Dates: June 10-12
The matchup: Florida has won three of the four meetings between the SEC rivals this season, including an 18-0 blowout during the regular season and a 7-5 win in the conference tournament. The Gators' pitching limited the Bulldogs to just one run over a 21-inning stretch in their three-game series in midseason. Obviously, Mississippi State doesn't have a chance if Florida starters repeat that performance. Nick Routt and Todd McInnis stepped up with complete games in the regionals and teammate Evan Mitchell went eight innings. The Bulldogs could use similar performances from them because their pitching staff simply doesn't stack up with Florida's, which includes six pitchers with at least five victories.
Players to watch: Mississippi State INF Nick Vickerson (.314, 7 HRs, 31 RBIs, 25 SBs), who was selected by Texas in the 20th round of the draft, keys the team's offense as a run-producer and also someone who can put himself in position to score with his speed. He led the Bulldogs in stolen bases and was just one home run behind team leader Jonathan Ogden. Difficult to select just one Florida player to highlight when both C Mike Zunino (.371, 16 HRs, 61 RBIs, 7 SBs) and OF Preston Tucker (.319, 13 HRs, 65 RBIs, 5 SBs) have been so productive. Zunino took the next step after being named a freshman All-America in 2010, earning SEC Player of the Year this season. Tucker has played in the outfield this year for the Gators, but Colorado used a 16th-round pick on him as a first baseman.
And the winner is: Definitely a team from the SEC, although not the one from Mississippi. The Bulldogs don't have enough pitching to prevent Florida from getting back to the CWS for the second straight year.
Dates: June 10-12
The matchup: Texas has been to the CWS 33 times (more than any other school) and won six national championships (only USC, with 12, has won more). Arizona State has made 22 appearances and won five titles. So the national profile doesn't get much higher than it is for this series. Both rosters include players with CWS experience. 3B Erich Weiss (.361, 4 HRs, 42 RBIs) and 1B Tant Shepard (.300, 5 HRs, 40 RBIs) are the biggest run producers on a team otherwise overshadowed by its pitching. ASU is loaded with its typical gritty bunch -- led by 3B Riccio Torrez (.309, 3 HRs, 52 RBIs). C Xorge Carrillo (.330, 24 RBIs) and OF Matt Newman (.301, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs) are the only seniors in the starting lineup, so a team trying to make its third straight trip to Omaha appears set for the future as well.
Players to watch: Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann (13-1, 1.39 ERA, 120 SO), who was selected in the first round by Milwaukee, tries to finish what he starts: Jungmann tossed five complete games this season, including three shutouts. The first complete game of his career came as a freshman two years ago in a College World Series championship series win over LSU. Arizona State DH Joey DeMichele (.368, 9 HRs, 48 RBIs, 6 SBs) got just nine at-bats as a freshman last season, but emerged as one of the Sun Devil leaders this year. The light definitely went on during the offseason. DeMichele can hit to all fields, hit with power and even steal a base now and then.
And the winner is: Texas should find a way on offense to cobble together a few runs and its pitching and defense should make it hold up to advance to the CWS for the second time in three years.
Dates: June 10-12
The matchup: Oregon State's back-to-back national championships in 2006-07 are becoming more and more of a distant memory. Vanderbilt -- which happened to be the No. 1 national seed when the Beavers won their second title -- is hoping to finally make some memories of its own as the Commodores bid for their first trip to the CWS. No Oregon State hitter really jumps out statistically. DH Kevin Keyes has the highest batting average at .316. C Andrew Susac and 1B Parker Berberet share the home run lead with five. And Berberet leads the team with 37 RBIs. But everyone in the batting order contributes. The key is whether the Beavers' pitching can matchup up with their Vanderbilt counterparts. Vandy's team ERA was 2.41, third in the nation. That's balanced by a Commodores offense hitting a collective .319, which ranks sixth in the country. 1B Aaron Westlake (.349, 14 HRs, 48 RBIs) supplies the most power in the lineup, although several teammates � like 3B Jason Esposito (.362, 8 HRs, 55 RBIs) and C Curt Casali (.310, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs) can produce runs as well.
