With just a week left in the college baseball regular season, positioning for conference tournaments and seeding for the NCAA tournament are starting to come into focus. In the latest projections for the NCAA Tournament, the top-8 National Seeds include: LSU, UCLA, Texas A&M, Louisville, Illinois, Vanderbilt, Florida State, and Dallas Baptist.
For much of the spring, the weather has been a challenge in the Midwest. But on Sunday, it appeared as if a giant wind tunnel was blowing out across the entire Midwestern area. In South Bend, IN and Champaign, IL a combined 18 home runs were hit on Sunday alone. How is that for offensive production? Among the barrage of big flies, grand slams were hit along with an exciting walk off home run. On this day, moms dug the long ball.
Lately, it is hard not to mention the Illinois Fighting Illini as their magical season continues. Illinois is in the process of having their best season in school history. Currently, they have a 24-game winning streak which is the longest active streak in the nation and tied for the longest such streak this year. On Sunday, the Fighting Illini put up 28 runs and gave their new scoreboard a workout.
Illinois swept Rutgers and are closing in on a Big 10 regular season championship. The Illini also continue to sport two of the top pitchers in the country in ERA with Kevin Duchene and Tyler Jay. All season long Illinois has won with pitching as well as hitting. On this day, it was certainly the offense that stepped up led by Reid Roper’s two home runs and six RBIs, and Jason Goldstein’s 5-5 day and four RBIs.
Just a jet stream away, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish capped off a sweep of the no. 20 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in dramatic fashion. Like Illinois, Notre Dame swept a Saturday double-header and brought the home run sticks to the park on Sunday. It was not easy for the Irish as they were down 6-0 in a flash against one of the better pitchers in the country in the Tar Heels Benton Moss. The senior right-hander is climbing up the school’s all-time strikeout list for pitchers, and entered the game 7-0 this season with a stellar ERA. However, the winds and the Irish bats got the best of him on this day leading to a no decision.
It was the second huge home sweep of an ACC powerhouse by the Irish this year as earlier they took down Florida State as well. In mounting the comeback, home runs were hit by Robert Youngdahl, Cavan Biggio, and two by Zak Kutsulis. The final walk-off blast was by pinch hitter Kyle Richardson for his first career home run. Ironically, it is also the second year in a row that Notre Dame has won their final home game of the season on walk off fashion.
Illinois, Notre Dame, and North Carolina are all safely projected into the NCAA tournament field. This year, the Illini have shed the Midwest stereotype as they have been among the top teams in the country all season long competing for a National seed. The series between the Irish and Tar Heels might just play a big factor in seeding purposes not only for the ACC tournament, but for the big bracket as well. Do not be surprised if the Irish have a surprise run in them much like the basketball team did over the winter. On this day, score one for the “Fighting” Midwest in epic long ball fashion.