You hear all the time in basketball about pace of the game favoring one team over another. One of the keys to winning on the hardwood is forcing your opponent to make them play your game.
For Mississippi State to win Tuesday night's crucial Game 2 of the College World Series finals, they'll have to avoid playing UCLA's game like they did Monday night in their opening loss.
With stellar starting pitching, strong defense and minimal offense, the Bruins are built for low-scoring, close affairs (they've won 17 one-run games this season), meaning they were in their element in Monday's 3-1 contest. UCLA got a six-inning, one-run outing from ace Adam Plutko, played strong defense behind him and essentially waited for the Bulldogs to make mistakes -- both of UCLA's scoring innings were kept alive by defensive miscues by Mississippi State.
It's not as if Mississippi State isn't fit for that kind of play themselves -- their deep bullpen has no problem holding them in tight games down the stretch -- they're just not as good at it as the Bruins. Mississippi State's big advantage in this series is the power and scoring ability of their offense, something they failed to capitalize on in the first game. After averaging over five runs per contest in their previous nine tournament games, MSU could muster only the one run off six hits Monday night. Hunter Renfroe, the Bulldogs' All-American and No. 13 overall pick of the MLB Draft, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, while national hits leader Adam Frazier was 0-for-4.
If Mississippi State can manage to break the game open offensively and turn it into a high-scoring affair, UCLA simply won't have the firepower to keep up. The Bruins are hitting around .250 as a team this year, and, despite one of their better performances at the plate last night, are still batting only .236 over the month of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Mississippi State, getting their offense going is much easier said than done, especially considering they'll be facing Nick Vander Tuig on the mound Tuesday night. The junior right-hander is essentially UCLA's 1-B starter next to Plutko, and at 13-4 on the year, actually has a better record. He's 3-0 in the tournament and over his last two outings has allowed just one run on 12 hits, striking out ten and walking none in the process.
Mississippi State will counter with their best starting option in Kendall Graveman, who is the only starter on the roster capable of making a lengthy outing. He'll also have arguably the most dominant bullpen in college baseball ready to cover for him should he need it.
The Bulldogs' defensive concerns are secondary at the moment, though. If they hope to extend this series another game, they'll have to get their bats going and pick up the offensive pace.
Game 2 will be played at 8 p.m. ET and broadcast on ESPN.