College World Series primer: What you need to know about every team in Omaha
Is there anything the SEC doesn’t dominate?
(Lacrosse? Yes. OK, I’m sure Greg Sankey will take note and get right on it …)
The College World Series starts Saturday and half of the 8 teams are from the SEC. Half. If that sounds familiar, it should. The SEC also sent 4 teams to the CWS in 2015, 2004 and 1997. Only one other conference — the ACC in 2006 — has sent 4 teams to Omaha.
There are 295+ Division 1 College Baseball teams.
Only 8 of those 295+ make it to the College World Series.
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) June 10, 2019
Mississippi State swept Stanford to secure its second consecutive trip to Omaha. Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt all won a decisive Game 3 to advance. Arkansas, which lost the CWS final to Oregon State last year, also is making its second consecutive appearance and fourth trip this decade. Vanderbilt also is here for the fourth time this decade.
The SEC has had at least one team in the CWS final for 11 consecutive seasons. Five times it won it all in that span, and twice it had both teams in the final.
No other conference can come close to matching that resume.
Virginia won the 2015 CWS — giving the ACC its first title in 60 years — but the ACC hasn’t had a team in the final since. The Big Ten hasn’t been to the CWS final since 1966, when Ohio State won the title. The Big 12 tends to go as Texas goes, and the Longhorns haven’t reached the final since 2009.
Only the Pac-12 has a somewhat reasonable argument as college baseball’s best conference. The league has won the CWS 5 times in the past 13 years — matching the SEC. Oregon State, which knocked off Arkansas in last year’s final, has won 3 CWS titles in that span. But nobody from the Pac-12 is in Omaha this year.
Enough history. It’s time to make more. Here’s what you need to know about each team in the 2019 College World Series, which uses pool play to send two teams to a best-of-3 championship series:
Pool A: Arkansas, FSU, Michigan, Texas Tech
We just witnessed a redemption story for the ages in college basketball, when Virginia owned its historic first-round NCAA Tournament loss in 2018 and rewrote the narrative by winning the program’s first national championship in 2019.
Arkansas is on its own redemption tour. The Hogs were 1 strike from winning a national championship in last year’s final when Oregon State rallied to even the series and then tossed a shutout to clinch Game 3.
Talk about heartache.
Maybe the Hogs can learn another lesson from Virginia: The Cavaliers lost the 2014 CWS final to Vanderbilt, but formed the celebratory dog pile when they met again in the 2015 CWS final. Texas was the runner-up in 2004, made it back and won it all in 2005.
Mike Martin is one of the most decorated, recognizable and respected names in college baseball history.
The numbers boggle the mind. Among them: 75 years old, 40 years at FSU, more than 2,000 career victories — most all-time.
There is one gigantic hole, of course: Martin has never won the College World Series.
This is his final shot. The Seminoles took out two SEC hosts (Georgia and LSU) to reach Omaha, and he will be the overwhelming sentimental choice to win it all.
Welcome back, Wolverines.
Michigan is back in Omaha for the first time since 1984. Barry Larkin was on that team. He’s in the Hall of Fame now.
It’s safe to say they’re the most surprising team left standing, especially considering the fact they had to knock out national No. 1 seed UCLA in Game 3 in Los Angeles in the Super Regional. That came after needing to beat Creighton in the winner-take-all championship game of the regional in Oregon.
The Wolverines finished second in the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament and were among the final teams to receive an at-large bid.
They had 3 players drafted last week, including Jordan Brewer, the Big Ten Player of the Year, but their strength is pitching. They’ll need all of that in the opener against Texas Tech, which swept the Wolverines in a 3-game series in March.
What a year for Texas Tech.
The basketball team reached the NCAA Tournament championship game and the baseball team is back in Omaha for the fourth time in 6 years — the only 4 times they’ve gone.
The first three trips, including last year, the Red Raiders were quickly eliminated in pool play.
The goal this year is as clear as the T-shirts it’s printed on: Wreck Omaha.
