The college baseball version of the Final Four is taking place in Omaha right now with three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed in Texas playing like a powerhouse capable of beating anyone on any given day.
Trying to find separation between Texas, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Mississippi at this stage of the game is futile. All that can be done is highlighting the strengths of a given roster and how that plays against the competition.
We are going to provide snapshot looks at what those four teams must do in order to make their presence felt in the championship series that starts on Monday at TD Ameritrade Park.
No. 1 Vanderbilt
For the first time since the action shifted to Omaha, Vanderbilt looked like a flawed team against Texas in a 4-0 loss on Friday. That was the first time the Commodores hadn't scored at least five runs in a game at the College World Series.
There have been some cracks in the armor here and there, like right-hander Tyler Beede's poor start against UC Irvine, but they were always offset by brilliance later on. For instance, Walker Buehler threw 5.1 innings of no-hit ball in relief of Beede against Irvine.
Despite the loss on Friday and facing elimination on Saturday, Vanderbilt has to feel good about its chances to play in the championship series because it played the game correctly. Head coach Tim Corbin held No. 1 starter Carson Fulmer back a day to start this game, via Dustin McComas of OrangeBloods.com.
"I pretty much think Carson (Fulmer) will pitch tomorrow," said Corbin about who will start for Vanderbilt tomorrow.— Dustin McComas (@DMcComasOB) June 20, 2014
Texas isn't an offensive juggernaut by any means, being held to one run in two of its four College World Series games, and Fulmer had three shutouts this season with a 1.88 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 81.1 innings.
The right-hander is poised to have a huge game on Saturday to send the Commodores to the College World Series championship series.
No. 1 Virginia
Note: The Virginia vs. Mississippi game was suspended after two innings on Friday night due to rain; the game will resume on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
The best all-around team in college baseball has made it through the first two games of the College World Series unscathed. Virginia is winning a lot like the San Francisco Giants won titles in 2010 and 2012: timely hitting and dominant pitching.
The Cavaliers are pitching as well as anyone in this tournament, allowing just three runs in 24 innings. They have gotten two walk-off wins in two games and now go up against a Mississippi team that just scored six runs against a TCU squad that led the country in ERA.
What separates Virginia from TCU is the former's ability to hit the ball out of the park. The Cavaliers have hit 33 homers compared to just 14 for the Horned Frogs. Mississippi's pitching staff showed holes against TCU in a 6-4 win, so don't be shocked to see Virginia exploiting that on Saturday.
No. 1 Mississippi
Based on the standards set by this year's College World Series, Mississippi's six-run outburst against a pitching-rich TCU team on Thursday was the equivalent of the Texas Rangers dropping 30 on Baltimore's pitching staff in 2007.
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Of course, it shouldn't be a surprise to see the Rebels pumping out runs. They have an one of the best offensive teams in the country, tying for 16th in home runs with 42 and averaging 5.9 runs per game during the regular season.
Despite the proficiency with the bats, Mississippi's best chance to stay alive against Virginia is on the mound. The Cavaliers don't give up a lot of runs as it is, but the weather delay gives coach Brian O'Connor a lot of room to play with his pitching staff.
Josh Sborz started Friday for Virginia and went one inning, so he could conceivably take the ball again. Cavaliers No. 1 starter Nathan Kirby could be brought back since he's been off since June 16. Nick Howard, who threw four innings of relief against TCU, could take the mound again.
The only way Mississippi wins this game and forces a winner-take-all matchup on Sunday is to match the Cavaliers pitch for pitch.
No. 2 Texas
Friday's win over Vanderbilt showed everything Texas does to win games: pitch well and get timely hits. The Longhorns offense has been held in check throughout this College World Series, to the tune of a .198 batting average, so the pitching staff has carried the load.
It's been up to the challenge, especially Nathan Thornhill after throwing eight shutout innings against the Commodores. That's the formula the Longhorns must use to win games because the offense is giving them very little.
Vanderbilt's offense hasn't been held in check very often this College World Series, scoring 11 runs in its first two games, so expecting Texas to shut this lineup down one more time is asking a lot.
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