by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
After four days in Omaha, North Carolina State and Mississippi State sit atop the championship brackets, awaiting their opponents in what has been one the most exciting College World Series in recent memory.
North Carolina State knocked off Jack Leiter and Vanderbilt, 1-0, in an instant classic on Monday to advance to the finals. On Tuesday night, Mississippi State found themselves in a hole early, down 4-0, but battled back to knock off the Virginia Cavaliers, 6-5.
The losers’ bracket in Omaha is a nightmare for any pitching coach. Teams in the losers’ bracket get to experience the stress of watching pitch counts elevate, while the winners’ bracket teams get extra rest.
Of the last 30 National Champions, 25 of them started 2-0 in the CWS. It is not an impossible task to escape the losers’ bracket, but the odds, and arms, are stacked against you.
Stanford will try to eliminate the reigning champs, Vanderbilt, on Wednesday night, and Texas will take on Virginia in a win-or-go-home situation on Thursday. So, which elimination bracket team has the best chance to prevail and win the College World Series?
The winner of the Stanford and Vanderbilt game has the best opportunity to come out of the losers’ bracket to advance to the College World Series finals. With no disrespect to North Carolina State, Mississippi State has one of the deepest bullpens in the country and will be tough to beat twice. Not only do the Bulldogs have depth, they now have time off to rest as Texas and Virginia battle it out.
After Tanner Witt’s crucial 5.2-inning relief appearance in the elimination game against Tennessee, Texas head coach David Pierce feels like his bullpen is ready for an extended run in Omaha. “To be in the losers' bracket, 1-1, we're in pretty good shape with our arms. We feel like we have Pete [Hansen] ready to go, if that's who we go with. We've still got to talk about it. And then you've still got a lot of guys fresh. You may see Tristan Stevens later in this series as well.”
Beating Mississippi State with a tired pitching staff is going to be a monumental task for either team, and all signs point to Coach Lemonis having his team in the championship next week.
In the other bracket, do not be surprised to see Stanford advance to the finals. The Cardinal have scored an average of 9.75 runs in their eight NCAA Tournament games this year, including two elimination games which they have scored 14 and 11. Coach Esquer has his offense hitting on all cylinders at the right time. During the regular season, his team batted .276 compared to .326 in the postseason.
In order to advance from the losers' bracket, it takes an offense that has the ability to put runs on the board because of the limited availability of the pitching staff. Stanford has all the tools to do so.
Vanderbilt’s lack of starting pitching depth will be exposed in this matchup. If Kumar Rocker or Leiter were available, this would be a different story, but both Rocker and Leiter threw 100+ pitches in their outings earlier this week.
Talking with the media after the loss to North Carolina State on Monday, Coach Corbin was asked who will start for the Commodores in the most important game of the year. “No one is the obvious choice right now,” he shared. Against a potent Stanford offense, that is troubling.
It appears that Patrick Reilly (4-2, 4.89 ERA) or Christian Little (3-1, 5.02 ERA) are the top candidates at this point, but a staff day is likely in order no matter who gets the ball on Wednesday. Advantage, Stanford.
The winner of this game will then turn their focus to the Wolfpack, the hottest team in the country after starting just 1-8 in ACC play. North Carolina State beat Stanford 10-4 on Saturday, but if any team is up for the grudge match, it is Stanford.
Buckle up baseball fans, it is the best time of the year and if the first eight games in Omaha are any indication of how the College World Series is going to end, we are in for a treat.
Matt’s Prediction: Stanford will prevail from the losers’ bracket and take on Mississippi State, who will take care of business against the winner of Virginia and Texas.