UCLA and Mississippi State have advanced to the Championship Series in Omaha on the backs of their stars, but it will be the role players who step up starting Monday night.
These are the players who have a huge impact on the result of the game, but aren’t necessarily in the limelight. If they have a good game, their team tends to come out with a victory. If they perform poorly, they might be the guy that no one wants to look in the face in the clubhouse after a loss.
These X-factors will be taking the field on Monday with the intentions to lead their team to victory, but only one team is going to come out with a win. Which players have the ability to control their team’s Game 1 destiny?
Here are three players who will determine Game 1 in Omaha, whether they help their program win the Championship Series opener or are the reason their team is down 1-0.
Brian Carroll, OF, UCLA
Brian Carroll is the guy at the top of the order that gets things going for the Bruins. As UCLA’s leadoff hitter, there’s a lot of pressure for Carroll to get on base so that the Bruins can get off to a good start. The outfielder, however, is only hitting .257/.367/.286 this season, which isn’t great for the No. 1 guy.
While Carroll doesn’t on base as much as UCLA may hope, he does tend to make plays once he’s on first base. On the season, Carroll is 30-for-37 in swiping bases, and his 30 steals are good for the 17th most in the country this past season. This kid has wheels and he’s always trying to show them off.
Carroll will be especially important on Monday night against Mississippi State. UCLA has one of the worst offenses in the nation and it’s struggled to score in Omaha. If Carroll can start the game with a bang, the Bruins could be in a good position to steal the opening contest. All the pitching staff needs is a run or two to secure the victory.
Ross Mitchell, LHP, Mississippi State
Ross Mitchell has been one of the best relief pitchers in the country this season and Mississippi State will likely throw him on the mound once Trevor Fitts—who’s expected to start Game 1—exits. On the season, he’s 13-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 33 relief appearances.
Mitchell isn’t your every day reliever, though. Mitchell hasn’t started one game for the Bulldogs this season, but he usually goes a couple of innings per outing. He’s thrown 92 innings this season—the second most on the team—meaning he throws close to three full innings each time. That’s rare.
While Mitchell has been good all year long, it’s important to look at how he’s done over the last few weeks during the NCAA Tournament and College World Series. He’s thrown 14.1 innings in four games and has yet to allow a runner to cross the plate. Yes, he’s thrown 14.1 scoreless innings while facing the cream of the crop.
David Berg, RHP, UCLA
The Bruins have to hope that David Berg is on the mound in the ninth inning with a lead on Monday night. If that’s not the case, UCLA is in a bit of trouble going forward. Berg is the stopper at the end of the game who almost never allows a runner to cross the plate.
On the season, Berg has appeared in 49 games and thrown 75.1 innings—he comes into the game in the eighth inning frequently. While Berg has had a big workload this season, he hasn’t let that stop him from succeeding. He’s only walked 11 batters all year long. If you think that’s impressive, wait until you hear how many earned runs he’s allowed.
Any guesses? Eight. Berg has allowed eight earned runs in 75.1 innings of work. That’s a 0.96 ERA. Pick your jaw up from off the ground. Berg is about as reliable as they come and he’s yet to blow anything for the Bruins this postseason. If UCLA hands him the ball on Monday night, it’s game over the Bulldogs.