After a long season filled with many obstacles for every team across the country including COVID testing, games being canceled, and not knowing if tomorrow would bring the season to an end, college baseball has finally made it to “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” This year’s College World Series promises to be the party of the summer with 100% capacity in Omaha and the first time in two years baseball fans from around the country will make the pilgrimage to Nebraska.
This year’s field is filled with the regulars fans expected to be in the field including star powered pitching duo of Rocker and Leiter for Vanderbilt, Mississippi State’s SEC player of the year Tanner Allen, and Texas led by ace Ty Madden. However, as like every year there are teams that get hot at the right time and go on a run to Omaha including N.C. State who upset #1 overall Arkansas along with Virginia and Texas who went entirely on the road to make the field.
Here is the full breakdown of the “Omaha Eight” and the projection for the first round of games which begin Saturday at 2p.m. eastern.
Opening Round Schedule
Saturday, June 19th
Game 1: Stanford vs. NC State | 2 p.m. ET | ESPN
Game 2: Vanderbilt vs. Arizona | 7 p.m. | ESPN
Sunday, June 20th
Game 3: Tennessee vs. Virginia | 2 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 4: Texas vs. Mississippi State | 7 p.m. | ESPN2
N.C. State Wolfpack (35-15, 19-14 ACC) (3rd CWS Appearance)
First off, why not start off with the upset of the tournament and the hottest team headed into this weekend and the N.C. State Wolfpack. The Wolfpack shocked the college baseball world and came back to defeat Arkansas two straight after dropping game one of the super regional 21-2. On Sunday, they were able to chase one of the best pitchers in the last decade in Kevin Kopps out of the game late by Jose Torres’ late game heroics to give N.C. State the game winning run by smashing a ball over the right field fence to send the Wolfpack to Omaha.
N.C. State is in Omaha because they are one of the most well-balanced teams to come out of the ACC in years with a deep, experienced lineup and a front heavy pitching staff.
Getting the ball Saturday will be junior right hander Reid Johnston who started the year as a middle reliever and has become one of the premier arms in the country with a 8-3 record with a 4.47 ERA. Johnston had won six consecutive starts before having a bad outing on Friday against the Razorbacks.
The Wolfpack follow Johnston with another premier arm and freshman Sam Highfill who is 8-2 with a 3.98 ERA. Highfill’s terrific outing led to a game 3 in Arkansas and he has won 9 straight starts headed into Omaha. Like Johnston Highfill has made six appearances out of the bullpen this year and right before the North Carolina series, Coach Elliot Avent extended his starters longer into games and trusted Johnston and Highfill to produce quality innings which has paid off to his first trip as a head coach to the CWS since 2013.
N.C. State also has a quality bullpen with closer Evan Justice who has proved to be shut down arm for the Wofpack and one of the best closers in the ACC with eleven saves. The Wolfpack also have another sneaky arm out of the bullpen and lefty Chris Villaman who has emerged from a mid-week arm and spot starter to becoming one of the most trusted arms for N.C. State. Villaman was tasked with pitching against the Blue Devils in the ACC title game and while being on the wrong side of the result, he was able to hold one of the most experienced and dangerous offenses to only one run.
N.C. State also had one of the best offenses in college baseball this year with a lot of talent and a lot of guys who can flat out hit the ball. The Wolfpack had a team batting average of .289 and had four guys hitting over .300. N.C. State’s offense is led by their outfield and junior Johnny Butler who led the team in average with .377 and 13 home runs. Buter was also named a NCBWA Second Team ALL-American. Also, fellow outfielder Tyler McDonough who was named a NCBWA Second Team All Region was second on the team in hitting with a .341 average and fifteen home runs. The Wolfpack also have a lot of speed with future first round draft pick Jose Torres at short and Terrell Tatum in the outfield as well. As being one of the most well balanced teams in the 2021 CWS field, don’t be suprised to see the Wolfpack make a run in Omaha.
