Whew! Take a deep breath. After a super regional weekend packed with late-night drama and finished off with a Monday quadrupleheader, the eight Omaha-bound teams of the 2018 College World Series have finally been determined. If you're a hardcore, round-the-calendar college baseball fan, these are squads and studs you already know. If you are the more typical tune-in-at-June CWS watcher, you'll recognize the brand names headed to TD Ameritrade Park, but you probably don't know the stories or stars who got them there.
Well, we're full service! We are here for you all, with a team-by-team look at those who hope to spend the next week and half eating steak and staking their claim as the NCAA baseball champs.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Their road to Omaha: 43-18; ACC regular-season champions; No. 6 national seed; swept Chapel Hill Regional and Super Regional, defeating North Carolina A&T, Houston and Stetson
CWS history: 11th CWS berth, first since 2013; best finish: second, 2006 and '07
Storylines: Would-be ace of the pitching staff Gianluca Dalatri missed nearly the entire season with elbow numbness but returned for the regular-season finale and the postseason. The Heels' past Omaha success was built on pitching depth and aggressive bullpen work. The key to reestablishing that strategy could very well be Dalatri's health.
Not so long ago, the Tar Heels were an Omaha foregone conclusion, making the CWS field four consecutive times and six times in eight years between 2006-13. But after four years of no trips to Nebraska, including two tourney absences and last year's upset by Davidson, doubts were beginning to creep into the Boshamer Stadium grandstands about coach Mike Fox's ability to close the deal. That got much worse when Fox lost his ace to injury and started 2018 with a loss to Gardner-Webb and a 9-8 record. Well, that nasty chatter is gone now. Now Fox and UNC also have a chance to exorcise their greatest demons, facing the team that broke their hearts in back-to-back CWS championship series. And who's that? See below.
Oregon State Beavers
Their road to Omaha: 49-10-1; Pac-12 runner-up; No. 3 national seed; swept Corvallis Regional and Super Regional, defeating Northwestern State, LSU and Minnesota
CWS history: Seventh CWS berth, making back-to-back trips for second time in program history; best finish: first, 2006 and '07
Storylines: Lefty ace Luke Heimlich's talent on the mound is indisputable. Everything else about him, however, has become the touchstone for national debate. Last year, he sat out the Beavers' trip to Omaha amid revelations that as a 15-year-old he pleaded guilty to sexually molesting his 6-year-old niece. This spring, even in the face of a pair of polarizing national profile stories, he has posted a 15-1 record, but still went undrafted by MLB teams. Heimlich will be in Omaha this year.
Coach Pat Casey took a program that hadn't been to Omaha in 53 years and made it a CWS regular. Last year the Beavers were clearly distracted by the Heimlich controversy. How will they handle that with him on the roster? And will they be ready for a UNC team that has been forced to watch film of OSU dogpiling at its expense for the past decade-plus?
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Their road to Omaha: 37-27; fifth place in the SEC West; won Tallahassee Regional and Nashville Super Regional, defeating No. 7 seed Florida State, Samford, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt, winning five elimination games
CWS history: 11th CWS berth, first since 2013; best finish: second, 2013
Storylines: There are guys on this team who are most consistent and there are guys on this team who will likely have longer post-Starkville baseball careers. Elijah MacNamee didn't even crack the starting lineup until mid-April. But no one on this squad will ever top MacNamee when it comes to being a Bulldogs legend. He's hit five homers in the NCAA tourney, including walk-offs that eliminated Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional and evened up the Nashville Super Regional with Vandy at one game apiece.
The proud Mississippi State program started 2018 in a total tailspin, when head coach Andy Cannizaro suddenly resigned after an 0-3 record amid a soap opera-like scandal that derailed big preseason expectations. Under the guidance of veteran assistant coach-turned-interim head coach Gary Henderson, the team recovered from a 14-15 start, winning 23 of their final 35 and staving off elimination to win a thriller super regional and return to Omaha for the first time since losing to UCLA in the CWS finals in 2013.
Their road to Omaha: 35-24; third place in the Pac-12; won Conway Regional and Fullerton Super Regional, defeating UConn, Coastal Carolina and Cal State Fullerton
CWS history: First CWS appearance
Storylines: Joe Wainhouse is a 6-foot-6, 255 pounds with 19 homers, putting on a such a power display during his senior season that the two-way player barely pitches anymore. Not bad for a guy who started the season thinking he would be doing the total opposite as a member of the Huskies' starting rotation. The prodigiousness of his blasts, most of which have come since the start of May, have earned Paul Bunyan-like descriptions from teammates. It also helps that, with his beard and deeply unbuttoned jersey, he actually looks like Bunyan.
