Some of the best talents in college baseball will be on display when College World Series play begins in Omaha.
The four teams opening play on Saturday took every manner of route to reach this pinnacle of their sport.
Louisville has yet to lose since postseason play began. Starting as the second seed in the Houston regional, Texas fought through three in-state rivals to get this far. Vanderbilt needed three games to get past Stanford in the Super Regional. And after taking down Oregon State and Oklahoma State, UC Irvine has earned every bit of its Cinderella run.
Any of these teams has the ability to make a run in Omaha and come away with a championship. They have reached their final destination, but the road to the World Series title is only just beginning.
|2014 College World Series—Day 1 Schedule|
|Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|(3) UC Irvine vs. (2) Texas||3 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
|(1) Louisville vs. (1) Vanderbilt||8 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
(3) UC Irvine vs. (2) Texas
Just the No. 3 seed in the Corvallis regional, the Anteaters certainly weren't a favorite entering the postseason, but they immediately began working to alter that perception.
It's funny how absolutely dismantling the top-ranked team in the tournament will change people's minds.
Irvine beat Oregon State twice to get out of the regional and swept Oklahoma State in Stillwater to reach the CWS. In doing so, the Anteaters proved that they could win with more than just their usual small-ball tactics; in that 14-2 drubbing over the Beavers in the regional, their 10 hits included three doubles and two homers.
A steady pitching staff has allowed Irvine to string together singles and sacrifices while waiting for an extra-base hit. Anteaters pitchers have allowed no more than four runs in a game since regionals began; Irvine is 1-1 in games when opponents score four and undefeated when they put up fewer.
On the other hand, Texas has only scored fewer than four runs twice during the postseason, splitting a pair of 3-2 results. The Longhorns have been automatic otherwise, riding a stifling pitching staff all the way to Omaha.
Texas won't give Irvine anything easy, but the Anteaters are more than happy to grind out runs if need be. They'll get the offensive support they need, and one big hit will put them over the top.
UC Irvine 5, Texas 3
(1) Louisville vs. (1) Vanderbilt
The Commodores are going to have their work cut out for them facing Louisville's Kyle Funkhouser.
In 17 starts this season, the Cardinals ace has gone 13-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 117 strikeouts. Through just two collegiate seasons, he has already become an overwhelming presence on the mound, throwing smoke few opposing batters could hope to hit.
He has not allowed more than two earned runs in any start since regionals started, which will pose an interesting challenge for Vandy; the Dores have put up double-digit run tallies in three of their six tournament games thus far.
Vandy's another small-ball team, but it's a blessing as well as a curse. In three games against Stanford, the Dores scored 28 total runs while hitting a total of five extra-base hits—all doubles. It's certainly impressive that they can put up such high scores without the long ball, but that also leaves them vulnerable when they can't get hits in bunches.
That's how Stanford took one off Vandy in Nashville, and that's how Louisville will win this one in Omaha.
Louisville 6, Vanderbilt 3