Sixteen teams remain on the road to Omaha and the College World Series as the NCAA Baseball Championship continues this weekend with the super regionals, and two of those teams that are still in the hunt for college baseball's Holy Grail are from the Big 12.
Games get under way at four of the super-regional sites on Friday. The Oklahoma Sooners and Baylor Bears begin their best-two-out-of-three series on Saturday.
Oklahoma (42-23), winner of the Charlottesville Regional last weekend, has one of the toughest challenges in the round of 16, having to go to red-hot South Carolina and take on the two-time defending champion Gamecocks (43-17), who are ranked No, 2 in the country this week in the most recent poll (Collegiate Baseball) and have won 19 straight games in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners, who have won seven of their last nine games and 24 of the last 33, have moved up to No. 12 in that same poll.
Ironically, South Carolina's last loss in NCAA postseason play was to the Sooners in the opening game of the 2010 College World Series. OU played the Gamecocks a second time in the 2010 CWS, and came within one strike of earning a second victory before South Carolina mounted a remarkable rally to pull out a 3-2 win. Facing elimination in that second game with OU, the Gamecocks went on to win two more games and capture their first national championship in baseball
The rest of the college baseball world may question the Sooners' chances to advance beyond this weekend, but OU is looking at the situation much differently. "It's a good spot," Sooner coach Sunny Golloway said. "Two years ago, we were going to Charlottesville, and everyone was telling me that they (Virginia) hadn't lost two in a weekend. I gave (our team) the same message I'm going to give them (now). The only thing that matters is what the people wearing crimson think.
"We believed we could go into Virginia and win, and right now we're going to a two-time defending champ. It's a great storyline," he said.
Baylor (48-15) is ranked fifth by Collegiate Baseball and as high as No. 2 in two other polls, gets the luxury of playing at home again this weekend by virtue of being one of the top eight NCAA Tournament seeds still alive after the first weekend of regional action. Arkansas (42-19), which Collegiate Baseball has at No. 11 this week, just ahead of Oklahoma, is Baylor's opponent in the super-regional round.
The Razorbacks, out of the Southeastern Conference, do play other Big 12 teams during the season, but they have not played Baylor since Arkansas left the Southwest Conference in 1991. Arkansas won that game. The Hogs played three Big 12 teams this season, beating Texas Tech and Texas, but losing to Oklahoma, which handed Baylor five of its 15 losses in 2012.
The Bears, the Big 12 regular-season champion, are hosting their third NCAA super regional. They are 3-3 in super-regional games played in Waco and 4-5 overall in the round of 16. Oklahoma is 3-3 in super-regional appearances.
Senior Dan Evatt batted .474 in the Waco Regional with two triples, a home run and 16 total bases. Evatt and Big 12 Player of the Year Josh Ludy both had nine hits in the Bears' five regional games.
Right-handed starter Trent Blank will get the start for Baylor in the first game of the Arkansas series on Saturday night at Baylor Ballpark. Blank is 10-1 on the season in 15 starts with an ERA of 2.32. Southpaw Josh Turley, with a record of 9-1, gets the call on Sunday. Turley was second in the Big 12 this season with an ERA of 1.83 over 16 games. Monday's starter for Baylor has not yet been named.
In Oklahoma's series against South Carolina, the Sooners will go with a rotation of left-hander Jordan John (8-7, 2.26 ERA), right-hander Jonathan Gray (8-4, 3.32 ERA) and left-handed Dillon Overton (6-3, 3.16 ERA). Dillion struck out a career-high 11 batters in OU's 5-4 win last weekend over top-seeded Virginia, which eliminated the Cavaliers from their own regional. That marked the second time in three years that OU has eliminated Virginia from the NCAA Tournament on the Cavaliers' home field.
The Sooner offensive leaders in winning the Charlottesville Regional were designated- hitter Matt Oberste, who hit .467 with seven hits, six RBI and 12 total bases in five games. Second-baseman Jack Mayfield led the team with eight RBI, and senior shortstop Caleb Bushyhead scored five runs.
Oklahoma and South Carolina have met five times, with USC holding a 3-2 lead in the all-time series.
Four Big 12 teams began play in the 2012 NCAA Baseball Championship. Missouri and Texas A&M, one of the regional host teams, were eliminated in regional action last weekend.
TCU, which will become a member of the Big 12 next season, is another one of the 16 teams that advanced to the super regionals. The Horned Frogs (40-20), who defeated Texas A&M and won the College Station Regional, are ranked 15th this week by Collegiate Baseball. TCU begins super-regional play Friday in Los Angeles against the UCLA Bruins. The Bruins (45-14) were unbeaten winners last weekend of their host regional and are ranked No. 6 nationally (Collegiate Baseball) and as high as second in one recent poll.
Of the 16 teams in the 2012 super regionals, half of the field are members of either the SEC (Florida, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas) or the Pac-12 (UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Arizona). Of that group of eight, only Arkansas (vs. Baylor) is seeded lower than its opponent this weekend.
Twenty-seven Big 12 teams have made appearances in the super-regional round of the NCAA Tournament since the current format was established in 1999. More than one conference team has advanced that far in 11 of the 14 years. During the Big 12 era, the conference has made 15 appearances in the College World Series and has had at least one team in the field of eight the last three years.
Conference co-champions Texas and Texas A&M both made it to the CWS a year ago, but both were eliminated after two games.
Follow the Big 12 teams in the NCAA Baseball Championship and in all sports throughout the year at SB Nation Kansas City.