The 2013 College World Series is upon us, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs will take on the UCLA Bruins in the championship round. After taking down their favored opposition, the two underdog squads will now rely upon their stars to win it all.
The question is, who are the hottest stars heading into the College World Series championship?
The Bulldogs enter the title round with a combination of elite hitting and strong pitching. Their balance has helped them pull off upsets of foes such as Oregon State and Indiana, which thus suggests that Mississippi State may just be the favorite entering the final round of play.
Just don't sell UCLA short.
The Bruins have played opportunistic offense, relying upon the dominance of their pitching staff to achieve victory. Even when their bats fail to come to life, UCLA has an uncanny ability to shut down the opposition.
While they may have different approaches, each team has their own set of stars who can carry them to the title.
Wes Rea, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Wes Rea is one of the best fielders in the nation, holding down first base with a fielding percentage of .992. While he's managed to hit at a respectable level throughout the season, Rea has taken it to a new extreme at the College World Series.
Thus far, Rea is hitting .462 with three doubles, three RBI and two runs scored in three games played.
Rea's ability to hit for extra bases and drive in runs has been critical for Mississippi State's success. While Hunter Renfroe may grab headlines, it's been Rea's ability to find the gaps that has brought it all together.
Having a hitter who's worth fearing in the middle of the order certainly helps Renfroe get on pace.
If the Bulldogs are to defeat the Bruins, they'll need their first baseman to step up as a hitter. UCLA's pitching staff is all but untouchable, which suggests that every hit will be of extreme importance.
Fortunately for Mississippi State, Rea has full momentum.
UCLA's Starting Pitchers
It would be easy to single out a single pitcher on UCLA's roster, but truth be told, their top three starters have all been sensational. In a best-of-three series, that suggests each of those players will be granted the opportunity to play.
For that reason, it's only fair to profile all three.
Adam Plutko is the lead right-hander, going 9-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 18 appearances. He's pitched 118.0 innings this season, holding opposing hitters to a batting average of just .209.
It's safe to say he can't be hit.
The one-two punch is completed with Nick Vander Tuig, who is 13-4 with an ERA of 2.31. He's thrown 121.0 innings in 18 appearances, striking out 87 batters and limiting opponents to a batting average of .234.
The trinity has been complete with the progression of Grant Watson.
Watson has made 18 appearances and 17 starts, compiling a record of 9-3 with an ERA of 3.01 in 92.2 innings pitched. He doesn't strike batters out at an elite clip and has been touched up before, but he's recently pulled it all together.
During the College World Series, the three are a combined 3-0 with 20.0 innings of work with just two total runs allowed—that's what you call "hot."
Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Hunter Renfroe may be the most significant name remaining in the 2013 College World Series. Not only is the Mississippi State Bulldogs star one of the top all-around players in the nation, but he was also selected No. 13 overall to the San Diego Padres in the 2013 MLB draft.
Over the course of the past three games, Renfroe is living up to the hype.
Renfroe is hitting .250 during the College World Series, but he's registered a hit in every game thus far. Most importantly, the pitches that the future Padres star is connecting with are of extreme importance.
Renfroe has one home run, four RBI and two runs scored over the past three games.
Renfroe hit a three-run home run against Oregon State in a 4-1 Mississippi State victory and scored on the two-run double that won a 5-4 affair against those same Beavers. Against Indiana, Renfroe drove in the first run of the game.
If Mississippi State is to defeat UCLA, they'll need Renfroe to continue that hot hitting.