And then there were two.
Either the Bruins of UCLA or the Bulldogs of Mississippi State will win the College World Series national championship. The two programs will begin a best-of-three series to determine the champion on Monday night in Omaha.
Mississippi State and UCLA are both undefeated throughout the College World Series. Neither was expected to make it this far.
Mississippi State had to get by No. 3 Oregon State in its opener and then kept rolling, defeating Indiana and then the Beavers once more. UCLA took out No. 4 LSU in the first game of Omaha for the Bruins and then defeated NC State and No. 1 UNC in the bracket final. Both teams are as hot as can be and feature star after star.
So, which team will dog pile at the center of TD Ameritrade Park come mid-week? Let’s take a look at what you need to know entering the championship series, including the player you must keep an eye on and who the champion will end up being.
Updated 2013 College World Series Bracket
Player to Watch: Adam Plutko, RHP, UCLA
Adam Plutko has proved to be one of the top pitchers in Omaha this year. While he’s only taken the mound once in UCLA’s three games, he made the most of the opportunity to take out the No. 4 Tigers of LSU. UCLA came into the game as the underdog, and Plutko made sure no one would doubt the Bruins again.
Plutko tossed seven innings of one-run baseball against one of the top offenses in the nation. He struck out two batters and walked two while giving up four hits. UCLA would score a pair of unearned runs off of LSU ace Aaron Nola, and Plutko earned one of the biggest victories of his career.
Plutko isn’t a very overpowering pitcher. He isn’t going to strikeout nine guys per game. He’s a pitcher that allows his defense do all of the work for him. He induces lots of ground balls and lots of fly balls. He’s the prototypical pitcher in a park like TD Ameritrade, where home runs have been scarce.
Plutko’s victory over LSU improved his record to 9-3 on the season. He’s posted a 2.29 ERA through 118 innings of work. While he will walk a few batters per game, what’s staggering is his ability to fool hitters. Like I mentioned, batters don’t strike out much against him, but they’re only hitting .209. That’s pitching to contact.
UCLA could’ve decided to put Plutko on the mound against UNC in the bracket final but likely wanted to save him in case the Tar Heels took the first game. As it turns out, UCLA won that game, and the right-hander will now be on the mound for the opening game of the Championship Series.
Plutko has handled himself like a true professional in Omaha, and he’s sure to leave his best on the field when he takes on Mississippi St. He doesn’t allow the pressure to get to him, and that’s why he’s been so successful this season and over the course of his career. He’s a guy that’s sure to pitch in the big leagues one day.
No matter what the national rankings say, these are the two programs that have played well enough to battle for the title. It’s somewhat fitting too, since UCLA has one of the top pitching staffs in the country while Mississippi State has a very dangerous offense.
Throughout the College World Series, UCLA has shut down every single offense it’s faced. Bruins pitchers have allowed just one run to cross the plate in each of its three games. Three runs. That’s it, and that’s absolutely remarkable considering they’ve played two of the top five nationally-ranked teams.
The problem for UCLA, though, is that its offense hasn’t been great either. The Bruins have won each game by a slim margin, making things extremely difficult for the bullpen. Luckily for UCLA, David Berg is the top reliever in baseball, and he’s yet to crumble late in a game for them.
On the other hand, though, there are the Bulldogs. They’ve been hitting just as well as any other team in Omaha, but they also don’t feature the best pitching staff either. Mississippi State has scored the third-most runs in Omaha, behind Oregon State—which it beat twice—and UNC—which the Bulldogs never got to face.
What’s somewhat concerning is that the Bulldogs have been allowing runs. They allowed four in each of their first two games. Mississippi State limited the Beavers to just one run in the bracket final. They know how to score, but they don’t really know how to keep the opponent from scoring as well.
So, will UCLA’s pitching shut down Mississippi State’s hitting, or will Mississippi State’s hitting torch UCLA’s pitching? It’s a question that has a ton of scenarios. UCLA’s game is the best fit for what Omaha has to offer. The Bruins pitchers have been on a roll, and there’s a strong chance the Bulldogs fail to put runs on the board.
If that’s the case, it’ll be the UCLA Bruins celebrating on top of the mound.
Prediction: Bruins over Bulldogs, 2-0