The college baseball season always feels like it will last forever, but the 2019 edition is heading toward a dramatic climax at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb
Eight teams remain vying for the College World Series trophy: Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks and Commodores are far and away the betting favorites, but anything can happen in Omaha.
There are many possible title matchups among those remaining — from SEC rivalries and a redemption tour to an iconic coach looking to end his career on a high note — but these are the ones I would most like to see because they have the greatest potential for excitement:
Florida State vs. Anyone
Any college baseball fan who doesn’t have a dog in the hunt is probably on the Florida State bandwagon and rooting for a Mike Martin victory in Omaha.
Florida State’s coach is a no-doubt Hall of Famer with an NCAA-record 2,028 wins in 40 seasons but no national championships. Before the 2019 season, he announced that he would be retiring following this one last hurrah and here he is with a last crack at the title.
The Seminoles rolled through the Athens regional and upset No. 7 overall seed Georgia. They then swept LSU in the Baton Rouge super regional the following week. The last three teams to eliminate LSU — Coastal Carolina in the 2016 super regional, Florida in the 2017 CWS final, and Oregon State in the 2018 regional — went on to win the title.
Martin wants to ride off into the sunset on a high note. The players want to win it for their coach. The fans are along for the ride. Florida State has all the tools to win a title in Omaha.
Arkansas vs Mississippi State
This would be a battle of two recent Southeastern Conference superpowers. The two schools have 19 CWS appearances between them, but neither has lifted the trophy at the end of it.
Arkansas is looking to redeem itself after a missed pop fly ruined the Razorbacks’ chance in the 2018 CWS final. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is hoping to win it all with its third coach in three years.
Led by SEC hits leader Jake Mangum and a dominant pitching combo in Ethan Small and JT Ginn, this is probably the most talented and deepest Mississippi State lineup Starkville has seen in years.
This is by far the most exciting possible matchup, and I would expect a series between the two to go the full three games.
Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt — the No. 2 overall seed — is the only team on its side of the bracket with the pitching and hitting to take down Mississippi State. That same pitching staff could possibly roll through the Razorbacks.
The Commodores, who were the only team of the preseason top-three to make it to Omaha, took two of three games in the regular-season matchup back in April. With freshman right-hander Kumar Rocker — who pitched a no-hitter against Duke in the super regional round — on the mound and fourth-overall MLB draft pick JJ Bleday leading the offense, Vandy brings explosive potential to any series.
This is the most likely matchup, and I would expect more excitement if they face each other again.
Michigan vs Anybody
Everybody loves a good Cinderella story. It happens in March Madness every year and we all find ourselves inexplicably cheering for whoever that may be. In this College World Series, the Michigan Wolverines are that team.
Michigan went from one of the “last four in” teams to upsetting the reigning national champion Oregon State in the Corvallis regional and then No. 1-overall seed UCLA in the Los Angeles super regional on their way to Omaha.
The Wolverines have proven they can beat anybody, but they will need to limit errors and walks in order to do so again. Timely hitting and pitching could carry them to their first national championship since 1962.
Louisville vs Texas Tech
Louisville and Tech Tech have been two of the most consistent teams all season, both entering the NCAA tournament as national seeds. Each team arrives in Omaha with one big star leading the way.
Cardinals shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald believes this 2019 team is even deeper than Louisville’s 2017 lineup, the last time the program appeared in the CWS.
“Once we get going, it’s kind of like a train,” Fitzgerald told The Courier Journal. “We just have guys that step up from top to bottom. And I think we’re a little bit deeper in our hitters (than) the ’17 team. Not that those guys weren’t good; they had some amazing hitters. But I think the gap between our bottom hitter and our top hitter is smaller than it was back then. We’re just pretty deep 1-through-9.”
Similarly, Texas Tech has hit its stride as a program in recent seasons — reaching the CWS four times in the last five years — but has yet to lift the trophy. The Red Raiders, led by first-round MLB draft pick Josh Jung, have showed that they have what it takes to compete.
Both teams are out to prove they are among the elite of college baseball to stay, and they would combine for a compelling matchup.
Auburn vs Arkansas
Auburn may be the biggest surprise of this year’s NCAA tournament. The Tigers went 14-16 in conference play and were bounced in two games in the SEC Tournament before sweeping through the Atlanta regional and upsetting North Carolina in the super regional.
Auburn has turned around its offensive production and an injured pitching staff has persevered to close games.
Arkansas took two of three games from Tigers during the regular-season series, including a 15-inning 6-9 victory. But, like Bruce Pearl’s basketball team, this Auburn team is peaking at the right time and has shown up in big games.