It’s a long journey from the regional round to the College World Series final. Teams eying a national championship must pitch well, hit with consistency and sometimes even get a little lucky in order to reach the pinnacle of college baseball.
That’s what’s at stake for Vanderbilt and Texas this weekend, as just a few days are all that stand in the way between the elation of reaching the best-of-three final and the disappointment of falling just short.
Both teams have reached this point in different ways over the course of the last week, but their goal remains the same: to be playing on Monday.
Let’s preview Friday’s game and predict how it might play out.
Vanderbilt (48-19) vs. Texas (45-20), 3 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Vanderbilt hasn’t played since Monday, but that’s a good thing if you’re a Commodores fan. In just its second College World Series appearance in program history, the team has played like it belongs there. The Commodores are 2-0 in this round of the tournament—defeating Louisville 5-3 and UC Irvine 6-4—meaning they need to win just one of two games against Texas to advance.
Vanderbilt’s offense has been its best attribute of late, generating 11 runs and 18 hits over the last 18 innings. Second baseman Dansby Swanson has been especially terrific, going 5-for-10 at the plate with three runs scored and two RBI.
Per Ryan Schulz of Vanderbilt’s official athletic site, the Commodores’ ability to generate runs has been tremendous all tournament:
In eight games this NCAA Tournament, the Commodores are averaging 7.37 runs per game, which is up from 5.52 runs per game in the regular season. That is nearly an increase of two runs per game (1.85).
The offensive production has come from throughout the lineup and players have manufactured the offense a number of different ways - just not the way many baseball fans might expect.
Vanderbilt hasn't hit a home run in its last 12 games, but the Commodores have done everything else. They have bunted for base hits, sacrifices and squeezes. They have lined singles all over the field, doubled and tripled.
It remains to be seen if Vanderbilt’s extended rest will prove to be an advantage or a hindrance against Texas, but if the team continues to hit like it has throughout the College World Series, it may not matter.
Meanwhile, Texas doesn’t seem fazed by elimination games. After losing to UC Irvine 3-1 to open the College World Series, the Longhorns kept their national championship aspirations alive by eliminating both Louisville (4-1) and UC Irvine (1-0).
The Longhorns advanced past the Anteaters thanks to the brilliance of Chad Hollingsworth. The sophomore pitcher threw 8.1 superb innings, striking out five while allowing no runs on just four hits.
Texas coach Augie Garrido was extremely impressed by Hollingsworth’s performance, especially considering it was just his second start of the season after throwing a complete-game shutout in the regional final against Texas A&M, per Duane Cross of NCAA.com:
“I think the story line certainly has to center around Hollingsworth pitching,” Garrido said. “He not only did the same kind of a job in the Super Regional, but once again when given the ball, he threw up all zeroes.”
The only offense Texas needed for the game came from shortstop C.J. Hinojosa, who homered in the seventh inning.
However, because Texas already lost once, it will need to win two games against Vanderbilt to advance to the final. That’s a tough task, but the team has succeeded when facing elimination before.
The Longhorns have allowed just one run over the past two must-win games and have conceded only 13 runs in nine tournament games. That kind of pitching effort will need to continue on Friday if the team wants to defeat a Vanderbilt team with a powerful offense.
Friday’s contest should be a great one; it's a classic battle between hot bats and excellent pitching. Vanderbilt can afford to lose a game, while the Longhorns have proven they can win with their season on the line. Expect a close, low-scoring affair, with Swanson providing the late-game heroics that lift Vanderbilt into the national championship series.
Prediction: 3-2 Vanderbilt
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: