The Harvard baseball team learned Monday that it will travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma as the sixth seed in the six-team NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament. The team's first opponent in the tournament, which starts tomorrow and runs through the weekend, will be the No. 1-seeded UCLA Bruins.
Harvard (32-14) steamrolled through its Ivy League schedule, winning 18 of 20 regular season games against Ancient Eight opponents.
Harvard defeated Princeton in a best-of-three play-in for the Ivy League title, then took two out of three from Patriot League-champion Army to win a trip to the Regional tournament.
But the road to Omaha (site of the College World Series) is filled with substantial speed bumps.
UCLA (40-18-1), currently ranked seventh in the nation, received an at-large bid after losing the Pac-10 Southern division title to No. 6-Stanford. UCLA has amassed a 19-11 conference record in a conference that includes several ranked teams, including No. 10 USC and Stanford. The Bruins beat the Cardinals in four out of six games this season.
Indeed UCLA is enjoying one of the best seasons in the program's history, largely off the bat of power-hitting shortstop Troy Glaus.
Glaus, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, left the yard 31 times in just 59 games this season. He is equally potent when he does not leave the yard, compiling a .413 batting average.
Glaus is accompanied by a supporting cast that includes one of the speediest outfields in the country, with All Pac-10 First Team members in center--sophomore Eric Valent (.342, 21 HR, 76 RBI)--and right--junior Eric Byrnes (.331, 16 HR, 52 RBI).
But the Bruins' real strength is its pitching. Redshirt sophomore Tom Jacquez (9-3), who is expected to start against Harvard, is the fourth pitcher on a staff that includes junior Jim Parque, the only south-paw on the U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta.
The Crimson bats will need to respond the way they did against M.I.T.--when Harvard scored a team-record 27 runs--and Princeton, who Harvard beat 22-4 in the rubber game of the Ivy League Championship.
Harvard will likely start sophomore Andrew Duffell (7-1) and senior Frank Hogan (7-2) in the first two games of the double-elimination tournament. Duffell did not record his first loss of the season until he gave up both runs in a 2-1 loss to Princeton in the Ivy Championship opener. Hogan, the Ivy Pitcher of the Year, won the crucial second game of the Ivy Championship.
Of course, a double-elimination tournament has the complication of forcing a team to prepare for multiple opponents.
The winner of the UCLA-Harvard matchup faces the loser of the game between the third and fourth seeds, host Oklahoma and Stetson respectively.
If Harvard fails to pull off the upset, it will face the loser of the game between No. 2-seeded Tennessee and No. 5-seeded Ohio. To win the regional tournament and a trip to the College World Series, a team must win at least three (and potentially four) games before losing its first two.
The format of the tournament allows for the possibility that Harvard could play the Bruins again as early as the third game.