Does Texas Tech have enough talent to make that happen? Seven Red Raiders were recently drafted, including first-rounder Josh Jung, the No. 8 overall pick. Jung, a third baseman, was named co-Big 12 Player of the Year.
Pool B: Auburn, Louisville, Miss. State, Vanderbilt
Redemption is a common theme in Omaha … so let’s not forget that Auburn’s season ended last year in a Super Regional Game 3 loss at Florida. In extra innings, no less.
The Tigers took no such chances this time, scoring 13 runs in the opening frame of Game 3 at North Carolina to clinch their fifth trip to Omaha in program history and first since 1997.
Frank Thomas never made it to Omaha, but he is celebrating.
Congratulations to the Auburn Tiger baseball team! Adavancing to the College World Series! So proud of you all. #WarEagle
— Frank Thomas (@TheBigHurt_35) June 11, 2019
Auburn’s resolve shouldn’t surprise anybody. The Tigers finished 14-16 in SEC play this season and were the No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament. Yet here they are. They’re 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament, easily their best stretch since mid-March.
These Tigers have a chance to make a great year even greater on The Plains.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) June 11, 2019
The minor league team in town is called the Bats, but these Cards might be swinging the hottest composites in the country right now. They destroyed a quality ECU club by a combined margin of 25-1 in a Super Regional sweep.
Historically, Omaha has been unkind to the Cardinals. You’ll hear plenty about their 2-8 record in 4 previous trips to the CWS.
But this team might be the best in program history. They need 1 win to reach 50 victories for the fifth time this decade. The program record is 53, set by the 2017 team that went 1-2 in Omaha.
Reid Detmers was named the ACC Pitcher of the Year. The lefty is 12-4 with a 2.85 ERA and recently broke Brendan McKay’s single-season record for strikeouts. Detmers has 162 and counting. Just a sophomore, he’ll be draft eligible again next year. He’s expected to start against Vanderbilt on Sunday.
Last year didn’t end the way the OmaDawgs wanted. Consecutive losses to eventual champion Oregon State in pool play ended their run in Omaha.
It also served as fuel to arguably the greatest season in program history.
Actually, an uncharacteristically poor 2015 did that. That produced the 2016 recruiting class that continues to write storybook endings. Jake Mangum became the SEC’s all-time hit king. Ethan Small won the SEC Pitcher of the Year award.
MSU has won 51 games, matching a program-record, including all 5 in this NCAA Tournament. They have 11 players who were recently drafted, clearly enough talent to win it all.
There’s only one thing left for this decorated senior class to do: win the title that even program legends Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro couldn’t.
What if I told you the VandyBoys not only were the SEC’s best baseball program this decade, but could make a strong case to be one of the 5 best SEC programs regardless of sport this decade?
Sounds outrageous, right? While you were sleeping, Tim Corbin has built a juggernaut in Nashville.
Vanderbilt, which won the CWS in 2015 after falling in the title series a year earlier, just completed its 8th trip to the Super Regionals in the past 10 years. No SEC team went to more in that stretch.
This is their fourth trip to Omaha this decade; among SEC teams, only Florida (7) has more.
This isn’t a program of overachieving grinders, either. Vanderbilt just tied the SEC record by having 13 players selected in the draft. Outfielder J.J. Bleday led the parade, going No. 4 overall to the Miami Marlins.
Vandy has won 54 games, including all 4 in the SEC Tournament. It took a 12-game winning streak into Game 1 of its Super Regional against Duke. The Blue Devils shocked the ‘Dores 18-5. How did Vandy respond? Kumar Rocker, a freshman, struck out 19 and threw a no-hitter to save the season in Game 2, and Vandy’s bats took care of the rest, pounding Duke 13-2 in Game 3.
Not bad for a coach who, seriously, said he should be fired after losing a game to Arkansas earlier this season that prevented a series sweep.
“You’ve got to be greedy,” Corbin told reporters after that game. “Every game means something.”
These next however many mean more than anything for everybody in Omaha.