College baseball's regular season is rounding third and heading for home, and while many teams will spend the next three weeks jockeying for position in the NCAA tournament, five have shown they are a cut above the rest.
North Carolina (41-4), Vanderbilt (39-6), LSU (39-6), Virginia (38-8) and Oregon State (34-8) look to be locks for national seeds. There are eight of those coveted seeds, and Cal State Fullerton (36-7), North Carolina State (34-11), Florida State (35-9), South Carolina (33-12) and Oregon (33-10) are in the running for the last three.
While teams like the Tar Heels and Commodores have done what was expected of them since January, there have been some big disappointments.
Stanford (23-15), led by star pitcher Mark Appel, is in danger of being on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament field is announced May 27. Texas (22-20) is alone in last place in the Big 12 and must win the conference tournament to avoid missing the NCAAs for the second straight year. TCU (20-23), picked to challenge Oklahoma for Big 12 supremacy, is under .500 because of a maddeningly impotent offense.
A look at the national scene heading into May:
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Virginia is the runaway winner in this category. Picked third in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division, the Cavaliers are enjoying the fruits of 10th-year coach Brian O'Connor's masterful makeover after losing two weekend starters, the anchor of its bullpen and three starting infielders.
Scott Silverstein is the only returnee from the 2012 weekend rotation, and he's 7-1 after going 2-5. Freshman left-hander Brandon Waddell (4-1) has struck out 63 in 61 innings. The versatile Nick Howard (5-4) has adjusted to the starter's role after coming out of the bullpen, and he's moonlighting at third base and batting .338. Kyle Crockett has three wins and 10 saves as closer.
Mike Papi has rebounded from an injury that knocked him out the second half of last season to bat a team-best .373.
BIGGEST BUST: No one projected in the preseason that Texas would be a national seed-caliber team, but neither did anyone expect the Longhorns to struggle this much.
Texas (22-20) is just 5-13 in the Big 12 after getting swept at Baylor. The Longhorns have lost nine straight Big 12 series going back to last season and could finish last in their conference for the first time since 1956.
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