The first five decades of the College World Series history book were written primarily by West Coast teams, particularly those from the Pac-(insert number here). A whopping seven teams from the conference have won CWS titles, but UW has never been to Omaha in June. Nearly every year there is one "How did they get here?" squad among the eight teams. This year, it's Washington, via one the most thrilling super regional final games in recent memory. Head coach Lindsey Meggs is so well-respected in the Pacific time zone college baseball community that Fullerton, as heartbroken as the Titans were, played Counting Crows' "Omaha" as the Huskies dogpiled on its field.
Their road to Omaha: 41-21; Big 12 champions; won Austin Regional and Super Regional by defeating Texas Southern, Texas A&M, Indiana and Tennessee Tech
CWS history: CWS record for most appearances (36), wins (85) and runner-up finishes (six); last CWS appearance: 2014; best finish: first (six times, most recently in 2005)
Storylines: It seems like just yesterday we were all snickering when former Longhorns great Roger Clemens explained that he'd named all four of his boys starting with K, you know, like strikeouts. Kody, third among them, didn't strike out much in the super regional against Tennessee Tech, when he went 5-for-8 with three homers and four RBIs, complete with a bat flip and Rocket-ish staredown of the Tech dugout and flashing of the Hook 'Em Horns sign as he rounded third Sunday. He did the same to Texas A&M. I'm not saying you have to like him, but I am saying you'd better be careful if you're pitching to him.
A big part of the disappointment among Fullerton fans Sunday night was that the Titans' elimination also denied them the chance to pay tribute to former head coach Augie Garrido, who built the Titans into a CWS powerhouse and passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Now the task of that living memorial falls to a team full of kids Garrido recruited to Texas and with whom he set the all-time wins record two years ago.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Their road to Omaha: 40-17; third place in the Big 12; won Lubbock Regional and Super Regional, defeating New Mexico State, Louisville and Duke
CWS history: Third CWS appearance, all since 2014; 1-4 all-time CWS record
Storylines: Super freshman Gabe Holt was a one-man wrecking crew in the super regionals, banging out seven hits in three games, including a two-out RBI poke in the eighth that gave the Red Raiders some sorely needed breathing room over Duke.
Texas Tech restarted its post-WWII baseball program in 1954, four years after the still-new College World Series had moved to Omaha. It took the Red Raiders seven decades to finally make it to the CWS, in only Tim Tadlock's second season at the helm. Now they're making their third trip in five years, but still looking to make it past the second round.
Their road to Omaha: 44-18; first (tied) place in SEC West; No. 5 national seed; won Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional, defeating Oral Roberts, Southern Miss, Dallas Baptist and South Carolina.
CWS history: Ninth CWS berth and fifth since 2004, best finish: second, 1979
Storylines: A year ago, Carson Shaddy was in shambles after Arkansas had blown a regional at home and he hadn't been drafted. Now the senior infielder is a Razorbacks folk hero after almost single-handedly willing his team back to Omaha. In the three-game super regional with fellow SEC power South Carolina, he had the seventh-inning, three-run double that broke open the first game and a first-inning homer that gave Arkansas an early five-run lead in the decisive third game.
In 2002, Dave Van Horn shocked the college baseball world and left Nebraska, which he'd just led to back-to-back CWS berths, for Arkansas, a program that had seemingly lost its way, settling into a decade of pretty good but not truly great during the 1990s. Now it is woo pig great again, thanks to some old-school SEC offense. The team batting average has sat on .300 all year, while four Hogs have slugged 10 or more homers.
Their road to Omaha: 47-19; SEC regular-season champions; No. 1 national seed; won Gainesville Regional and Super Regional, defeating Columbia, Jacksonville, FAU and Auburn
CWS history: 12th CWS berth, all since 1988; two-time CWS runner-up; best finish: 2017 CWS champs
Storylines: Take your pick. The Gators have both Jonathan India, the SEC Player of the Year and fifth pick of the MLB draft, and Brady Singer, SEC Pitcher of the Year and 18th pick of the draft. Florida had six All-SEC selections in all and is coached by Kevin O'Sullivan, the SEC Coach of the Year.
The defending CWS champs had it in cruise control for much of 2018, starting as the overwhelming preseason No. 1, jumping out to a 28-5 start and threatening to hold down the top spot wire-to-wire. But after limping to a 9-9 record to end the regular season, scuffling through the SEC tournament and digging a pair of holes in their home regional and super regional dates, no one can question that the Gators didn't earn their seventh trip to Omaha in nine years.