Players to watch: Oregon State will look to RHP Sam Gaviglio (12-2, 1.87 ERA, 113 SO/27 BB in 115 IP), a fifth-round draft pick by St. Louis, to set the tone as he has all season. Like the hitters, Gaviglio doesn't demand instant attention. He's fortunate when his fastball touches 90 mph. He succeeds with command and changing speeds. Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray (11-3, 2.01 ERA, 115 SO/39 BB in 108 IP) has been the center of the attention for the Commodores, and Gray was the draft's 18th overall pick by Oakland. But Vanderbilt LHP Grayson Garvin (13-1, 2.08 ERA, 89 SO/21 BB in 102 IP), who was selected by Tampa Bay in the supplemental first round, was the SEC Pitcher of the Year. A mid-90s fastball that gets on hitters in a hurry has helped Garvin to a share of the national lead in victories. It also helps that he's 6-foot-6 with an arm angle that creates plenty of problems for hitters.
And the winner is: Vanderbilt set an SEC record with 12 players selected -- including the aforementioned Gray and Garvin -- in this week's draft. That's too much talent for Oregon State to overcome.
Dates: June 10-12
The matchup: Stanford may be loading up for another run of CWS appearances the way the Cardinal did in making five straight trips to Omaha from 1999-2003. They're still a very young team with three freshmen -- led by 1B Brian Ragira (.320, 4 HRs, 43 RBIs) -- and four sophomores -- most notably 3B Stephen Piscotty (.370, 3 HRs, 40 RBIs) -- in the starting lineup. Sophomore RHP Mark Appel (6-6, 3.02 ERA, 83 SO/26 BB in 104 IP) has the liveliest arm -- reaching the high 90s with his fastball -- but hasn't put it all together yet. North Carolina doesn't have first-round talents like Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard on the mound the way they did when the Tar Heels played for the national championship in 2006. But they can pitch, with RHP Patrick Johnson (12-1, 2.36 ERA, 113 SO/29 BB in 99 IP) leading the way. North Carolina has hit just .286 as a team, but the Tar Heels are able to produce nearly seven runs a game.
Players to watch: Stanford LHP Chris Reed (6-2, 2.54 ERA, 9 SV, 48 SO/15 BB in 50 IP), the 16th overall pick in the draft, by the Dodgers has been used out of the bullpen to great success. Reed comes into the game and cranks it up in the mid- to high-90s with his fastball. Really, he's still just coming into his own. North Carolina 3B Colin Moran (.335, 9 HRs, 69 RBIs) leads the team in almost every offensive category, including batting average, HRs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he's just a freshman.
And the winner is: It would be an upset, but Stanford seems to be peaking at the right time.
Dates: June 11-13
The matchup: UC Irvine was a crowd favorite in Omaha four years ago -- fans ate it up when the players wore jerseys with the nickname "Eaters" across the front -- but returning is a tall task for a No. 3 seed that was fortunate to win its regional. The Anteaters will again need strong pitching from a staff that compiled a 2.90 ERA this season and notched a pair of 4-3 wins last week over USF and UCLA. The small ball played by UC Irvine, which collected only 13 home runs all season, won't play in Virginia if the pitching falters. That's because as good as UCI's pitching has been, the Cavaliers' staff has been even better, with a 2.27 staff ERA. And if Virginia has a lead in the ninth, the game is all but over. Closer Branden Kline's 17 saves is one off the national lead.
Players to watch: Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen (11-3, 1.57, 148 SO/17 BB in 103.1 IP), the draft's No. 2 overall pick by Seattle, has a fastball that touches the mid-90s but what really sets him apart is his command. He also plays first base and can help the team at the plate, but the Cavaliers are content with him concentrating on opposing batters. Who knew UC Irvine RHP Matt Summers (11-2, 1.72 ERA, 96 SO/32 BB in 109.2 IP) had this in him? A two-way player who didn't show much promise at the plate or on the mound his first two years, Summers emerged this season when he focused on his pitching. Still, who could have predicted that he would go from an 8.36 ERA to fewer than two runs a game this season.
And the winner is: Virginia is the No. 1 national seed, which is all you need to know.
