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College World Series' slugging squads know the long ball only goes so far in Omaha

NCAA Duke Virginia Baseball
Posted at 11:50 AM, Jun 16, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The batting statistics for the eight College World Series teams suggest there will be home runs aplenty at Charles Schwab Field over the next 10 days.

Five of the top 10 home run-hitting squads are in Omaha, and so are individual national leaders Jac Caglianone of Florida and Wake Forest's Brock Wilken.

"Balls were flying today," Florida shortstop Josh Rivera said Thursday after batting practice. "We had Jac Caglianone hitting balls out of the stadium. It was really cool. All of us from a BP standpoint, we were seeing the balls fly."

Conditions were favorable during the teams' practice day with a light wind blowing out to left. The forecast calls for the wind to blow in from center when the CWS opens Friday.

"It was flying out to all parts of the field," Tennessee's Jared Dickey said. "We have some strong guys. If it plays like it did today, I think we're in a good spot."

Experience has taught TCU coach Kirk Saarloos it takes more than the ability to hit the long ball for a team to leave Omaha with a championship.

Saarloos pitched in two College World Series at hitter-friendly Rosenblatt Stadium, and he was a TCU assistant when the Horned Frogs played at Schwab during the college game's dead ball period of the early 2010s.

"You're going to face the best of the best on the mound," he said. "So you can't sit there and think that you're going to get your three-run home runs. You're going to have to run the bases and be aggressive and steal bases, maybe use the bunt game."

The CWS features four pitchers projected to be first-round draft picks next month in LSU's Paul Skenes, Tennessee's Chase Dollander, Wake Forest's Rhett Lowder and Florida's Hurston Waldrep.

"It gets tougher and tougher as you move on in the tournament because you are facing the best of the best pitching staffs," said Stanford coach David Esquer, whose team has had back-to-back 100-homer seasons. "We know that good pitching can stop good hitting a lot of times."

TCU (42-22) begins bracket play Friday against Oral Roberts (51-12), the first No. 4 regional seed since Stony Brook in 2012 to make the final eight of the NCAA Tournament. No. 2 national seed Florida (50-15) meets No. 7 Virginia (50-13) on Friday night.

Saturday's games match No. 1 Wake Forest (52-10) against No. 8 Stanford (44-18) and No. 5 LSU (48-15) against Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee (43-20).

LSU's home run production has been reminiscent of the prodigious numbers put up by Skip Bertman's teams of the 1990s. The Tigers' 133 homers are third most in program history and most for a team entering a CWS since the Tigers arrived in Omaha with 148 in 1998.

"This is the 'Gorilla Ball' program," coach Jay Johnson said. "I think about the teams that achieved those (numbers) that maybe this team is close to. Those are college baseball legends."

Florida and Wake Forest has 129 homers each, Tennessee has 125 and Stanford has 117. Florida's Caglianone has 31 and the Demon Deacons' Wilkens has 30.

There have been 28 homers hit each of the last two years at the CWS, the most since Schwab opened in 2011.

Wake Forest hit 19 homers in regionals and super regionals, led by Danny Corona's six. Deacons coach Tom Walter said he doesn't expect his team to rely on the home run here.

"I thought it carried a little better than I expected it to today," Walter said, "but we still have to, in general, live lower than we've been living. We certainly can't expect some of the home runs we've hit at our ballpark or other ballparks in the ACC. We definitely have to lower our ball flight."

Virginia comes in with the fewest homers (82), but it leads the nation in doubles (169) and batting average (.335). Coach Brian O'Connor said the expansive outfield could play to his team's advantage.

"I think the key is to stay in the gaps. It really is," O'Connor said. "Somebody told me this morning, and I didn't even realize it, that we were leading the country in doubles. That's a pretty important stat, I believe, in this ballpark."

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Oral Roberts' Jakob Hall (8-3, 3.56 ERA) vs. TCU's Kole Klecker (10-4, 3.84)

Virginia's Nick Parker (8-0, 3.81) vs. Florida's Brandon Sproat (8-3, 4.69)

Stanford's Quinn Mathews (10-4, 3.60) or Joey Dixon (7-0, 4.86) vs. Wake Forest's Rhett Lowder (15-0, 1.92).

Tennessee's Andrew Lindsey (3-3, 2.79) vs. LSU's Paul Skenes (12-7, 1.77).

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed.

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