In college baseball, all roads lead to Omaha, Nebraska.
With only eight teams remaining, the road for many of the nation’s best teams proved impassable. But for LSU, NC State, Indiana, UCLA, Oregon State, Mississippi State, North Carolina and Louisville, the dream is still very much alive.
Each of those eight teams is inching ever closer to a national championship, beginning with Games 5 and 6 of the College World Series on Monday.
For many of those teams to achieve eternal glory in the college baseball spotlight, however, a lot has to go right.
One swing of the bat can change everything, and the time for making mistakes has passed.
That being said, baseball remains, at its heart, a game of limiting and taking advantage of mistakes.
For the following players, answering that call could be the difference between an early exit and a national championship.
Let’s take a look at four players who need to step up in the final games to put their respective teams in position to walk away with a title.
Trea Turner, NC State
On Sunday, NC State pulled off a tremendous upset of No. 1 North Carolina with an 8-1 drubbing. While leadoff hitter Trea Turner didn’t set the world on fire at the dish, he did his job in setting the table for NC State’s offense.
In that contest, the shortstop picked up a hit and two walks, adding to an incredible .455 on-base percentage for the season. Going up against UCLA’s outstanding pitching, he won’t have as easy a time getting on base.
The Bruins rank ninth in the nation in ERA (2.66) on the shoulders of sophomore David Berg and his 0.87 ERA in 47 relief appearances.
UCLA doesn’t boast a high-powered offense, but with their outstanding defense, this game could easily come down to one swing of the bat.
In order to get to UCLA’s pitching, NC State’s entire lineup has to be patient and selective—both hallmarks of a good leadoff hitter.
Once again, Turner will have to set the tone at the top of the order for NC State to be in position to advance in the tournament.
Kyle Schwarber, Indiana
Indiana sent Louisville to the loser’s bracket with a 2-0 victory last weekend, and the Hoosiers now turn their attention to Mississippi State and a terrific Monday night matchup.
Catcher Kyle Schwarber was a big part of that previous-round win. With two hits and a run scored in five at bats, the catalyst of Indiana’s offense raised his batting average to .376 and provided plenty of consistency from the No. 2 spot in the order.
Schwarber also struck out in his other three plate appearances, though, and if he continues falling victim to the nation’s top pitching in the tournament, Indiana may not be so lucky.
For the Hoosiers to upend Mississippi State, Schwarber has to get the bat on the ball.
But as the constant half of the team’s battery, Schwarber also has to worry about helping sustain a pitching staff that has been tremendous throughout the tournament. Perhaps even more importantly than his offensive performance, the catcher must call a mistake-free game against an offense that is hitting .296 this season.
Alex Bregman, LSU
LSU is one game away from elimination following its 2-1 defeat at the hands of UCLA Sunday.
It’s do or die time for the Tigers.
Shortstop Alex Bregman leads the team in batting average this season (.374), but his performance against the Bruins left a lot to be desired. With an 0-for-4 performance at the dish (including a strikeout), the No. 3 hitter did little to put his team in better position to win.
With an elimination matchup against the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels on the horizon, Bregman can’t afford another subpar performance at the plate.
The No. 3 hitter is a crucial component to the top of LSU’s order, namely from a continuity standpoint.
When Bregman doesn’t do his job, the talented Tigers’ batting order suffers as a result. Here’s a look at the batting averages of the team’s top six hitters in the lineup:
Kevin Kramer, UCLA
UCLA’s lineup isn’t one of the better offensive units in the country, but the team’s pitching has done plenty to propel the Bruins within inches of a national title.
But pitching and defense only go so far. At some point, UCLA has to find a way to manufacture runs—and it starts at the top of the lineup.
No. 2 hitter Kevin Kramer leads the team in batting average this season (.279), and his production (or lack thereof) could make or break the Bruins against an extremely talented NC State squad.
When Kramer is getting the bat on the ball, UCLA’s offense hits another gear.
Kramer has provided plenty of pop from the two-hole, accounting for more than his fair share of extra-base hits this season:
If UCLA hopes to pull off another upset Tuesday night, Kramer will have to set the tone from the two-hole and find a way to pick up extra bases against NC State pitching.