OMAHA, Neb. – In the unholy hour of 12:59 on Friday, Texas finished Virginia 6-2 and Omaha was in the last four. Think about what could happen next.
This College World Series has seen surprises, big numbers, weirdness, and variety. Five days of great weather, then a 3½ hour delay in rain on Thursday night. Very few lead changes, but five one-run games. There have been 19 home runs, which is just four of the highest total of all time at TD Ameritrade Park. But also 206 strikeouts in 10 games, which is well on the way to challenge the all-time record of 339 set 64 years ago. There were 18 re-assessments but no calls have been canceled.
Newbies do well, but one of the biggest hits for Texas against Virginia came from a first baseman on his 182nd career start. Zach Zubia was 0-for-10 in the CWS with five strikeouts and only had two hits in his previous 25 NCAA tournament at-bats when he hit the plate in the ninth inning. He worked the count full, then cleaned up the bases with a double. « I’ll be the first to say that my start in the College World Series was obviously not the best, » he said afterwards. “It’s important for every hitter to just trust yourself, trust your work. And I think I showed that on my last at-bat. «
Vanderbilt won a game that lasted 4 hours and 51 minutes and then lost a game that was over at 2:28. Mississippi State used two pitchers to hit 21 Texas batters, and the next game took eight pitchers to hit just six against Virginia. The Bulldogs won both.
The state of North Carolina is still being asked how a team of 1-8 in their conference can go to a championship final win.
In the first nine years that the College World Series was held at TD Ameritrade Park, there were only two rallies out of four runs. There have been two more in the last three days alone.
In a sports world emerging from the empty grandstands of the pandemic, the total number of visitors will almost certainly exceed the 300,000 mark for the 15th year in a row. Especially when the Mississippi state legions roll into Nebraska.
All of this intrigue, and they haven’t even reached the best part. Nobody knows what will happen now that the CWS is reduced to four teams. But all of this could still happen …
Vanderbilt could become the seventh school to be repeated as a master. That would be a powerful statement for Tim Corbin’s program because of the 17 players who saw CWS 2019 for the Commodores action, Kumar Rocker is the only one left. Vanderbilt has been flirting with extinction all week, but maybe the Commodores are now setting up for the final run. « They have to be allowed to have that awe factor, » Corbin said of all of his newcomers at this stage. “It’s like going to Disney World for the first time as a little kid. You go there and your eyes are wide open to what you see. After a few days you start to settle in and really enjoy the amusement park. Here is the same case. «
But now they have to beat the state of North Carolina twice.
Texas could keep getting runs. The team, which struck 21 times in their opening defeat, have done eight and six runs in their last two games. If the Longhorns do that, victory is or was in their pocket anyway. They’ll stand 36-0 this season if they score five or more. « I would say we have the momentum right now, » said hitter-designate Ivan Melendez. « We’re hungry for more. »
But now they have to beat Mississippi State twice.
The state of North Carolina could only become the second incumbent ACC member in 65 years to win the College World Series. Virginia from 2015 is the only other one. The Wolfpack could also become the first unseeded national champion since Coastal Carolina in 2016. Also the 30th school to win the title. Your Omaha train is growing. « Former players came out, fans came out, » said coach Elliott Avent. “It’s not cheap to get out of here. I was amazed at how many people found their way to Omaha. ”
THE CWS DARLING: How NC State defies the odds
Mississippi State or Vanderbilt – or both – could bring the SEC a team in the championship finals for the 12th time in 13 years. This league may have a football for its beating heart, but it’s summer in Omaha. Strange evidence of the ubiquity of the conference here was Thursday evening. Virginia had played its last 13 College World Series games against SEC opponents before facing Big-12 Texas. The Cavaliers reached 13-9 in all-time CWS games, and all nine losses went to the SEC.
The baseballs could fly on, toward Iowa or the zoo. There have now been 400 homers in the NCAA tournament. Unheard of.
Theft could be in the wind. Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield Jr. leads the nation with 46 stolen bases. He was only caught six times. Mike Antico from Texas is second at 41. He was only thrown out four times. If both are well on the ground, the CWS could set a new record for most pitchers to throw first.
Mississippi State could finally reach the finish line on its 12th Omaha appearance. Only the state of Florida – here on June 23 – has been to the College World Series more often without winning it. The Bulldog crowds on the way to Nebraska sniff history. « I feel like the town of Starkville, they deserve it, » said outfielder Tanner Allen. “It’s a great fan base. They support us no matter what. I have the feeling it’s our time. «
Texas could only become the fifth team in 40 years to lose their first game and end up becoming national champions. The Longhorns could also be the first Big 12 champion in 16 years, back to the win they last won. But it was an arduous journey; Mississippi State’s 21-strike stuffing first and then comebacks in both playoffs. “We’re not going away. This team is simply resilient, ”said coach David Pierce in the early hours of the Friday morning after the game in Virginia. “We’ll tell you. . . we don’t just want it. It’s going to be difficult. We understand You will be beaten. We have to accept them and just keep playing. «
So there’s a reigning champion in Vanderbilt, a royalty in Texas, a program that has long been waiting for its Omaha moment in the state of Mississippi, and something of a surprise package in the state of North Carolina. What now? “Just scratch and scratch,” said Zubia of Texas’s plans. Probably the other three teams too.
Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State Journalism Hall of Fame, and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He covered college basketball for 43 years, including 39 final fours. He’s so old that he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.
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