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It has been a few years since we've had such an intriguing College World Series field of eight teams.
CWS appearances: 6
How they got here: The Golden Bears are a classic case of getting hot at the right time. The Bears finished the Pac-10 portion of their schedule with just a .500 record. However, they've played exceptionally well in the postseason with a Houston Regional title game win over Baylor and a Santa Clara Super Regional series win over surprising Dallas Baptist. The Bears finally are meeting the expectations placed on them before the season.
Key players: The Golden Bears enter the College World Series with several key players to watch. Offensively, the Bears only are hitting .288 as a team, so they don't possess the same type of sluggers as, say, someone like Vanderbilt. But they've got some solid bats. Tony Renda leads the Bears at the plate, hitting .335 with 14 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 42 RBIs, while Austin Booker (.319/1/24) and Chadd Krist (.304/2/43) are other key hitters to watch. Also keep an eye on Devon Rodriguez (.288/5/34), Marcus Semien (.277/5/35) and Chad Bunting (.276/7/23), as the trio has been very productive in the postseason ... From a pitching standpoint, the Golden Bears are in solid shape. Left-hander Justin Jones has a solid 2.93 ERA in 119 2/3 innings and is a key cog. However, he suffered a bicep cramp in last weekend's series against Dallas Baptist and his status still is up in the air. Kyle Porter has a 1.59 ERA in 51 innings with teams hitting him at a .222 clip, Kevin Miller has a 2.59 ERA in 80 innings with teams hitting him at a .240 clip, Erik Johnson has a 2.91 ERA in 102 innings and teams are hitting .191 against him, and Dixon Anderson has a 3.90 ERA in 67 innings with teams hitting him at a .260 clip. In terms of true relievers, Matt Flemer has recorded five saves and has a 2.08 ERA in 34 2/3 innings while Logan Scott has appeared in 23 games and has a 2.89 ERA in 43 2/3 innings.
CWS forecast: No matter what anyone says, no team is ever out of the mix when it comes to the CWS. And the Golden Bears fit the mold of a team that enters the CWS playing a red-hot brand of baseball and experiences wealth of success. For Cal, the big key to its trip to Omaha is to get more offensive production. The Golden Bears aren't loaded with power, but have created some power production in clutch situations this postseason. That must continue this weekend and beyond. Should Cal's offense continue to experience success, it could be in good shape with a pitching staff that is versatile and solid. Cal coach Dave Esquer has a tendency to start a pitcher in one game and have him back a few games later as a reliever. Cal can matchup with teams on the mound, but the issue might be doing the same at the plate.
CWS appearances: 7
How they got here: At least one portion of Florida's road to Omaha came with a stiff challenge. The Gators cruised through the Gainesville Regional with wins over Manhattan and Miami before struggling at times in a Gainesville Super Regional series win over gutsy Mississippi State. We'll find out this week if that series was more the Bulldogs' doing or the Gators taking a slight slide.
Key players: The Gators are one of the more balanced teams in this CWS field of eight teams. UF enters the tournament with a solid .311 batting average and has several key offensive cogs to watch. SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino leads the way at the plate, hitting .376 with 22 doubles, 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. He also has a solid .444 OBP. Daniel Pigott is hitting .339 with five home runs and 39 RBIs while Josh Adams is hitting .329 with six home runs and 42 RBIs and Preston Tucker is hitting .314 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Brian Johnson (.312/5/27), Nolan Fontana (.301/5/47), Austin Maddox (.280/6/35), Bryson Smith (.323/2/20) and Vickash Ramjit (.394/1/7) ... From a pitching standpoint, there's simply not a staff in this field with the sheer depth of the Gators. UF has a solid weekend rotation of Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson and Karsten Whitson. Randall has a 2.29 ERA in 110 innings and teams are hitting .235 against him, Johnson, who is fighting a concussion, has a 3.66 ERA in 78 2/3 innings and teams are hitting him at a .248 clip and Whitson, a fabulous freshman, has a 2.45 ERA in 88 innings and teams are hitting him at a .235 clip. The starters are just the tip of the iceberg for the Gators, as they possess several quality relievers, including Nick Maronde (2.03/40 IP), Greg Larson (2.19/37 IP), Tommy Toledo (3.41/37 IP), Alex Panteliodis (3.95/57 IP), Anthony DeSclafani (4.36/43 1/3 IP) and Steve Rodriguez (1.72/31 1/3 IP). Also keep an eye on Austin Maddox, who could return to the closer role this week.
