OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — It's not as if the Southeastern Conference needs validation in any sport. But setting the record for most teams from one conference in an NCAA baseball tournament understandably has the SEC puffing out its collective chest.
Of the 14 teams in the SEC, 10 will play in regionals beginning Friday. No league had previously put more than nine teams into the national tournament.
The accomplishment especially resonates at Florida, which is the No. 2 national seed behind Oregon State. Gators catcher Taylor Gushue has heard commentators say all season that his team doesn't possess a lot of "wow factors." Yet the Gators won the SEC regular-season championship and reached the conference tournament title game.
"Take 40 wins and the hardest schedule in the country to be your 'wow factor,'" Gushue said Monday. "Just sitting there and being told there's nothing special about you, it's not the case. We're good, and we'll definitely show it."
The SEC has produced nine national champions and seven runners-up since 1990, with South Carolina beating Florida in 2011 in all-SEC final and South Carolina and Mississippi State reaching the College World Series finals the last two years.
This year, eight SEC teams are among the top 17 in schedule strength. Only Kentucky ranks in the top 20 in scoring offense, but five SEC teams are in the top 20 in scoring defense.
Kentucky's A.J. Reed leads the nation with 23 home runs and is third in RBIs with 70. LSU's Aaron Nola is among the country's most dominating pitchers.
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said he remembers hearing analysts say there was "nothing spectacular" about Mississippi State last year when it made its run to the College World Series finals.
"Every year you say that about an SEC team, it seems like," he said. "There's something they're not particularly spectacular at in any facet of the game, but they end up doing a real good job in the postseason."
LSU, at No. 8, is a national seed along with Florida. Three other SEC schools — Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — will host regionals.
Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be on the road for regionals.
"I'm not trying to toot our horn, but the reality is that you have to go through the gauntlet," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "When you play in this league, oftentimes you can get a wrong perspective of your own team because it's so difficult to get through. I think you look at the teams that didn't get in, and they very well could be in. There's not a lot of difference between your 11th and 12th teams to the 1 and 2s."
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