The 2018 College World Series is finally here. Although the Rebels unfortunately did not make it to Omaha, this will be one College World Series not to miss.
After thrilling super regional games, this year’s College World Series is setting up to be a roller coaster ride. From walk off homeruns and high scoring games, to extra inning wins and rally bananas, the super regionals had it all. Florida, Mississippi State and Washington all took super regional game 3 to extra innings before moving on to Omaha.
Eight teams advanced to Omaha, three of them from the SEC.
Oregon State and North Carolina will open the series Saturday at 2:00 p.m. CT. Both teams are 5-0 in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heel pitching staff is led by Cooper Criswell, who is 6-2 with 80 strikeouts and two walks in 11 starts. The key for North Carolina has been getting clutch hits when it matters. The Tar Heels are batting .441 with runners in scoring position, explaining their average of 10 runs and 12 hits this postseason. Cody Roberts and Michael Busch lead the offense and pose a big back-to-back threat in the 2 and 3 spots in the lineup.
However, with only 43 errors in 60 games, Oregon State boasts a strong defense. Carolina will likely face Oregon State star pitcher Luke Heimlich. Heimlich is 16-1 with a 2.32 ERA and 151 strikeouts over 120 innings. The Tar Heels will face a tough challenge against this dominant pitcher. The Oregon State offense is top notch all the way through with its lineup full of .300 plus hitters, and Steven Kwan might be the biggest threat at the plate.
Mississippi State and Washington will continue the action on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. CT. Washington’s first ever trip to Omaha has beenled by Joe Wainhouse, who earned the nickname “Godzilla” after his stellar super regional performance. He has hit 12 homers in the past 18 games. The Husky pitching staff is led by Joe DeMers who threw a perfect game against UC Riverside earlier this season. He carried this momentum into a clutch seventh inning against Cal State Fullerton this past weekend to advance the Huskies to Omaha.
Mississippi State has played an exciting season as well. After a rough start, the Bulldogs ended the season 10-1 against top 10 teams, sweeping Arkansas and Florida, the other two SEC teams in the College World Series. In the Tallahassee Regional, Mississippi State eliminated the No. 7 national seed Florida State in a 3-run walk off homerun by Elijah MacNamee. That shot was not MacNamee’s only walk off homer this postseason; in State’s first game against Vanderbilt in the Nashville Super Regionals, MacNamee hit a walk off 2-run home run for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ offense is also led by Jake Magnum who is batting .353 on the season and has earned First Team All-SEC honors this year as well as SEC All-Defensive Team.
Arkansas will match up against Texas on Sunday at 1pm CT. Kody Clemens is a Golden Spikes Award finalist for the Longhorns and in this tournament alone, Clemens is 11-for-22 with five home runs, three doubles and 11 RBIs. Clemens hit three of those homeruns in the Austin Super Regional games against Tennessee Tech University. Clemens and the Longhorn offense will have to face Arkansas’s ace, Blaine Knight. Knight is 12-0 on the season and has only thrown one wild pitch in 101.1 innings.
The Razorbacks will also rely on second baseman Carson Shaddy, who is coming off of an impressive super regional. Shaddy had 9 RBIs in three games against South Carolina. He is also batting .341 on the season. Arkansas is 9-14 playing on the road, so all eyes will be on the team to see if it can continue its good play away from home. Arkansas beat Texas twice earlier this season in a midweek series in Fayetteville back in March.
Florida, the defending national champions, will face Texas Tech on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. CT. Florida has a few of the strongest players in the NCAA on its lineup. Brady Singer was named SEC pitcher of the year and Jonathan India was named SEC player of the year. The Florida pitching staff boasts an impressive bullpen including Singer, No. 2 pitcher Jackson Kowar, and the Gators’ premier closer, Michael Byrne. Byrne has 15 saves in 34 appearances and a 1.59 ERA.
The Gator pitching staff will have to face a strong Red Raider offense led by Josh Jung and Grant Little who have a combined 151 RBIs. Texas Tech will have to rely heavily on its offense, especially with a pitching staff that has a 4.40 ERA, the lowest in the college world series. If the Gators are selective at the plate, then expect the dominant Florida offense to show out.
The College World Series follows a double elimination bracket with a best of three series final. Games kick off this weekend and the finals begin on June 25.