CWS forecast: We've wondered about the Gators' killer instinct for much of the season. But when Mississippi State put the Gators on the ropes, they responded in a big way with a Preston Tucker home run. Perhaps that's the Florida team that will grace Omaha the next two weeks. If so, opposing teams might want to watch out. The Gators have a solid offensive lineup that can cause headaches for opposing pitchers, while the pitching staff -- despite its 3.01 ERA, which is a little higher than other teams in the field -- is exceptional. Also keep an eye on two-way stars Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox. Johnson has fought a concussion and Maddox is nursing a bad ankle. Not having those two could change things for the Gators, but this team still is expected to be a title contender in Omaha.
CWS appearances: 9
How they got here: The Tar Heels are playing an outstanding brand of baseball and had a relatively easy road to the College World Series. They easily took care of Maine and James Madison (twice) to win the Chapel Hill Regional before sweeping the Chapel Hill Super Regional series over a solid Stanford team. The Tar Heels have played at a high level the entire season.
Key players: North Carolina doesn't have the best offense in the field of eight, but it is very opportunistic. The Tar Heels don't waste a lot of opportunities. They enter the tournament hitting .289 as a team with freshman third baseman Colin Moran leading the way, hitting .335 with 20 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 69 RBIs. It's also worth noting Moran has a solid .443 OBP. Tommy Coyle is hitting .318 with two home runs and 36 RBIs, while Levi Michael is hitting .300 with five home runs and 48 RBIs and Jesse Wierzbicki is hitting .298 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs. Also keep an eye on other key sluggers such as Jacob Stallings (.287/4/41), Ben Bunting (.278/1/38), Chaz Frank (.278/0/35), Seth Baldwin (.248/5/26) and Brian Holberton (.253/1/15) ... From a pitching standpoint, the Tar Heels have a very solid staff and enter the tournament with a solid 3.26 ERA. Ace pitcher Patrick Johnson has been fantastic this spring, sitting at 13-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 107 innings. He also has struck out 120 and walked 30 and teams are hitting him at a .208 clip. Freshman left-hander Kent Emanuel has a 2.55 ERA in 95 1/3 innings and Chris Munnelly has been solid with a 4.11 ERA in 70 innings with teams hitting .267 against him. The Tar Heels have one of the deeper bullpens in the field. Tate Parrish (2.35/15 1/3 IP), Andrew Smith (2.77/26 IP), Shane Taylor (3.00/36 IP), Greg Holt (3.65/31), R.C. Orlan (3.77/14 1/3 IP) and Michael Morin (4.71/63 IP/10 saves) lead the way.
CWS forecast: What a season it has been for coach Mike Fox and the Tar Heels. They were expected to reach the NCAA postseason entering the spring. However, we didn't expect the Heels to finish the year in the College World Series. Several players have risen to the occasion and the coaching staff has done a tremendous job. Now we'll see if their success continues in Omaha. The Tar Heels have hit at a high level the past two weekends and that must continue this week and beyond to win their first national title. The pitching staff, meanwhile, is extremely deep, but the bullpen has been shaky at times. The Tar Heels must be more consistent on the mound to accomplished their goals. The outlook is bright for UNC should it get past Vanderbilt.
CWS appearances: 10
How they got here: We said before the postseason the Gamecocks had one of the toughest No. 4 seeds in their NCAA Regional. Turns out that was right. The Gamecocks only defeated the Eagles 2-1, but cruised the rest of the postseason with wins over Stetson in the Columbia Regional and a Columbia Super Regional series win over Connecticut. What an impressive road it was for the Gamecocks.
Key players: There are few offensive cogs for the Gamecocks that will jump out at you on the stat sheet, but this is a solid offensive lineup. The Gamecocks enter the College World Series hitting .296 with sophomore first baseman Christian Walker leading the way, hitting .359 with 18 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs and 60 RBIs. He also has a solid .442 OBP. Scott Wingo is hitting .338 with four home runs and 27 RBIs, while Brady Thomas, who has fought the injury bug much of the season, has a .311 average with four home runs and 39 RBIs. Also keep close tabs on Evan Marzilli (.299/3/30), Robert Beary (.292/3/35), Adrian Morales (.286/3/38), Jake Williams (.279/2/38), Pete Mooney (.277/3/34) and Adam Matthews (.269/2/14). Steven Neff is a power producer with seven home runs, while there's a chance outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. plays at some point ... South Carolina's pitching staff has been one of the bigger surprises this season after losing two stud starting pitchers after winning the national title last season. Left-hander Michael Roth has been fantastic and enters the CWS with a 1.02 ERA in 123 innings. He also has struck out 95 and walked 32 and teams are hitting him at a .213 clip. Forrest Koumas has a 3.07 ERA in 67 1/3 innings and Colby Holmes has a 3.78 ERA in 81 innings. Bullpen-wise, John Taylor and Matt Price lead the way. Taylor has appeared in 45 games this spring and has a 1.27 ERA in 63 2/3 innings while Price has appeared in 31 games, has recorded 18 saves and has a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings. Also keep an eye on Jose Mata (1.76/30 2/3 IP), Tyler Webb (3.21/33 2/3 IP) and Bryan Harper (5.40/18 1/3 IP).
