OMAHA, Neb. -- Wednesday night's finale of the College World Series pits two of the sport's most storied programs -- Texas has six championships, LSU has five -- against each other to cap an Omaha fortnight that has lived up to the hype as the "Greatest Show on Dirt."
Oh, and the schools can finally settle who truly deserves to be No. 1. Texas (50-15-1), which won Big 12 titles in the regular season and tournament, is the No. 1 national seed in the postseason, as determined by the NCAA baseball committee; LSU (55-17), the SEC regular-season and tournament champ, is the No. 1 team as voted by the national polls.
Recent history is inconclusive: In Texas's favor is that two of the last three national champs rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the CWS final; in LSU's favor is the fact that a No. 1 seed hasn't won the title since Miami in 1999.
The Longhorns will send 6-foot sophomore right-hander Cole Green to the mound, he of the 5-3 record, 3.07 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings. Thanks to Taylor Jungmann's complete game last night, the entire Longhorns relief corps has had at least one day of rest.
LSU hands the ball to its own sophomore right-hander, 6-7 power pitcher Anthony Ranaudo, an 11th-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of high school. This season Ranaudo, along with SEC Pitcher of the Year Louis Coleman, has been part of arguably the best 1-2 starting pitcher combo in the nation; Ranaudo is 11-3, with a 2.87 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 119 innings. The Tigers used three relievers for seven innings last night, but their top pitcher out of the bullpen, Matty Ott, last appeared Monday and should be ready to go.
To preview Wednesday night's highly anticipated final, SI.com asked a member of two coaching staffs who are familiar with both Texas and LSU to break down the matchup.
Coach 1: "He's going to try to elevate the fastball, and Texas has to see the fastball down in the zone [to swing]. And you have to see the curveball up. He's a power guy, and Texas is going to have to see the fastball down and the curveball up. Texas has been doing that; they've been doing a good job of laying off those tough pitches to hit that are just out of the zone. If they can continue that approach, they'll have a shot."
Coach 2: "Ranaudo is a big-time arm, a big-time draft guy a year from now. He can be very overpowering. I think Texas is so disciplined, they'll make him get it in the strike zone. At this point in his career I think he relies on guys getting themselves out a little bit, chasing pitches out of the zone with the fastball up and the hard breaking ball down. Texas will be a challenge for him if he's not throwing strikes. His M.O. is that it takes him a little while to get into the game."
Coach 1: "With their quality at-bats they're laying off some borderline pitches that, even if they're strikes, they're not good hitters' pitches. They're really working the counts to get pitches they can drive. [Center fielder] Connor Rowe has some untapped power on the pull side. He's been able to get the bat head out on some pitches that were very hittable. [Designated hitter Russell] Moldenhauer is the same thing. If you watch Moldenhauer take [batting practice], he might hit 15 out [of the park]. He's got juice. In a game he just seems to be more of a line drive to left-center-field gap guy. But he's been getting pitches in."
Coach 2: "They're good two-strike hitters and have some pop in the lineup. [Catcher Cameron] Rupp and [right fielder Kevin] Keyes have big-time pop. Russell Moldenhauer was one of the best players they had a year ago. After that knee scope [surgery for a dislocated kneecap], if you've noticed, he's not running well. I think he's still troubled by that knee. He didn't get a lot of at-bats, but when he got the start in that first game in Omaha and in his first at-bat, he went out of the yard, opposite field -- I just thought that was one of the coolest things I've seen. Preston Clark is the same way. He's had some health issues, but he was the guy behind the plate for about three years. Both of those guys have been really good in Omaha."
Coach 1: "Cole is a great competitor. He can probably throw the breaking ball [if he is] behind or even in the count as well as anybody in the Series. He'll go to the breaking ball, but he has enough of a fastball and spots it up well."
Coach 2: "Green is a lot like [Game 1 starter] Chance Ruffin -- the velocity is about the same, throws the same stuff. He's going to need to be really good because the LSU lineup is a tough matchup for him with all their left-handers."
Coach 1: "They have the best balance. They have some holes in their swings but they don't miss their pitches very often. Mitchell's a perfect example: He's patient, really keeps the bat in his zone and he's pretty good in his zone. They're very balanced with team speed and power. I think they can beat you with the long ball, they can beat you with a good quality at-bat. They're not a big sac bunt team, but they'll use it when they need to. They're very aggressive with runners in scoring position. ... [First baseman Ryan] Schimpf is their best hitter. Although [designated hitter Blake] Dean has physically their most power, Schimpf has shown the most power through the year, but he also has speed to turn a ball in the gap into a triple and can beat out an infield hit. If you give him the right pitch, he'll hit it out of the park."
Coach 2: "LSU's lineup is just so athletic. They're used to swinging away. They score runs in bunches --they're not used to scoring them one at a time."
Coach 1: "I think LSU's one and two [starters] are as good as anybody's in the country. Texas is [statistically] No. 1 in the country in pitching for a reason. They're balanced with starters and relievers. With the matchup of those two starters, I think either one can go out and dominate. [LSU's] Matty Ott is rested, so he can probably go up to three, four innings. And LSU usually goes deep into games with their starting pitching. I think the key for Ranaudo is to try and get through six."
Coach 2: "I do think that the extra-inning game [25 innings against Boston College in the regional] with Austin Wood [who threw 169 pitches in 13 innings of relief] finally reared its ugly head in the first game. Wood has been their go-to guy at any point in the game all year and even last year. [In Game 1] when they pulled him, with one out in the ninth and a runner at first base, that was so atypical. That's when I thought, They don't know who their guy is anymore. They don't know who to close with."
Coach 1: "Everybody thinks [Texas] coach [Augie] Garrido is a small-ball guy, but he's coaching his team based on what his guys are doing right now. [In Game 2] he could have tacked on [an insurance run] with a couple of bunts, but he let guys swing away. They're both outstanding coaches. The difference is that LSU probably has a slight advantage defensively."
Coach 2: "In spite of the fact that Texas hasn't played good defense the last couple of games, I still think they're exceptional."
Coach 1: "LSU's going to win it because of Ranaudo and Ott. Texas might be hotter, but LSU is just the better overall team."
Coach 2: "My prediction on the whole thing all along has been that if it went three games, Texas would win because of their pitching. They're deeper."