Nothing says summer to a college baseball player than a trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. For some players, it's their chance in the national sunshine; for others, it's one last chance to swing the bat around. The 2008 College World Series begins on Saturday and eight teams come in with a chance to hold the national championship trophy when its all over. In part one, I'll talk about Bracket 1 and what each team has to do to win it all in Omaha
(52-9, #1 National Seed, 23rd CWS Appearance, 1999 & 2001 National Champs)
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, The U is the only school to win it all as the #1 overall seed; the same spot where the Canes are heading into Omaha. The Canes have been #1 since mid-March and won the ACC Regular Season and Tournament titles en route to hosting another regional at Mark Light Field.
The Canes are a balanced, potent, and are as dangerous lineup 1-9 as anyone in the CWS. CF Blake Tekotte and 2B Jemile Weeks (younger brother of Milwaukee 2B Rickie Weeks) form one of the best 1-2 lead-off combos in the game. They've combined for 168 hits, 22 HR, 106 RBI's and 157 Runs scored so far this season. If they don't beat you, then 1B (and top-10 pick) Yonder Alonso will with his 23 HR's and 71 RBI's. DH/RF Dennis Raben, SS Ryan Jackson, and 3B Mark Sobolewski all can provide pop in the middle of the lineup with C Yasmani Grandal and LF Dave DiNatale solidifying the bottom of the lineup.
Coach Jim Morris has another strong ace heading his staff in Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.62 ERA, 112 K's in 106 1/3 innings) with Eric Erickson (8-1, 4.32) and Enrique Garcia (7-2, 4.56) rounding out their weekend rotation. Their bullpen is strong with Kyle Bellamy (6-0, 1.97, 69 K's) setting things up for closer Carlos Gutierrez (5-3, 3.02, 13 saves) at the end of the game. If the Canes can get by the Dawgs (Georgia that is) in their opening game, then they set themselves up for a shot at a 3rd national title under Jim Morris.
Florida State Seminoles
(54-12, #4 National Seed, 19th CWS Appearence, 1st since 2000)
Is this the year??? That's the question Seminole fans are asking skipper Mike Martin as he heads up to Omaha looking for that elusive first national title. If there ever was a team and if there ever was a year to do it; this is the team and 2008 is the year.
Offensively, the Noles live and die with C/IF/P Buster Posey and right now, life is grand for the Garnet and Gold. Posey either leads or is tied for the national lead in all three triple crown categories: .460 BA (1st), 26 HR (T-1st), 92 RBI (1st) not to mention that he leads in hits, slugging, and OPS (and BTW has 6 saves in 8 appearences). If you want to pitch around Posey, then OF Jack Rye (.381/7/52), 2B Dennis Guinn (.324/18/74), and 3B Jason Stidham (.317/10/59) will all make you pay. The big question will be can SS Tony Delmonico (.380/8/69) go after missing Games 2 and 3 of the Super Regional versus Wichita State with a leg injury.
The Noles' pitching staff will be asked to keep them in it if their bats cool off and it will be up to Ryan Strauss (10-1, 4.25 ERA, 4 saves), Matt Fairel (12-2, 3.74), and Elih Villanueva (7-3, 3.79) head up a FSU staff that will look to provide some support for one of the nation's most potent lineups. Their first round matchup with Stanford will tell the tale whether this will be the year the Noles break their jinx in Omaha.
Part 2 Tomorrow-Georgia and Stanford