Dates: June 11-13
The matchup: While Cal is hosting this Super Regional, the series is actually being played at Santa Clara because the Bears' facility does not have lights. It was almost lights out for the century-old Cal program, which was to be axed amid budget cuts after this season before boosters stepped in to earn a save. Overcoming such obstacles would normally make a team the sentimental favorite, but not in this case. Dallas Baptist is in its sixth season at the Division I level and had never won an NCAA Tournament game before this season, but the Patriots knocked off two of last year's CWS participants -- Oklahoma and TCU -- to reach the Super Regionals. They did it on the strength of an offense that averaged more than eight runs a game this season.
Players to watch: Dallas Baptist OF Jason Krizan (.419, 10 HRs, 81 RBIs, 13 SBs) is of average build at 6-foot and 186 pounds, but he opened some eyes with a 39-game hitting streak. He leads the nation in hits and doubles and is third in RBIs. Detroit used an eighth-round pick to draft him. Cal RHP Erik Johnson (6-4, 2.91 ERA, 96 SO/56 BB in 96 IP) showed enough promise with a mid-90s fastball and strong secondary pitches that the Chicago White Sox used a second-round pick on him. But he can make fans cover their eyes due to his control, or lack thereof, which creates situations from which he must extricate himself.
And the winner is: Both schools fit the team-of-destiny profile, but Cal gets the nod for avoiding distraction and overcoming adversity.
Dates: June 11-13
The matchup: Texas A&M has one of the deepest pitching staffs in the nation, and the Aggies have to prove it now. That's because ace RHP John Stilson has been sidelined with a torn labrum, leaving starting RHPs Ross Stripling (13-2, 2.30 ERA, 99 SO/16 BB in 109.2 IP) and Michael Wacha (8-3, 2.24 ERA, 106 SO/23 BB in 108.2 IP) to shoulder the load. Fresno State made its Cinderella run to the national championship three years ago without ace Tanner Scheppers, so there is precedent for success. Interestingly enough, both teams averaged .294 during the season, but Florida State was more productive offensively. The Seminoles scored 447 runs while Texas A&M managed just 369.
Players to watch: Florida State LHP Sean Gilmartin (12-1, 1.83 ERA, 122 SO/20 BB in 113.1 IP) became the 19th player in school history to be selected in the first round of the draft when Atlanta picked him. He doesn't blow the ball by hitters like many of his contemporaries these days, relying on an outstanding changeup and other pitches to keep hitters off balance. The A&M offense is spread among several players across the lineup, but OF Tyler Naquin (.389, 2 HRs, 43 RBIs) is the most vital component. He has scored 22 more runs than anyone else on the team and is only four RBIs off the team lead, despite batting leadoff.
And the winner is: Florida State has the balance to return to the CWS for the second straight year and put last season's 0-2 effort in Omaha behind it.
Dates: June 11-13
The matchup: UConn, bidding for its sixth CWS appearance and first in 33 years, is carrying the flag for the Northeast schools, whose Omaha appearances are all too rare these days. Starters Matt Barnes (11-4, 1.62 ERA, 111 SO/31 BB in 116.2 IP) and Greg Nappo (10-2, 2.55 ERA, 52 SO/40 BB in 88.1 IP) are a pretty good 1-2 punch, but nothing South Carolina doesn't see week in and week out in the SEC. The Gamecocks watched their home runs drop from 97 last season to 44 this year. One reason is the restrictions placed on the bats this year. Another explanation is losing OF Jackie Bradley Jr., the 2010 CWS Most Outstanding Player, to a midseason wrist injury. Bradley was a supplemental first round pick by Boston. He is hoping his college career isn't over just yet, eyeing a return in some capacity if the Gamecocks make it back to Omaha to defend their title.
Players to watch: UConn OF George Springer (.350, 12 HR, 77 RBI) supplied most of the power for the Huskies, hitting twice as many homers as anyone else on the roster. Houston selected Springer with the draft's 11th pick, getting a player with the rare combination of power and speed, which he uses well in the outfield. His strong arm is another bonus. South Carolina LHP Michael Roth's only starts of the season last year were in Omaha, where he helped the Gamecocks to the national championship with wins over Clemson and UCLA. Guess that made an impression on coach Ray Tanner, who made Roth (12-3, 1.10 ERA, 93 SO/29 BB in 114.2 IP) the team's main starter this season.
And the winner is: UConn's nice little run comes to an end against a more experienced, better tested and more talented South Carolina team.