UCLA and Mississippi State have only lost one combined game this postseason, but one program will lose two more, as their College World Series hopes crumble into pieces.
Both teams couldn’t have been better through this point in the tournament. Neither team has dropped a game in Omaha, as the pitching has been great and the offense has managed to get the job done. Each bracket winner will need to play its best baseball in the coming days in order to win it all.
So, will it be the Bruins or Bulldogs winning the 2013 national championship?
Let’s take a look at how each team sizes up entering the Championship Series, give a brief preview of each of the games and make a prediction as to which team will win it all for the first time in program history.
*Odds are courtesy of Sportbet.com and are current as of 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 23.
Game 1: Monday, June 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Odds of Winning: UCLA (+100), Mississippi State (-120)
No matter whom Mississippi State throws on the mound for the first game of the Championship Series, the Bulldogs are going to have a tough time defeating Adam Plutko. Plutko has been a man on a mission throughout the year and in the postseason, and he’ll get the nod for UCLA in the opener.
Plutko is one of the Bruins’ three postseason starters. While each has been good, Plutko has been the most impressive. He allowed just one earned run on four hits across seven innings of work against No. 4 LSU in UCLA’s Omaha opener. The Bulldogs do have some feared hitters, but Plutko should be able to shut them down.
Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA explains how UCLA usually gets it done:
The problem for UCLA will be giving Plutko any run support. The Bruins have one of the worse offenses in Omaha, and the team is only hitting .182 since coming to the College World Series. Plutko is more than capable of throwing a shutout, but if UCLA can’t put a run on the board, the Bruins’ chances of winning decrease.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, has a very good offense. Just the other day, Hunter Renfroe hit the third home run of the College World Series. Four other Bulldogs had multi-hit performances in the team’s victory over Oregon State, which clinched a Championship Series appearance.
The offense has been good for Mississippi State in Omaha, and it’ll have to stay hot in order to win a championship. The series opener is bound to be low scoring, and just one run could be enough to secure a huge victory. In Game 1, the edge goes to Plutko and UCLA. He’ll toss a brilliant game against the Bulldogs, giving UCLA a 1-0 lead.
Prediction: UCLA 2, Mississippi State 1
Game 2: Tuesday, June 25 at 8 p.m. ET
Odds of Winning: TBA, but will likely be similar to that of Game 1.
If Mississippi State is going to force a third game, it has to get a fantastic outing from its starting pitcher. Kendall Graveman is the Bulldog’ top starter, and he started the team’s most recent victory over Oregon State. He’d be pitching on short rest if he gets the nod on Tuesday, but the Bulldogs will need him to take the mound.
Graveman is 8-5 this year with a 3.09 ERA. He’s not a very overpowering pitcher, striking out just 69 batters across 113.2 innings of work. He does, however, have very good command. Using a variety of pitches in all different counts, Graveman has only walked 29 batters all season long.
Rogers shows just how great Graveman was in a recent start:
The problem for the Bulldogs, though, is that the Bruins will be throwing another ace on the mound for Game 2. Nick Vander Tuig will likely get the start, and he’s been just as good as Plutko. He’s 13-4 on the year for a 2.31 ERA. He’s also been very successful in Omaha and is sure to make things difficult for the Bulldogs.
While both teams should have top pitchers starting on Tuesday, the second game is where the offenses will come alive. We’re not talking about a blowout in either program's direction, though. Game 2 should just feature more hitting and scoring than the series opener. Expect to see at least five total runs cross the plate.
But will it be UCLA winning the national championship or Mississippi State forcing a third game set for Wednesday? The Bruins will score a couple of scrappy runs, and Renfroe will play a big role for the Bulldogs’ offense. UCLA will get a run in the eighth, and David Berg will come in for the save, clinching the title for the Bruins.
Prediction: UCLA 3, Mississippi State 2