The College World Series begins in Omaha today with eight teams competing for the title. The contenders range from top-ranked schools, like UCLA and Florida, to the Cinderellas in Kent St. and Stony Brook, who knocked off a powerhouse LSU team in the Super Regionals.
Along with the David vs. Goliath pairings, we also get a glimpse into the future of Major League Baseball. Fifty-four players that will take the field in Omaha this weekend were selected earlier this month in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft.
The tournament begins tonight with the first set of teams in this double-elimination bracket: Stony Brook vs. UCLA and Arizona vs. Florida State. The remaining four, which includes Kent St. vs. Arkansas and South Carolina vs. Florida, begin play on Saturday. Here are the matchups to pay attention to when watching the first round of the tournament.
Travis Jankowski (Stony Brook) vs. Adam Plutko (UCLA) - Friday, 5 PM ET, ESPN2
Center fielder Travis Jankowski is a big reason why Stony Brook has gotten this far. A junior, Jankowski is putting up ridiculous numbers this season. He leads the team with a .422 average, 78 runs, and 36 steals in 64 games. He became the highest-drafted Stony Brook player ever earlier this month when the Padres took him with the 44th overall pick.
Plutko, the ace of the Bruins staff, is one of the most highly-touted prospects of the 2013 draft. He is 11-3 this year with a 2.56 ERA. The sophomore will take the mound tonight in the school's first College World Series game since losing the championship to South Carolina in 2010.
A matchup between these two stars is a must-see. Plutko has been brilliant of late, and Jankowski needs to have a good game in order to vault the Seawolves to victory.
Boyd and Ramsey (Florida State) vs. Arizona Wildcat pitching - Friday, 9 PM ET, ESPN2
Florida State's duo of Jayce Boyd and James Ramsey have troubled opposing pitchers all season long. Both sport averages in the .380s and have great plate discipline. Ramsey was taken by the Cardinals in the first round of this year's draft, while Boyd was selected in the sixth by the Mets.
Arizona's staff is led by junior Kurt Heyer, who is 12-2 with a 2.28 ERA this season. He was selected in the sixth round by the Cardinals this year. The bullpen behind him is shaky at best, so the longer Heyer can go, the better.
Containing Boyd and Ramsey will be the key to victory for the Wildcats. If they can accomplish that, the rest of the Seminoles lineup should be manageable.
David Starn (Kent St.) vs. Arkansas lineup - Saturday, 5 PM ET, ESPN
The Atlanta Braves' seventh-round selection in 2012, David Starn is the key to Kent State's success. He is 11-3 with a 2.21 ERA and a staggering 123 strikeouts in just 114 innings of work, but he will need to step up his game to take on Arkansas.
Arkansas is one of the weaker offensive teams left in the tournament, but their SEC talent may have an edge against the Cinderella team from the Mid-American Conference. Matt Reynolds, who went in the second round to the Mets, is a talented third baseman that leads the Razorback offense.
Starn pitching a gem may be the Golden Flashes' only chance of taking this game. He struggled in his Super Regional start against Oregon, giving up four runs in 6.1 innings, but came out victorious as the Golden Flashes won 7-6. He will need to be better this time around to keep the Cinderella story going.
Florida Gators bullpen vs. South Carolina offense - Saturday, 9 PM ET, ESPN
In what might be the most exciting game of the opening weekend, the Florida Gators take on the two-time defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks. Florida's bullpen is lights-out, and their starters aren't exactly a walk in the park either. Four of their pitchers were taken in the first seven rounds of this month's draft. Closer Austin Maddox, along with relievers Steven Rodriguez and Greg Larson, will make the game a lot shorter for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks offense needs to get on the board early. Slugger Christian Walker, taken in the fourth round by the Orioles, is the focal point of the lineup. He needs to capitalize on all of his run-producing opportunities to get the team out to an early lead.
If the Gators move ahead in the first few innings, it will be hard for South Carolina to get back in the game. They have to take the early lead and avoid playing from behind when the Gators go to the bullpen.
This will be an exciting first round of the College World Series. Cinderella stories, future MLB stars, and clutch moments will define this year's tournament. These are the matchups to watch.