College World Series 2014: Keys to Victory for Underdogs in Omaha

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2014

UC Irvine Andrew Morales pitches in the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, June 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Unlike past years, where the upsets seemed to come fast and frequent, the 2014 College World Series has mostly played out as expected. There are five No. 1 seeds from the Regionals in Omaha. 

In fact, with the exception of Texas Tech making its College World Series debut, there isn't any new blood left in the field. Texas and UC Irvine aren't top seeds, but these programs certainly aren't strangers to this event, with five combined appearances since 2007. 

This lack of attrition suggests that there isn't a lot separating the best teams, like Virginia, Louisville and Vanderbilt, from the "worst" teams. Yet there are very distinct reasons that Irvine, Texas and Texas Tech have their backs against the wall. 

Before you settle in to watch all of the action from Omaha, starting Saturday afternoon, here are the things those three clubs must do to make their trip to TD Ameritrade Park a successful one. 


Texas Tech: Avoid a Slugfest

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Texas Tech's offense appeared to catch a break when TCU opted to start right-hander Preston Morrison on Sunday instead of lefty Brandon Finnegan, who has the best pure stuff on the team and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals with the 17th overall pick.

However, Morrison has been more effective than Finnegan this season. He's not as overpowering as his teammate, but he hits his spots well and had a minuscule 1.32 ERA in 17 starts. 

Offense is hard to come by for Texas Tech anyway, as the Red Raiders scored just two runs in two Super Regional games against College of Charleston. The amazing part is that they won both games 1-0 to get here, so you know how they want to play. 

There are effective pieces for Texas Tech's lineup, but overall, it's not a deep group that can get into an offensive showdown. The team hit 30 home runs this year, but 22 of them came from Eric Gutierrez (12) and Adam Kirsch (10). 

Those two guys have to be at the top of their game to give the Red Raiders a chance to win. TCU's offense isn't anything special, though it does play small ball as well as any team in the country and boasts a true power hitter in Kevin Cron. 


UC Irvine: Keep Pressure on Opposing Pitchers

BRODY SCHMIDT/Associated Press

If you just go by the numbers, UC Irvine's offense doesn't look like anything special. The Anteaters scored 280 runs in their first 63 games (4.44 per game), but the postseason has seen this team catch fire. 

In six tournament games, UC Irvine has scored 37 runs. There's also good balance throughout the lineup, with five hitters who posted averages of at least .290 and an on-base percentage of at least .350. 

Taylor Sparks and Connor Spencer are the big guys in the middle, despite combining for just six homers, having put up 50 extra-base hits. And Jerry McClanahan is an excellent catalyst with a great eye at the plate (28-27 walk-to-strikeout ratio). 

Also working in UC Irvine's favor is one of the best starting pitchers in the country, Andrew Morales, who takes the mound for Game 1 against Texas. He was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals and is a master at manipulating hitters with above-average pitches across the board, posting a 1.53 ERA and 136-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129.2 innings. 

The right-hander also tossed a complete-game shutout in Game 2 of the Super Regionals against Oklahoma State to get UC Irvine here. He's battle-tested and ready to shine on the biggest stage. 


Texas: Get to the Bullpen with a Lead

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

Think of all the Major League Baseball postseason games you've watched in your life. Now imagine how many of them were decided because one team was able to get a lead into the sixth inning and hold it the rest of the way because of the bullpen. 

That's the strategy the Texas Longhorns need to take if they are to have success in Omaha.

They aren't one-dimensional by any means, as the offense is capable of putting up some runs in a hurry. Texas' lineup is jump-started by leadoff hitter Brooks Marlow (.395 on-base percentage), and there's power in the middle with Ben Johnson (20 extra-base hits) and catcher Tres Barrera (13 doubles, five homers). 

But it's the depth of head coach Augie Garrido's pitching staff that has brought Texas this far. Top starter Nathan Thornhill has some of the best control in the country, with just 17 walks in 97.2 innings and a 1.57 ERA. 

Once Garrido has gotten what he needs from the starter, he can turn to one of the deepest bullpens in college baseball. Closer John Curtiss, Morgan Cooper, Ty Culbreth and Travis Duke all have ERAs under 3.00, with the latter boasting a minuscule 0.34 mark. 

Teams can't touch Texas when the Longhorns take a lead into the latter portion of the game. 


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