Stanford Cardinal (38-15, 17-10 Pac-12) ( 17th CWS Appearance)
N.C. State will start off the College World Series facing the Lubbock Super Regional Champions and the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford enters this years College World Series as a surprise after absolutely dominating Texas Tech at their home field. The Cardinal enter as one of the most grittiest and underrated teams in the field as the temperature was around 107 degrees in Lubbock Texas, but starter Brendan Beck insisted on wearing black jerseys for “Texas Tech’s funeral. In the 2021 tournament Stanford is 5-1 and also outscored Texas Tech 24-3 last weekend.
On the mound, the Cardinal are very experienced and are led by senior Brendan Beck who has a 2.96 ERA and a 9-1 record on the season. Beck was also just named to the NCBWA All-American Second Team and All-Region First Team. The number two starter for the Cardinal is Alex Williams who has a 3.06 ERA on the season and actually completed a shutout to get the Cardinal to Omaha. In the eyes of many writers across the country, Stanford has the best one-two punch of any team in Omaha outside of possibly Vanderbilt. Their edgy spirit along with a tremendous mix of off-speed pitches is their key to success.
The Cardinal lineup was on fire at Texas Tech and quite frankly the entire NCAA Tournament so far by scoring a combined sixty runs in a six game span and nine or more runs both games in Lubbock. Stanford’s Christian Robinson and Vincent Martinez along with Nick Brueser have all hit over .300 for the Cardinal this season and have potential of driving in runs in unique ways. Stanford is a very interesting team in Omaha because overall they do not hit that many home runs as a team, but rather they battle at the plate through at bats and put runners in motion frequently.
Stanford will be the most intriging to watch at the CWS as playing teams on the west coast this season has hurt their stock in the media and have not been seen by may fans of SEC and ACC schools. However, do not underestimate the Cardinals as their deep pitching depth and ability to produce runs makes them very dangerous this weekend.
Vanderbilt Commodores (45-15, 19-10 SEC) (5th CWS Appearnce)
As we move to the next two teams playing the night cap on Saturday night, let’s first look at the overwhelming favorite to be the national champions in two weeks and Vanderbilt. The Commodore’s accolades speak for themselves as the star power of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter will be tough to beat back to back days in Omaha, but the question is can Vanderbilt hit the baseball?
Coming into the CWS, Vanderbilt has the best two pitchers in all of college baseball along with Kopps of Arkansas in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter who will most likely be two of the top three picks in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft. First let’s start with Rocker. After his sensational no hitter in the 2019 Super Regionals against Duke, Rocker has been outstanding in 2021 with a 2.46 ERA and a sensational 13-3 record. Rocker finds success in his breaking ball low and away which was on full display against East Carolina as he would use his fastball which sits over 95mph to get hitters to 0-2 and then make them chase and look silly swinging at his curveball out of the zone. Rocker struck out eleven Pirates in a shutout to give the Commodores a 1-0 series lead.
Unfortunately for anyone who runs into Vanderbilt, Jack Leiter, who is the son of MLB great AL Leiter is just as good or better than Rocker. In the super regional against ECU this past weekend Leiter’s fastball touched 98 and he struck out 10 Pirate hitters. Leiter on the season has a 2.16 ERA along with a 10-3 record which is good enough to be the consensus number pitcher taken in the draft next month. If anyone is able to knock out Rocker and Leiter back to back, it will stun the baseball world
If Tim Corbin’s squad has any downfall this season it is their offense. Vanderbilt was unable to muster two runs against ECU ace Gavin Williams and struck out thirteen times to the right hander from Cape Fear High School in North Carolina. Vanderbilt has a very talented lineup with Enrique Bradfield as a speedster leading off and Cj Rodriguez Isaiah Thomas, and Jayson Gonzalez all leading Vanderbilt in hitting. The Commodores seem to struggle at times to produce with runners in scoring position which could be very costly in the CWS as teams will only have a certain amount of chances to score against very quality arms. If the Commodores can have a lot of run production to help Rocker and Leiter, they could walk away with the national title.
Arizona Wildcats (45-16, 21-9 PAC-12) (18th CWS Appearance)
Vanderbilt will open up with the best offense in Omaha with the Arizona Wildcats. To get to Omaha, Arizona took advantage of Ole Miss’ ace being injured and taking 2/3 over the Rebels. The Wildcats made their last College World Series appearance in 2016 where they made it to the finals, but lost to Cinderella Coastal Carolina.
