The top seeded Virginia Cavaliers will take on the TCU Horned Frogs tonight in a College World Series winners bracket match up. Both teams won Sunday in tight games and will look to clear a path to the CWS finals.
Both Virginia and TCU took advantage of their top pitching staff to advance to tonight’s game. Virginia got a dominating performance against Ole Miss from starter Nathan Kirby who only gave up one run in his seven innings of work. The left-handed Kirby shook off a five-run outing last time he was on the mound and allowed only one hit, leaving closer Artie Lewicki to blank the Rebels in the last two innings and secure a 2-1 victory.
The game ended on a walk-off hit by team batting leader Mike Papi, who punched the ball into right-center with two outs to bring home the runner on second. The walk-off win is only the second in the College World Series since 2011, when the South Carolina Gamecocks beat Virginia 3-2.
Yesterday’s battle between Big 12 Texas rivals TCU and Texas Tech was also decided by a single run. Both starting pitchers gave the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders chances to win. Big 12 pitcher of the year Preston Morrison only allowed one run over eight innings of work, giving way to closer Reily Farrell who surrendered a run, giving the Red Raiders a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. Texas Tech then brought out their closing ace Jonny Drozd to take over for starting pitcher Chris Sadberry, but Texas Tech committed an error and Drozd gave up two hits, including the winning hit with two outs, putting TCU over the top 3-2. The Horned Frogs kept Reily Farrell in the game to close out the Red Raiders and propel TCU into tonight’s game against Virginia.
Top seeded Virginia and TCU take on each other knowing they have a bit of a cushion. Being in the winners bracket, both can afford to lose a game and still be in a position to make it to the finals of the College World Series. Winning tonight will make it a much easier path; the winner will only have to win one more game to reach the finals while the loser has to win three in a row.
No surprise, tonight’s match up is all about pitching. TCU finished the season with the lowest staff ERA in college baseball at 2.18, and tonight the team puts Kansas City Royals first round selection Brandon Finnegan on the mound. Having the nation’s top pitching staff has given TCU options, such as letting staff ace and pitcher of the year Preston Morrison play Sunday while keeping Finnegan fresh for tonight’s game. The lefty fireballer comes into the game with an ERA under 2.00.
In terms of pitching, the Cavs are not far behind the Frogs, boasting the fifth best ERA in the nation at 2.29. Virginia also has one of the country’s top closers in Nick Howard, a first round selection by the Cincinnati Reds. Taking the mound tonight will be Brandon Waddell, a 9-3 starter not known for striking out batters, but has an ERA of only 2.66 and has allowed only three hits over his last 17.1 innings.
Getting to the winners bracket is important, but taking tonight’s game is critical to either team’s chances of ending up in the College World Series’ best-of-three finals. With the best pitching talent in the nation, a hit or two might be the difference and both TCU and top seeded Virginia will take anything they can get. Lovers of 1-0 or 2-1 games should be in baseball heaven. Those who hope for an offensive showcase will probably be out of luck.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein