The curse of the No. 1 overall seed lives on as the unranked Michigan stunned top-ranked UCLA in the Los Angeles Super Regional to advance to the College World Series. That leaves Vanderbilt, the second-ranked team, as the highest national seed remaining after the Commodores dismantled Duke in the Nashville Super Regional. Both programs look to make the case in Omaha, Neb., that they were both underrated entering the 64-team NCAA tournament.
In addition to the Wolverines and Commodores, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Louisville, Texas Tech, Florida State and Auburn make up the eight teams in the 2019 CWS. They’ve been divided into two, four-team brackets, where they’ll compete in a double-elimination tournament. The winning team from each bracket will match up in a best-of-three series for the national championship.
Four of the eight teams come from the SEC. Also, four of the remaining programs—Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Vanderbilt—were included in SI’s Magic Nine, the nine-team group from which we predicted the CWS would come.
Here are our 2019 College World Series Power Rankings:
How they got here: The Tigers upset No. 3 overall Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Regional with two wins over the hosting Yellow Jackets. Outfielder Steven Williams crushed a walk-off three-run homer with two outs and two strikes to give Auburn a 6–5 win. A day later, Williams ripped a two-run double that proved to be the difference in the Tigers’ regional-clinching win. In the Chapel Hill Super Regional, Auburn’s offense exploded in its two wins, combining for 25 runs against the hosting Tar Heels.
Making their case: It won’t be easy for the Tigers to win it all in Omaha. So far, they’ve thrived as an underdog, with their offense coming alive against some good pitching staffs. If that offensive surge carries over into the World Series, Auburn has a shot.
How they got here: The Wolverines are the lone Big Ten representative in the CWS, and to get here they beat No. 22 Creighton twice to win the Corvalis Region—and escaped without having to play last year’s national champion, Oregon State—and then took two of three against the top-ranked Bruins. Winning the Los Angeles Super Regional was especially impressive because Michigan gave UCLA its first series loss of the season.
Making their case: Like Auburn, the Wolverines will have a tough time winning the CWS just because of all the juggernauts remaining. Still, Michigan showed it can play with the best team in the country thanks to strong pitching. If the Wolverines can contain the hot-hitting bats of Texas Tech, Florida State and Arkansas to get out of their bracket, anything can happen in a best-of-three series in the finals.
6. Florida State
How they got here: The Seminoles unexpectedly underperformed during much of the season and barely snuck into the NCAA tournament as one of the last four teams selected. So far, they’ve made the most of their chance to get their legendary coach of 40 years, Mike Martin, his first national championship in his final season. They scored an absurd 35 runs in their three regional games and upset No. 4 overall seed Georgia. Florida State then swept No. 13 LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Making their case: Of the nationally unranked teams in the CWS (also Michigan and Auburn), the Seminoles have the best chance to win the title. Their bats are coming around at just the right time and they’re playing like the great program they’ve been for years. Martin’s final quest for his first CWS title could be the extra bit of motivation Florida State needs, but the inconsistency that hampered the Seminoles for much of the season could keep that coveted championship out of Martin’s grasp once again.
How they got here: Facing elimination in the regional they were hosting, the Cardinals outlasted Indiana in a 9–7 win before winning their next two games, both against Illinois State, to advance. Louisville must’ve had enough of the close games—all but one of its regional games were decided by two runs or less—as it swept No. 10 East Carolina by a combined score of 26–1.
Making their case: This is going to be difficult. The Cardinals begin the CWS against Vanderbilt, the best team remaining in the tournament. Against the Commodores, they cannot afford to fall behind early like they did a few times in the regional round. However, if their bats get going early and they have a lead in the ninth inning, flamethrowing closer Michael McAvene is as tough as they come in college baseball. Score early, score often—that’s the only way Louisville can take the title.
4. Texas Tech
How they got here: The Red Raiders can rake; their offense averaged 7.7 runs per game this season, which was 14th best in Division I. Their lineup is anchored by Josh Jung, who was selected eighth overall in the 2019 MLB draft, and Cameron Warren, their 6’3”, 230-pound first baseman. But Texas Tech’s lineup is deeper than just those two mashers. After homering in each of the three regional games, Warren went hitless in the first two Super Regional games and finished 1 for 11 in the three-game set vs. Oklahoma State. No matter, centerfielder Dylan Neuse was a force and picked up some of the slack at the top of the Red Raiders’ lineup.
Making their case: It’s simple, then. If the Red Raiders are going to win it all, they’re going to have to keep doing what they do best—hit. They open the CWS against Michigan, and so long as they don’t fall victim to the upset-minded Wolverines that plagued UCLA, they should be in good shape against either Florida State or Arkansas with a one-loss buffer to play with.
3. Mississippi State
How they got here: The Bulldogs cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament as they head to the CWS undefeated in the NCAA tournament. Their offense is electric—their .316 batting average ranked fifth in Division I this season, while their on-base percentage (.399) and slugging percentage (.480) both ranked in the top 20. But Mississippi State isn’t one-dimensional. The Bulldogs had the 19th-best ERA in Division I this season, and they allowed just 13 runs across their five tournament games, so far. Perhaps most impressive, they haven’t allowed more than two runs in a single game since Southern University plated six against them in the first game of the Starkville Regional.
Making their case: It comes down to beating Vanderbilt. If the Bulldogs can beat the Commodores and get to the finals, their chances become significantly better to win it all. Catalyst Jake Mangum, their leadoff hitter, is clicking again after a mini slump in the regional round, though he may have had to sacrifice a chicken to the baseball gods to break out of his funk.
How they got here: The Razorbacks have played just one close game so far this tournament, a 3–1 win over TCU in the Fayetteville Regional. Their lone loss came in the Super Regional, a 13–5 drubbing to Ole Miss that forced a decisive Game 3. The Hogs came out in full force with the sticks and annihilated the Rebels, 14–1.
Making their case: Out hit Texas Tech. That’s what Arkansas has to do to move on to the best-of-three finals, where anything is possible. The Razorbacks will probably see either Vandy or Mississippi State, two formidable opponents. But after being one out away from sweeping Oregon State and winning the title last year, the Hogs have something to prove in 2019.
How they got here: Take your pick: third baseman Austin Martin, who ripped two home runs in Game 3 of the Nashville Super Regional over Duke; outfielder JJ Bleday, who led Division I with 26 homers this year; or Kumar Rocker’s 19-strikeout no-hitter against the Blue Devils in Game 2.
Making their case: The best remaining teams in the tournament are from the SEC, and the Commodores won the both regular season title and conference tournament. They’re the most complete team in the CWS with an explosive offense than cannot be contained for nine innings.