Getting the ball for Arizona Saturday night will be Chase Silseth who has had a very impressive 2021 with an 8-1 record along with 91 innings pitched. Silseth has also been named Pac-12 All-Conference and Pac-12 pitcher of the week back in early May where he gave up two hits in seven innings pitched against Utah. In the Wildcats second game, TJ Nichols will get the ball and outside of his start against Ole Miss where he was sensational, he has a 6-3 record with a 4.94 ERA. Another big advantage possibly for the Wildcats is two of their best three lefties out of the bullpen Abshier and Luna could be eligible Saturday after being suspended for the Super Regional.
The Wildcats bring the best lineup into Omaha after putting up sixteen runs over Ole Miss. Arizona’s outstanding freshman catcher Daniel Susac who is hitting .329 on the season and has twelve homers on the season was named Pac-12 freshman of the year and they also have one of the best ballplayers in all of college baseball with Jacob Berry who is batting .369 with seventeen home runs to show for it. However, outside of the individual accolades, the Wildcats have one of the best team batting averages in all of college baseball with a .329 average as a team and a total of sixty-nine home runs on the season. It will be fascinating to see if Rocker and Leiter can hold one of the premier offenses in the country in check.
Virginia Cavaliers (35-25, 18-18 ACC) (5th CWS Appearance)
As we flip the page to the next day of opening round games of the College World Series we start with the underdog of the field. The Virginia Cavaliers were last place in the ACC along with Duke who ironically won the conference championship have made it to Omaha. In the preseason according to the writers at Baseball America, Virginia was the projected number two team in the land, but struggled throughout the regular season ending up going 18-18 in league play. UVA is an example of being an older, experienced team along with getting a lucky draw in the super regionals to go to Omaha in Dallas Baptist. Strangely enough every game they played indluding the super regional against DBU was played in Columbia, South Carolina.
On the mound for the Wahoos is one of the most experienced pitchers in the ACC in Andrew Abbott. A senior lefthander with a 3.04 ERA along with 156 strikeouts, Abbott will get the ball against Tennessee in the biggest game of his life. Back in April, Abbott was named National Player of the Week by Perfect Game after striking out sixteen in 7.1 innings against Wake Forest.
Another pitcher who will get the ball in game two for UVA is Griff McGarry who went seven innings and gave up two hits against DBU in the super regional to even the series at one. Which is a surprise considering he is 0-5 with a 6.06 ERA. Another arm to keep an eye on for UVA is Mike Vasil who was a starter at the beginning of the season, but currently assumes a bullpen role with a 4.82 ERA.
On the other side of the ball for the Cavaliers, the offense has been a little inconsistent this entire season including the flat performance against Duke in the ACC semis and against Dallas Baptist to an extent. UVA only has one player above .300 and Kyle Teel, but what do they have that got them to Omaha? Experienced, consistent hitters that have a mid to high average in the .200 range including Gelof, Cotier, and Ortiz who know how to find their way on base and produce runs when they need them. In order for the Cavaliers to make a run in Omaha, they are going to need to take advantage of their experience and scrappiness.
Tennessee Volunteers (50-16, 20-10 SEC) (5th CWS Appearance)
Virginia will be facing off against SEC runner-up and one of the best teams in college baseball this year with Tennessee. The Volunteers drew the toughest regional according to D1Baseball in the country, and except from one scare with Wright State, breezed their way through Liberty to make it to the supers where they faced a very motivated LSU team who was playing for their Head Coach Paul Manarie who retired after getting swept by Tennessee after over thirty-five years coaching college baseball. The job Coach Tony Vitello has done turning Tennessee into a CWS team from a SEC bottom feeder is truly extraordinary. Let’s take a deep dive into his ball club.
