The College World Series kicks off Saturday afternoon as the eight remaining schools begin the home stretch of their quest for a championship. To have a chance in the finals, a school must fight its way through an opening round that divides the eight schools into two double-elimination brackets of four. We begin our preview with the first bracket, composed of Indiana, Louisville, Mississippi State and Oregon State.
The round will begin with Indiana and Louisville squaring off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, followed by Mississippi State vs. Oregon State at 8 p.m. later that night.
Season: 48-14 (15-6 Big Ten), Big Ten champions
Tournament: 3-0 in Bloomington Regional, 2-0 over (7) Florida St. in Tallahassee Super
CWS history: first appearance
This whole Omaha thing is new to the Hoosiers. Not only have they never been to the CWS, they had never even made it past the regional round before two weeks ago, and had only been the tournament itself three times. Basically, this is an unprecedented run for Indiana baseball.
Offense is what carries this team. In the tournament, they're batting .309 and lead the field of Omaha with over nine runs per game. This is about as solid a lineup from top to bottom as you'll see, with seven of the nine starters hitting at least .300 during the season, and five of them sitting above that mark in tournament play. The power bats belong to Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, who have hit two homers apiece in the tournament. Schwarber is 235 pounds of pure power, having led the BIG with 18 homers and a .674 slugging percentage.
Pitching is the area where Indiana can be had, though they're still solid enough when paired with the run support from the bats. They hold a team ERA of 3.80 and have surrendered 26 runs in the tournament. They've given up at least six runs three times in their three games, including a nine-spot in their first win over Florida State. Third starter Will Coursen-Carr had the best outing of the bunch with his one run, five-inning win over Austin Peay in the regionals.
Season: 51-12 (20-4 Big East)
Tournament: 3-0 in Louisville Regional, 2-0 over (2) Vanderbilt in Nashville Super
CWS history: Second appearance (last in '07)
It's been a pretty ridiculous year for Louisville, who upset Florida in the Sugar Bowl in January, won the national championship in basketball, and now find themselves in Omaha.
Louisville put the rest of the field on notice with its impressive two-game sweep of No. 2 Vanderbilt in Nashville over the weekend. That series win came on the back of an outstanding pitching performance by the Cardinal staff, who allowed just four runs on 12 hits in two games against a team that lead the SEC in almost every significant offensive category. It was a great weekend for ace hurler Jeff Thompson, who was drafted in the third round on Friday and then struck out nine Commodores in seven innings on Sunday. Coach Dan McDonnell will likely hold Thompson for the second game as he did in the first two rounds, and march out 10-3 Chad Green against Indiana on Saturday.
To beat Indiana, the Cardinal pitchers will need to be dominant, as their offense likely won't be able to keep up with the powerful Hoosiers. Louisville is batting .261 in the tournament, and have scored 14 fewer runs than Indiana despite playing the same number of games. Coco Johnson and Jeff Gardner have done their part over the last five contests, batting above .380 and driving in a combined nine runs, but season average leader Ty Young has slumped hard with a 3-for-20 performance.
Whenever Louisville gets a man on base, look out. They're second in the nation with 142 stolen bases and have gone 8-for-12 in steal attempts in the tournament.
Season: 48-18 (16-14 SEC)
Tournament: 3-1 in Starkville Regional, 2-0 over (5) Virginia in Charlottesville Super
CWS history: ninth appearance (last in '07)
Mississippi State was one of the less-publicized of the SEC teams coming into the tournament. Lost behind the dominance of LSU, the shortcomings of Vanderbilt and the early exit of Arkansas, State has quietly and efficiently gone about their business. They dispatched a pesky Central Arkansas team in Starkville and then swept aside No. 5 Virginia in the supers.
The Bulldog offense was rather average during the season, but has gotten hot at the right time, hitting .307 in the tournament. They're led by the powerful bat of first round selection Hunter Renfroe, who, after a disappointing first two years in Starkville, has exploded for 15 home runs in 2013. He's hit .423 with 7 RBI but has yet to go yard in their six tournament games. Setting the table for Renfroe is leadoff man Adam Frazier, who torched Virginia with an 8-for-11 performance, including a six-hit game in the opener. If he can continue to reach base and Renfroe and junior Alex Detz (also batting .429 in the tourney) can stay hot behind him, State's offense could be a force in Omaha.
Mississippi State has a somewhat dysfunctional pitching staff, with the majority of the work being done by its bullpen. Starters have made it into the fourth inning only twice in six games, and both times were by top man Kendall Graveman. In fact, the top two relievers have more wins on the season than any of the starters. This isn't so much a knock on their rotation as it is a credit to the pen: sophomore Ross Mitchell hasn't allowed a run in nine innings of work so far in the tournament, and lefty Chad Girodo has 24 strikeouts in two appearances. Sophomore Jonathan Holder will be called on to close games. He has 16 saves and has fanned 83 opponents over 48 innings on the season.
(3) Oregon State
Season: 50-11 (24-6 Pac-12), Pac-12 champions
Tournament: 3-0 in Corvallis Regional, 2-1 over Kansas St. in Corvallis Super
CWS history: fifth appearance (last in '07), won national championship in '06 and '07
If Oregon State hopes to fight through this bracket and reach its third CWS final in seven years, it starts by getting All-American outfielder Michael Conforto going at the plate. The sophomore has hit two homers in the tournament, but is nearly 100 points below his season average of .320. The offense has stayed productive nonetheless, scoring just over five runs per game. Ryan Barnes and Kavin Keyes have both hit in the .400 range.
Starting pitching is this team's strength, and they easily have the best three-man rotation in Omaha in Matt Boyd, Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler. The trio is a combined 33-5 and none have a season ERA higher than 2.13. Boyd, who carries a 2.40 tournament ERA and two no decisions, will take the mound Saturday against Mississippi State. Freshman phenom Moore, fresh off his 14th win in a three-run, eight inning performance against Kansas State, will be held until the second game. The bullpen is deep, and thanks to long outings by the starters, it's rested as well. Relievers have only had seven innings of work in the Beavers' six games. It's interesting to note that coach Pat Casey brought Boyd back on only one day's rest to close out the third game against K-State, hinting that he may not trust the pen completely.