Very few observers predicted it from the onset, but the Mississippi State Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins will do battle in a three-game series to determine the 2013 College World Series champion. Both teams overcame the odds and have dominated in Omaha, so it's fitting that it all comes down to them.
The series is particularly interesting because MSU and UCLA have gotten to this point in very different ways. The Bulldogs have relied largely upon great hitting, as they have five players on their roster hitting .300 or better. The Bruins are all about pitching, though, as they boast two dominant starters and a shutdown closer.
One thing that the teams have in common, however, is great players. While it's difficult to narrow it down, here are three players in particular that you should keep an eye on while viewing the exciting conclusion to the College World Series.
Every great offense needs a table-setter at the top of the order and that is precisely what Mississippi State has in the form of junior shortstop Adam Frazier. The diminutive star has been a consistent producer for the Bulldogs all season long and that production certainly hasn't dropped off on the big stage in Omaha.
Frazier leads the team in batting average at .358 and has scored an impressive 62 runs as well. Part of the reason why Mississippi State's offense has been so productive over the course of the season is the fact that Frazier is essentially always on base. He doesn't walk a ton, but he is a hit machine, as evidenced by his new Bulldogs record, according to ESPNU:
Frazier and the Bulldogs are far from done, so he has an opportunity to add to that record over the next two or three games. Frazier isn't going to hit home runs and doesn't even steal many bases, so it can be argued that he is one of the most unassuming stars in college baseball. He is quietly effective, though, and he is probably the leader when it comes to Most Outstanding Player consideration.
UCLA's best player usually only takes part in one inning per game, but closer David Berg has an immense impact on the Bruins' success. If UCLA is leading heading into the final inning, it is pretty much guaranteed that the Bruins are going to prevail. That isn't lost on the National College Baseball Writers Association, as he was named Stopper of the Year, according to UCLA Baseball on Twitter:
Berg's numbers this season are absolutely unreal. In 49 appearances, he has converted 23 saves and holds a 7-0 record. Berg's ERA is a minuscule 0.96 as well. Add in 77 strikeouts in 75.1 innings and it is blatantly obvious that Berg is one of the most feared closers in college baseball.
Having a player like Berg simply gives UCLA a mental edge over its opponents.
While it's unfair to compare Berg to some of the all-time great closers in Major League Baseball, he is an intimidating presence for the Bruins, much like Mariano Rivera has been for the New York Yankees over the years. Opponents are pretty much resigned to losing when they face Rivera and that is likely how teams feel against Berg as well.
Which player will perform best in the College World Series finals?
As the No. 13 overall selection by the San Diego Padres in the 2013 MLB draft, there is no question that Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe is one of the best hitters in college baseball. His numbers certainly support that notion, as he is second on the team with a .355 batting average and leads the way in run production with 16 home runs and 65 RBI. The Bulldogs will need him to play at that level in order to beat UCLA.
Renfroe hasn't disappointed in big spots thus far, as he was responsible for the Bulldogs taking out Oregon State in order to reach the finals. Renfroe hit a three-run home run off of Beavers starting pitcher Andrew Moore, who has been virtually unhittable for much of the season. Renfroe was unaffected, though, and he stepped up when it mattered most, according to Mississippi State University on Twitter:
Bulldogs congratulate Hunter Renfroe, his 3 run homer sends MSU to our first College World Series championship final. pic.twitter.com/bQvAsoEYG0— Miss State Univ (@msstate) June 21, 2013
Great pitching often seems to beat great hitting in baseball, so a lot of pressure will fall on Renfroe's shoulders. He will have to deal with some excellent arms on the UCLA side and he'll be expected to produce from the No. 3 spot in the order. If he plays like he has all season long, then Mississippi State may very well capture the first College World Series in its history.
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