The 2013 College World Series is down to two teams, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs will face the UCLA Bruins in the championship round. With both clubs having taken the long road to glory, they will be turning to their stars in hopes of achieving victory on the grandest stage of college baseball.
The question is, which players should we be watching for as they look to guide their team to the College World Series crown?
Mississippi State reached this stage with a series of upsets and an abundance of late-game heroics. It is currently on a six-game winning streak, winning three of its past four by just one run and defeating Oregon State in the semifinals by a score of 4-1.
The Bulldogs are the prime example of a team that knows how to get the job done.
UCLA took a similar path, going undefeated during NCAA tournament and College World Series play to reach the finals. In its most recent game, it defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels by a count of 4-1 to display just how dominant its pitching has been.
Who will step up to lead the Bruins?
Mississippi State Bulldogs Bullpen
The Mississippi State Bulldogs have a strong enough cast of starting pitchers to be where they are today. With that being said, the Bulldogs hold one advantage over almost every other team in the nation.
Their bullpen is all but un-hittable.
Three of Mississippi State's relievers have at least 30 appearances and an ERA below 1.60. Ben Bracewell has made 20 appearances with an ERA of 1.48.
Perhaps no player has been as impressive as Ross Mitchell, who is 13-0 with an ERA of 1.27 in 33 appearances this season.
With this dominance established, the Bulldogs feel comfortable turning to their relievers in any situation. Not only are they capable of pitching their starters out of a jam, but if Mississippi State owns a lead, it's all but certain to be preserved.
With closer Jonathan Holder going 2-0 with 21 saves and an ERA of 1.24, the middle relievers are complemented by an elite option at the end of games—as I said, lead preserved.
Adam Plutko & Nick Vander Tuig, UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins have an elite 1-2 punch in their starting lineup with Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig. While we could attempt to separate one from the other, this is a best-of-three series.
UCLA will feel comfortable putting either one of these men on the mound.
Plutko is currently 9-3 in 18 starts with an ERA of 2.29 and 79 strikeouts. The 6'3" right-hander has proven his status as one of college baseball's aces during the College World Series, leading the Bruins to a 2-1 victory over LSU.
Vander Tuig has been right there with him.
He is a junior right-handed pitcher that has two complete games under his belt. For the season, he's 13-4 in 18 appearances with an ERA of 2.31 and 87 strikeouts.
With David Berg going 7-0 with 23 saves and an ERA of 0.85 as the Bruins' closer, their pitching staff is as dominant as you'll find.
Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Drafted: No. 13 (San Diego Padres)
2013 Season Statistics: 64 GS, .354/.439/.637, 16 2B, 3 3B, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 9 SB
With the 13th overall draft choice in the 2013 MLB draft, the San Diego Padres selected outfielder Hunter Renfroe out of Mississippi State. Since then, Renfroe has seen his star status elevate to a new level in college baseball.
It's time he closes the season out with a bang.
You couldn't ask a player to hit any better than Renfroe has, posting a batting average of .354 with 16 home runs and 65 RBI. The junior outfielder has also added 16 doubles, three triples and nine stolen bases through the course of the season.
That's what you call a balanced attack.
Renfroe is currently 13th in the nation in total bases and ranks in the top 20 in both home runs and RBI. In his most recent game, Renfroe sent Mississippi State to the College World Series finals with a three-run home run.
Don't think for a second that he plans on slowing down with the title in sight.