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Monday December 6th, 2021 10:18AM

3 more SEC teams win NCAA regionals; USF's run keeps going

By The Associated Press
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Three more nationally seeded Southeastern Conference teams earned spots in the NCAA baseball tournament super regionals Monday night, while Dallas Baptist and the upstart South Florida Bulls also continued their seasons.

No. 1 overall seed Arkansas broke open its game against Nebraska late, got another superb pitching performance from Kevin Kopps and won 6-2 in Fayetteville for its third straight regional title.

The SEC champion Razorbacks, who haven't lost a three-game series since May 2019, won two of three against the Big Ten champion Cornhuskers in the regional.

“It’s unbelievable, honestly,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of his team's run, “and I told the team they were amazing. They just keep finding a way and they keep fighting and we get to hang out at least another week.”

No. 7 Mississippi State finished a 3-0 run through its regional in Starkville with a 6-5 win over Campbell, and No. 12 Ole Miss bounced back from a Sunday loss to Southern Mississippi to beat the Golden Eagles 12-9 in Oxford.

Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss joined Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the super regionals, and a sixth SEC team could advance if LSU beats Oregon on Monday night.

UC Irvine met No. 9 Stanford in another regional final. Virginia's game against No. 11 Old Dominion was postponed until Tuesday because of rain.

Dallas Baptist and South Florida were the feel-good stories of the day.

The Patriots, the No. 3 regional seed in Fort Worth, Texas, lost two starters to injuries over the weekend and were beaten by Oregon State on a walk-off homer Sunday.

They were down five runs midway through Monday's rematch before Andrew Benefield hit a go-ahead grand slam and the Patriots went on to win 8-5 and advance to its second super regional, and first since 2011. The Patriots (40-16) play Virginia or Old Dominion in the next round.

South Florida, picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference, beat South Alabama 6-4 in Gainesville, Florida, to become the first No. 4 regional seed to make the super regionals since Davidson in 2017.

The Bulls have won nine of their last 11 games, a stretch that includes two straight over national seed East Carolina to end the regular season, the conference tournament championship and now a regional title for the first time in 14 NCAA appearances.

After first baseman Riley Hogan fielded a groundball and stepped on the bag for the last out, he pumped his fist and darted to the mound to jump on the dogpile. A gaggle of fans behind the dugout chanted “U-S-F, U-S-F” and coach Billy Mohl doffed his cap to them.

Orion Kerkering, who allowed two hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings of relief, picked up the water cooler, sneaked up behind Mohl as he was doing an on-field TV interview and gave his coach a ceremonial soaking.

“This is a special group of guys that will forever be known as the first team to get to a super regional,” Mohl said. “But as they’ll tell you, they’re not done yet. They want to be the first program to get to Omaha. And we got the leadership in the clubhouse who truly believes that.”

The Bulls (31-28) will play at No. 2 national seed Texas (45-15) in the best-of-three super regionals starting Friday. The last No. 4 regional seed to make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, was Stony Brook in 2012.

Arkansas, which lost 5-3 to Nebraska on Sunday, were down two runs early in its winner-take-all final. Casey Opitz homered in the fifth inning and Robert Moore went deep in the sixth to tie it. Three straight Arkansas batters walked with two outs in the eighth, and the go-ahead run scored on Jake Bunz's wild pitch. Then pinch-hitter Charlie Welch hit a three-run homer to make it a four-run game.

The Razorbacks (49-11) will host North Carolina State (33-17) this weekend.

Mississippi State (43-15) is in its fifth straight super regional, the longest active streak, and will host No. 10 Notre Dame (33-11) with the hope of making the CWS for the third time in a row since 2018. There was no tournament in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The message all week to our guys was: ‘This is where you belong. This is where Mississippi State is supposed to be,'" coach Chris Lemonis said.

Ole Miss (44-20) got another big game from Tim Elko, who hit a grand slam and hit another of the Rebels' five homers. The Rebels meet No. 5 national seed Arizona (43-15) in super regionals.

BIG BATS

— Benefield's grand slam came after Nathan Burns walked the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh inning. Joey Mundt came on in relief, and Benefield hit his first pitch out to left.

— USF's Jarrett Eaton went 3 for 3 with three RBIs, including the go-ahead single in the sixth inning.

— Mississippi State's Kamren James homered and drove in three runs.

MOUND MARVELS

— Kopps, the SEC pitcher of the year, threw seven innings of three-hit shutout relief for Arkansas. In three appearances in four days, Kopps threw 185 pitches over 13 1/3 shutout innings, allowed six hits, walked none and struck out 15.

— Mississippi State's Houston Harding struck out 10 and allowed two runs in five innings of relief.

— Dallas Baptist's Zane Russell threw 4 1/3 innings of two-hit shutout relief.

___

More AP NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series

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