After several grueling months of college baseball, Regional and Super Regional rounds that weeded the College World Series field down to eight and another exciting week of action in Omaha, the field has been condensed to two.
UCLA and Mississippi State both had no problem dispatching North Carolina and Oregon State, respectively, in the semifinals of the College World Series on Friday night, and with it earning a shot at a national title in the Championship Series.
All bets are off in Omaha.
Here's the layout for the best-of-three series, as noted by MSU's Bart Gregory:
Mississippi State will be the home team in Game 1. UCLA will be home team in Game 2. If Game 3 is necessary, Mississippi State will be home.— bartgregory (@bartgregory) June 22, 2013
Chuck Dunlap of SECSports.com had this tweet about the frequency of the two conferences currently representing their brand in the College World Series final:
It's UCLA vs. Mississippi State in the CWS Finals. Third time in four years of SEC vs. PAC-12 for the national championship— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) June 22, 2013
UCLA has been to the Championship Series once before (2010) but is still seeking its first title. This will be the first appearance for Mississippi State, also seeking that elusive place in college baseball lore.
Game 1 will be held on Monday evening at TD Ameritrade Park, and before the first pitch officially gets the Championship Series underway, here's a look at what to expect from both the Bruins and the Bulldogs.
Championship Series Schedule (via NCAA.com)
Who: UCLA (47-17) vs. Mississippi State (51-18)
When: June 24 (Game 1); June 25 (Game 2); June 26 (Game 3, if necessary)
Times: 8 p.m. ET (all games)
Where: TD Ameritrade Park; Omaha, Neb.
Last-Minute Predictions for Game 1
If there's one thing we know about both UCLA and Mississippi State, it's that the pitching is going to be there.
UCLA is currently seventh in the nation with a 2.61 team ERA and has plenty of experience in both the rotation and bullpen. Throughout the Super Regionals, Regionals and so far in the College World Series, UCLA has not scored more than six runs in a single game.
However, the Bruins are also undefeated, meaning the pitching staff and defense have been stellar so far in keeping the loss column clean and moving on to the Championship Series. Expect those aspects of UCLA's cumulative game to continue against Mississippi State.
Mississippi State brings a bigger stick into the Championship Series, but the pitching has been just as prominent all season. The Bulldogs are 11th in the NCAA with a 2.75 team ERA, and six runs is the most an opponent has scored against them during postseason play.
It's the bats, though, that set Mississippi State apart.
The trio of Wes Rea, Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier are all key for the Bulldogs. Frazier will likely increase his NCAA hits lead (currently 105) during the course of this series, and the power of both Renfroe and Rea puts opposing pitchers on notice.
The Bulldogs' Twitter account made sure that everyone following their posts knew that Renfroe was in the zone over the past few days, well before his three-run bomb against Oregon State that vaulted the team into the final:
Hunter Renfroe hit four-straight homers in practice today, reminding us all that he's still very good at baseball. #HailStateCWS— mstate Baseball (@mstateBB) June 19, 2013
Since neither team has ever tasted the glory of winning the College World Series, I would expect some early nerves from both of these clubs. Since UCLA is more focused on the fundamental side of the game (defense, discipline) than the power-hitting Bulldogs, the Bruins are the team on watch to make a key early mistake.
At the same time, UCLA is great at taking advantage of opponent errors.
All three of the Bruins' wins so far in Omaha have been by three runs or fewer, with the first two (wins over LSU and North Carolina State) coming by 2-1 tallies. Simply put, this UCLA squad does not make mistakes on the biggest of stages.
When it comes to starters, UCLA has reportedly chosen to send Adam Plutko to the hill (per Brad Locke via AP):
UCLA is going to pitch junior righty Adam Plutko (9-3) in Game 1 on Monday, per AP. No word on MSU starter yet.— bradlocke (@bradlocke) June 22, 2013
Mississippi State hasn't officially chosen a starter for the Game 1 tilt, but head coach John Cohen spoke to reporters (via CSS Sports) following his team's Saturday practice and noted that there were a number of options on the table to consider before making a final decision.
Who takes Game 1?
Both UCLA and Mississippi State have been outstanding baseball teams so far in Omaha, and really all season. We know that UCLA is going to play to its strengths of defense and timely hitting, while Mississippi State's consistent pitching and calmness at the plate will be its calling card.
The team that does not execute in Game 1 could be looking at an early 1-0 hole.
Expect UCLA to grab an early lead in the first few innings by putting together a couple of singles and a sacrifice from someone in the lineup, but Mississippi State has three future MLB standouts anchoring its lineup and is as dangerous at the plate right now than any team has been all season.
Game 1 goes to State.
Game 1 Prediction: Mississippi State 5, UCLA 3
*All stats courtesy NCAA.com.
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.