The Volunteers are led by junior Chad Dallas on the mound who has a 4.10 ERA in 96 inning pitched along with winning six out of his last seven SEC starts. Taking the ball in game two will be Blade Tidwell who went seven innings while striking out seven in a blowout win over LSU to clinch a spot in Omaha. On the season, Tidwell also has a 3.57 ERA as a freshman while winning seven out of his last eight starts. If the starting pitching for the Volunteers can sustain success they will make a deep run at the CWS
Tennessee will head to Omaha as the best slugging team in he CWS this year. As a team, the Volunteers have 98 home runs so far on the season and they absolutely annihilated the ball so far in the postseason. In their five games thus far they have scored forty runs and twenty-one of those came against LSU. An interesting side note for the Volunteers this season, their 98 home runs actually leads the nation and if you combine that run production with how deep their starters have been going, Tennessee will be a tough out in Omaha.
Texas Longhorns (47-15, 17-7 BIG-12) (37th CWS Appearance)
The final game of the opening around in the CWS is Texas vs. Mississippi State. First, for the Longhorns, they are led by redshirt sophomore ace Ty Madden who is 7-4 with a 2.41 ERA. Madden, who was a 34th round pick of the Royals in 2018 should be much higher on draft boards this year by improving his fastball from sitting at 91-94 to now at 94-96 while touching 98 at times. Madden’s nasty slider will also prove tough for Bulldogs hitters to face as he produces around 2500 RPMs consistently and sitting around 85-88 on the velocity side of that pitch this season. If Madden is unable to be touched along with a 4-0 and 1.29 ERA Cole Quintanilla at the back of the bullpen, Mississippi State hitters might have a long night.
On the flip side of the ball, under the leadership of MLB great Troy Tulowitski, the Longhorns do not hit for a lot of power totaling 63 home runs on the season, but up and down the lineup they have a lot of guys who can hit for average and produce runs when needed. With a .281 team average, the top five hitters in their lineup are hitting over .300 with Zubia, Williams, and Melendez all with 40 plus RBIs. With that being said, if Madden is not sharp, it will be intriging to see if the Longhorns can come up with enough offense to start out 1-0 this weekend.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (45-16, 20-10 SEC) (12th CWS Appearance)
Texas’ opponent the Mississippi State bulldogs will return to Omaha for the 12th time in program history and appearances in back to back tournaments. The Bulldogs head to Omaha after a very interesting regional where they went undefeated, but only won by one run after trailing most of the game in the regional final to Campbell University. Mississippi State then hosted Notre Dame in the super where they looked a little shaky, but after coming back from a 2-1 deficit in game one, the Bulldogs clinched a CWS birth in three games.
The Bulldogs’ main reason for a return trip to Omaha is because they might have the deepest pitching staff in school history. According to Baseball America, Mississippi State has two of the top fifty prospects in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft on the mound in MacLeod and Bednar.
MacLeod, who will get the ball Sunday night is number forty on the prospect list, has a 4.24 ERA and 6-5 win loss record. In the COVID shortened 2020 campaign, MacLeod was the third freshman in program history to have multiple double digit strikeout games. Right behind him and 41 on the list is Will Bednar. As a draft eligible sophomore, Bednar has won both of his previous NCAA Tournament starts and is 7-1 with a 3.53 ERA. Cerantola, who was a 30th round selection of the Rays has been off since the beginning of the season where he allowed at least three runs in one inning against Tulane and Kent State. Since then, the Ontario native has not won a SEC Start and has a 0-1 record this season. Definitely keep an eye on Cerantola to improve his draft stock in Omaha.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs are led by Tanner Allen and Rowdy Jordan who are both hitting over .326 this season. Allen, who was named SEC player of the year has been outstanding this season with a .392 average in SEC play with 62 RBIs. He also is tied for 20th on the school’s record books for triples and 26th for doubles. Rowdy Jordan on the other hand, has been batting .326 on the season and has also had ten homers on the season. He also secured a CWS birth for the Bulldogs by making an outstanding catch in a winner take all game three of the super regional. If the bats can stay hot, look for the Bulldogs to continue their winning ways in Omaha.
Wherever you may be this weekend and the weeks to come, tune into the College World Series to watch college baseball heaven and experience one of the best atmospheres the game of baseball has to offer. We will be covering the event all tournament long and will also take a look at the six teams remaining headed into Wednesday of next week.