Vanderbilt and Virginia, the last two survivors from the NCAA Baseball Tournament's original field of 64, are set to make their final push for a national championship. The two schools play the first game of a best-of-three series on Monday night in Omaha, Neb. and by Wednesday at the latest, one of them will be lifting the trophy.
To get you ready for Game 1, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, we take a look at how each team got here and what to expect from them in the final series.
How they got here
Vandy cruised undefeated through the Nashville regional -- which included Oregon and Clemson -- then ended up as a super regional host when Indiana lost in the first round. They split the opening two games with Stanford before steamrolling the Cardinal in the rubber match to move on to Omaha. Once in the CWS, the Commodores dispatched rival Louisville in the opener and outlasted UC Irvine 48 hours later to grab a coveted 2-0 start. But Texas came back out of the losers' bracket with some fight, blanking the Commodores, 4-0 last Friday and forcing an all-or-nothing rubber match. With that game tied in the bottom of the tenth inning, backup catcher Tyler Campbell legged out a two-out infield single for a walkoff win over the Longhorns.
Recaps of Semfinals
Recaps of Semfinals
Virginia's path through Omaha has had its fair share of drama as well. Maryland shocked them in the opening game of the Charlottesville super regional, but the Cavs rallied for two consecutive wins to punch their ticket to the CWS. Once in Omaha, they then needed back-to-back walkoffs against Ole Miss and TCU to start 2-0. Ole Miss fought back out of the losers' bracket for a shot at revenge, but Virginia overcame a rain postponement and an early deficit to win 4-1 on Saturday.
Both teams were able to avoid throwing their ace twice during the group stage, which means we'll see a best-on-best matchup on Monday night. Virginia's Nathan Kirby, whose gone 9-2 this season with an absurd 1.70 ERA, was dominant against Ole Miss in the Cavs' Omaha opener, holding arguably the best offense in the CWS to just one hit over seven innings.
Vandy will counter with first-round MLB Draft pick Tyler Beede, whose been struggling as of late. After allowing six runs against Stanford in the supers, Beede coughed up a four-spot and couldn't make it out of the fourth inning against UC Irvine in Omaha last week. In total, he's allowed 10 runs over his last 8⅔ innings. If Beede struggles early on Monday, expect to see reliever Walker Buehler take the mound.
For Game 2, Virginia is expected to go with Branden Waddell. Vandy has made no indication of who they'll turn to. The man that would typically make the second start, Carson Fulmer, was forced into action in the rubber match against Texas this past Saturday.
What Vandy has lacked in pitching consistency in the tournament, they've made up for in hitting. They're hitting .297 as a team in the postseason and have three regular starters above the .380 mark (Bryan Reynolds, Rhett Wiseman and John Norwood). They're even more dangerous once they get on; Vanderbilt is third in the nation in stolen bases this season and have already swiped 24 bags in the tournament. Against a stingy staff like Virginia, the ability to generate offense on the base paths will be huge.
Virginia's dominant pitching staff is supported by a lefty-heavy lineup that's hitting .290 in postseason play. The most dangerous bat of the bunch belongs to Mike Papi, who went in the first round to the Cleveland Indians and is hitting .432 in the tournament. It was his rocket into the right-center gap that won the game against Ole Miss. Papi's the only one hitting above .300 on the season, but guys like Joe McCarthy and Brandon Downes provide dangerous pop in the lineup.