Four teams remain standing in the 2015 College World Series. While two can set the finals matchup Friday, the other pair looks to prolong the process.
Sporting spotless records during the double-elimination tournament, Virginia and Vanderbilt can each punch tickets to the finals with one more victory. Florida and TCU, on the other hand, must rattle off two straight victories to survive.
As one favorite looks to climb up and overcome the scrappy underdog, another holds all the cards heading into Friday.
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Virginia vs. Florida
Four days after a surprising offensive outage against Virginia, Florida must amend the upset twice.
Forced to face the Miami Hurricanes for the second time, the Gators once again posted a double-digit run tally, upending their rival 10-2 on Wednesday. A game after getting held to two hits in a 1-0 shutout, the Gators' bats awoke to crush 14 hits and four homers.
Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan commented on his team's resiliency to recover from a jarring loss, per the Associated Press' Eric Olson, via ABCNews.com.
"We jumped out with a three-spot with a couple home runs in the first, and I felt that kind of set the tone," O'Sullivan said. "These elimination games, it's important to build momentum early on. I was really pleased with how we responded after a tough loss Monday night. We were relaxed and came out with a purpose."
Florida had scored 68 runs through six games entering its earlier clash with Virginia, last year's runner-up, defying expectations through numerous close victories. With a chance of returning to the finals, the Cavaliers will give Nathan Kirby his first start in more than two months.
Missing significant time with a strained lat, the ace submitted a 2.28 ERA and 75 strikeouts through 59.1 innings. He is now tasked with halting an offense carrying an .836 team OPS.
“I’ve been waiting on this day for eight weeks now, but whatever happens, happens," Kirby told the Daily Progress' Andrew Ramspacher. "I haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s definitely exciting to be out there with the guys again.”
Virginia's favorable situation and Kirby's return to the rotation has Baseball America's Michael Lananna viewing the pre-tournament underdogs as a serious threat:
The Gators wield too much offensive firepower to rule out, which will pressure the Cavaliers to finish them off Friday afternoon to avoid a winner-take-all showdown.
Vanderbilt vs. TCU
Following a pair of wins, Vanderbilt has two games to play with and two aces at its disposal.
The Commodores nearly suffered an early upset against Cal State Fullerton, sliding by with some help from Mother Nature. Thomas Eshelman limited Vanderbilt to one run while striking out eight, but a rain suspension cut his outing short during the sixth inning. The defending champions fared much better against the bullpen, erasing a 3-1 deficit with a three-run ninth inning.
Nevertheless, they have two cracks at ousting TCU, who stayed alive with an 8-4 win over LSU Thursday night. Walker Buehler, the No. 24 pick in this year's MLB draft, is in line to toe the rubber Friday night.
Although Buehler hasn't pitched in 18 days, head coach Tim Corbin is confident in him fighting off rest.
"He's itching to get out there like any other guy would, especially one who is accomplished like him," Corbin told the Tennessean Adam Sparks. "I think he's champing at the bit. Now I think it's just a matter of getting him out there and just settle in and breathe and pitch well. He's been out on this stage before, and that's a good thing."
If another game is necessary, Carson Fulmer will be waiting Saturday. The No. 8 overall selection holds a 1.95 ERA despite yielding three runs against Cal State.
Sandwiched between two triumphs over the Tigers, the Horned Fogs nearly beat Vanderbilt Tuesday. Alex Young carried a no-hitter into the seventh frame, but Zander Wiel hit the game-winning homer during Vanderbilt's 1-0 victory.
TCU certainly has the arms to match Vanderbilt. The team has yielded only 36 runs through 11 games since the start of regionals, brandishing a 2.39 staff ERA on the year.