CWS forecast: The Gamecocks are the defending national champions until someone derails them in Omaha. Until that happens expect this team to play with much confidence. The Gamecocks have an offensive lineup that will make you pay for mistakes and is very gritty. Also, it's imperative for opposing teams to try and keep a hold on first baseman Christian Walker. He can create a big inning. Pitching-wise, the Gamecocks don't have a ton of bullpen depth, so getting to the pen early -- which is tough against their starting pitching -- is a big key. South Carolina is in great shape if Roth, Holmes and Koumas are on track. The Gamecocks could repeat.
CWS appearances: 34
How they got here: What was perceived to be an easy road to the College World Series actually turned out to be quite a challenge. The Longhorns dropped a game in the Austin Regional to Kent State but bounced back to win the tournament title. They also dropped the series opener of the Austin Super Regional to Arizona State before once again fighting back to win the series and advance to Omaha. It's safe to say the Longhorns have proven they can play with their backs against the wall.
Key players: The Longhorns certainly enter the CWS with the field's weakest offense. However, there's also no doubt the 'Horns are extremely opportunistic at the plate and will make opposing pitchers pay for mistakes. The 'Horns are hitting .272 with freshman third baseman Erich Weiss leading the way with a .358 average, 12 doubles, four home runs and 44 RBIs. Brandon Loy is hitting .344 with a home run and 30 RBIs and first baseman Tant Shepherd is hitting .305 with five home runs and 40 RBIs. Also keep an eye on outfield Mark Payton, who's hitting .269 with 24 RBIs and Kevin Lusson, who only has two home runs, but has power potential ... While the Texas offense leaves something to be desired, the opposite is true about the pitching staff. The Longhorns have one of the nation's elite staffs with a 2.27 ERA entering the CWS. Ace right-hander Taylor Jungmann leads the way with a 1.38 ERA in 136 2/3 innings. It's also worth noting he has struck out 123 and walked 32 while teams are hitting him at a .164 clip. Cole Green has a 3.03 ERA in 104 innings while left-hander Sam Stafford rounds out the rotation with a 1.72 ERA in 78 1/3 innings. UT also has a strong bullpen with closer Corey Knebel leading the way. Knebel has recorded 19 saves in 37 appearances and has a 1.15 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. Also keep an eye on Nathan Thornhill (1.69/37 1/3 IP), Hoby Milner (2.53/81 2/3) and Kendal Carrillo (2.45/36 2/3 IP).
CWS forecast: Texas' performance in the College World Series boils down to one thing and absolutely one thing only: it's offensive production. The Longhorns likely will do well on the mound with a solid rotation and stable bullpen leading the way. However, the offense has limited power potential with little consistent. UT will go the way of its offense this weekend and perhaps beyond.
CWS appearances: 5
How they got here: The Aggies are one of the hottest teams entering the CWS. They got through the College Station Regional with little trouble outside of one hiccup against Arizona. They went on the road for the Tallahassee Super Regional and took two of three from Florida State in impressive fashion. A&M's tough road to Omaha could help it experience success this weekend and perhaps beyond.
Key players: The Aggies have several key players both at the plate and on the mound to watch the next couple of weeks. The Aggies have a solid offensive lineup that enters the CWS red-hot at the plate. A&M is hitting .292 with national singles leader, outfielder Tyler Naquin leading the way. Naquin is hitting .390 with 23 doubles, seven triples, two home runs and 44 RBIs. He also has a solid .460 OBP. Freshman outfielder Krey Bratsen is hitting .335 with 36 RBIs while Matt Juengel is hitting .309 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs and Jacob House is hitting .303 with 16 doubles, three home runs and 49 RBIs. Others to watch include Adam Smith (.234/5/24), Kenny Jackson (.279/2/22), Kevin Gonzalez (.245/5/26) and Andrew Collazo (.277/1/14) ... The Aggies were in fantastic shape on the mound just a few weeks ago when stud right-handed pitcher and starter John Stilson was healthy. But now Stilson is rehabbing an injury and the Aggies have somewhat of a hole in the No. 3 starting spot. Still, A&M is in good shape thanks to a fantastic one-two punch in the rotation with Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling leading the way. Wacha has a 2.10 ERA in 115 2/3 innings and has struck out 110 and walked 23. Teams are hitting him at a .244 clip. Stripling, meanwhile, has a 2.29 ERA in 117 2/3 innings. He has struck out 107 and walked 17 and teams are hitting .200 against him. Bullpen-wise, Nick Fleece leads the way with a 1.48 ERA in 42 2/3 innings while Joaquin Hinojosa has a 3.31 ERA in 35 1/3 innings and Kyle Martin has a 3.60 ERA in 40 innings. Also keep an eye on Brandon Parrent (4.21/47 IP).
