head to decide things. Instead both will play in-state rivals with Oregon taking on Oregon State and Arizona facing Arizona State. Fans in Eugene and Tucson always want to get the best of the teams in Corvallis and Tempe, but this time around it won't just be state bragging rights on the line.
Despite not meeting this weekend, Oregon and Arizona's keys to success could not be more different as one team does it with pitching, and the other with offense.
On the year, Arizona has consistently hit well with the fourth best team batting average (.326) nationally thanks to a lineup that has six different players batting .350 or better. Left fielder Johnny Field is the team's leader at .374, and he comes into this weekend riding a 12-game hitting streak.
Oregon on the other hand can't claim the offensive firepower that the Wildcats do (team batting average of .266), but the Ducks haven't needed to score a ton of runs with their stellar pitching. As a team, Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is ranked 10th nationally in team ERA (2.89), powered by ace Alex Keudell (10-3, 1.80) who is the first Duck pitcher ever to reach 10 wins in a season.
Although both of those races are intriguing, the most interesting battle for conference supremacy comes from the Big West Conference where the renewal of a historic rivalry will determine who takes the crown.
Successful is just one way to describe the Big West baseball programs of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, and even that would be an understatement. Fierce would be the best word to define the rivalry between the two squads who have combined for 20 of the 34 total Big West titles in baseball.
Yet again this season the BWC's champion will be one of those two schools as the they square off in a weekend series beginning Friday, with just a game separating them in the standings.
Long Beach State enters play at 14-7 (27-25 overall), while Cal State Fullerton has the edge this season at 15-6 in conference play and is 33-18 overall. This will be the 11th time that the Dirtbags and Titans have finished the season one-two in the Big West standings, and the 15th time they will both finish in the top three.
In 2008, these two teams also met on the last weekend of the season with the conference title hanging in the balance. LBSU hopes to recreate the results of that memorable campaign when the 18th-ranked Dirtbags took two of three to take the series and the Big West crown from the sixth-ranked Titans.
Long Beach State knows how much it needs to win to keep it's season alive as the team's regular-season resume' certainly won't be enough to get it into Regionals.
The Dirtbags have been a team hovering around .500 most of the year, and what has kept a team batting just .259 overall (last in the Big West) from dropping far below that mark has been strong pitching. LBSU leads the Big West in team ERA (3.08), and its starters ERA alone is an exceptional 2.90.
It might seem as if the Dirtbags, at least from an offensive standpoint, won't be able to contend, but the team's overall offensive stats are a bit skewed by the nation's most difficult non-conference schedule. In Big West play, LBSU is batting a much more respectable .280, led by Brennan Metzger who leads all batters in Big West competition with a .416 average. Piling up hits is especially important for the Dirtbags' lineup, which lacks a great deal of power with team leader Juan Avila only launching a pair of home runs this season.
Fullerton also has a team that doesn't rely on a great deal of pop (eight home runs), but that hasn't stopped it from being a strong offensive team as the Titans produce runs at high rate thanks to a lineup that excels at getting on base. On the year, the Titans rank first in the Big West in on-base percentage, second in batting average (.282) and third in runs scored (233).
Offense alone doesn't get a team to 33 wins and a national ranking, as Fullerton can certainly attest. But laying claim to the second-best team ERA in the Big West (3.17) led by Grahamm Wiest (2.37 ERA in 75.0 innings pitched) certainly helps.
The game to watch in this series will be the finale on Sunday when Long Beach State sends ace Shawn Stuart (7-0, 2.21 ERA) to the hill to face Wiest in what could be a low-scoring affair with championship implications, assuming that the Dirtbags can win at least one of the first two games.
An educated prediction would probably have Oregon winning out the weekend, San Diego marching on, and Cal State Fullerton getting the wins it needs, but until the final out on Sunday, that's all speculation.
Who says not having a conference tournament is a bad thing?