The 2013 College World Series is down to four teams, as the nation's elite remain in the pursuit of championship gold. While no one could have predicted the path these teams took to their current stage, their status among the world's best is unquestioned.
The real question is, what factors will decide each semifinal matchup?
The first of two games will see a rematch between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Oregon State Beavers. They met in the opening round of the College World Series, where the Bulldogs pulled out a 5-4 upset.
The winner of this round will enter the realm of legends by reaching the Finals, thus competing for the College World Series crown.
In the second game, the North Carolina Tar Heels will play the UCLA Bruins in a clash of two elite teams on different paths. Regardless of how they reached the semifinals, both teams are here and each will be in legitimate contention for the gold.
What will it take for each team to win?
Oregon State Beavers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Date: Friday, June 21
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Mississippi State's X-Factor: Starting Pitching
The Mississippi State Bulldogs have defeated the Oregon State Beavers before, winning 5-4 just five days ago. During that game, Mississippi State overcame a poor outing from starting pitcher Kendall Graveman to achieve victory.
In 4.2 innings, Graveman scattered six hits and four runs, only two being earned.
Ross Mitchell ended up taking the loss, but it was Graveman's pitching and the team's poor fielding that dug the Bulldogs into a hole. If the Bulldogs are to pull off a second consecutive victory over OSU, they'll need to improve in that regard.
Banking on a two-run eighth inning certainly isn't the safest bet.
If the Bulldogs are able to weather the storm early on, they will have a chance of putting runs on the board late in the game and walking away victorious. If Mississippi State attempts to play catch-up, however, the Beavers will win.
It's all about the Bulldogs pitching their way through the opening innings.
Oregon State's X-Factor: Middle of the Lineup
The Oregon State Beavers had a victory in the bag against Mississippi State just one week ago, maintaining their lead into the eighth inning. Unfortunately, the Beavers went scoreless during the final four innings of the affair.
Oregon State's issue was the struggle of the middle of their lineup.
Michael Conforto was sensational, going 4-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored. Unfortunately, the other hitters from No. 2 to No. 5 went a combined 2-for-13.
That simply isn't acceptable.
The Beavers are the superior team on paper, but they're going up against a red-hot Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have won each of their past five games, including three one-run affairs, which suggests that they will come out on top if Oregon State can't find their bats.
Coming off a game in which they shut out Indiana, pitching certainly isn't an issue for OSU—it's time to pick up a W with their bats.
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. UCLA Bruins
Date: Friday, June 21
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
North Carolina's X-Factor: Pitching
This one is simple. The North Carolina Tar Heels have gone from pitching at an elite level during the regular season to performing at a disturbingly poor level in the NCAA Tournament and College World Series.
Until recently, that is.
UNC lost in the opening round of the College World Series by a score of 8-1, thus falling into the losers bracket. Since then, they've won 4-2 against LSU and earned revenge on North Carolina State with a 7-0 drubbing.
Suddenly, the Tar Heels are beginning to look like themselves.
If North Carolina is to defeat UCLA, they must put forth a powerful pitching effort. The Bruins have held their opponents to one run in consecutive games, and the Tar Heels are not safe from that same fate.
Matching the Bruins pitch-for-pitch is the only way to win.
UCLA's X-Factor: Waking Up Their Bats
As it presently stands, not a single qualified player on the UCLA Bruins' roster is hitting above .300. Their leading hitter, Kevin Kramer, clocks in at .280, while their top home run hitter is Pat Valaika with an average of .249 and five home runs.
Their pitching may be world class, but if North Carolina is able to break through, there's reason to believe UCLA won't be able to match their production.
The Bruins have scored three runs or less in each of their past three games. With that being said, UCLA has also held their opponents to one run or less in four of their past five, including two shutouts.
The question is, can they hit?
The Bruins topped five runs in three consecutive games during the NCAA Tournament, but haven't been the same in their past three. Even as their pitchers step up and lead the charge, providing minimal run support is a great way to lose games.
UCLA may be on a winning streak, but they're about to play the top team in the nation—waking their bats is the only way to survive.
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