CWS forecast: The Aggies are playing a fantastic brand of baseball and are in good shape when it comes to the offense and first two spots in the starting rotation. The key to the CWS for A&M is the No. 3 starting spot and bullpen. The Aggies have used freshman Derrick Hadley as a starter the past two weeks. He was solid against Arizona and struggled against Florida State. He has to be good in Omaha. Also, the bullpen struggled immensely in at least one game against FSU. Again, that unit has to be better. Should those two areas improve, A&M could be in very good shape.
CWS appearances: First
How they got here: The Commodores are playing an outstanding brand of baseball and got through the first two rounds of the NCAA postseason with ease. The 'Dores stormed through the Nashville Regional with wins over Belmont (twice) and Troy. They also played at an extremely high level in a two-game domination of Oregon State in the Nashville Super Regional. Vandy couldn't be playing much better.
Key players: Vandy is the most balanced club entering the College World Series, hence the reason it's the favorite to win the national title. The Commodores have a solid offensive lineup that enters the tournament hitting .319. Jason Esposito and Aaron Westlake lead the Vandy offense. Esposito is hitting .357 with 22 doubles, nine home runs and 59 RBIs, while Westlake is hitting .353 with 17 doubles, 17 home runs and 54 RBIs. Conrad Gregor is hitting .350 with three home runs and 30 RBIs, Riley Reynolds is hitting .346 with 18 RBIs, Anthony Gomez is hitting .343 with 45 RBIs and Tony Kemp is hitting .325 with 32 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Curt Casali (.306/6/51), Connor Harrell (.281/7/30) and Mike Yastrzemski (.300/3/42) ... Vandy enters the CWS with arguably the best weekend rotation. The 'Dores have a very solid 1-2-3 punch with Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill leading the way. Gray has a 1.97 ERA in 114 1/3 innings and teams are hitting him at a .191 clip. Garvin has a 2.36 ERA in 106 2/3 innings and teams are hitting him at a .233 clip. Hill, meanwhile, has a 2.84 ERA in 92 innings and teams are hitting .244 against him. VU also has a solid bullpen with Navery Moore, who has an ERA of 1.21 ERA with 11 saves, leading the way. Kevin Ziomek (1.61/44 2/3 IP), Mark Lamm (2.03/26 2/3 IP), Jack Armstrong (2.65/17 IP), Will Clinard (3.03/35 2/3 IP) and Corey Williams (5.23/32 2/3 IP) are other arms to watch.
CWS forecast: It would be called a surprise if the Commodores don't at least play for their bracket title. The Commodore are playing a fantastic brand of baseball and have a lineup that is both consistent, and also powerful at times. The 'Dores also have a very good weekend rotation with a solid bullpen. The only concern when it comes to Commodores is experience. The 'Dores are making their first trip to Omaha and must avoid getting wrapped up in the hoopla. They do that and success should be had.
CWS appearances: 2
How they got here: Creating your own luck is part of reaching the College World Series, and the Cavaliers certainly did some of that in the Charlottesville Super Regional. The Cavaliers stormed through the Charlottesville Regional with wins over Navy, St. John's and East Carolina before taking two of three from UC Irvine in a series that came down to the ninth inning in the final game. The Cavaliers have to be mentally strong after the tough series against the Anteaters.
Key players: The Cavaliers have one of the better offensive lineups entering the CWS. Virginia is hitting .306 as a team with catcher John Hicks leading the way. Hicks is hitting .340 with 21 doubles, seven home runs and 57 RBIs. David Coleman is hitting .366 with two home runs and 39 RBIs, Steven Proscia is hitting .335 with eight home runs and 58 RBIs, Jared King is hitting .333 with two home runs and 28 RBIs, two-way star Danny Hultzen is hitting .320 with a home run and 35 RBIs and Kenny Swab and Chris Taylor are hitting .314 and .310, respectively ... Virginia's pitching staff also enters the CWS in fantastic shape with a solid rotation of Hultzen, Tyler Wilson and Will Roberts leading the way. Hultzen has a 1.49 ERA in 108 2/3 innings. He has struck out 151 and walked 20 and teams are hitting him at a .188 clip. Wilson has a 2.29 ERA in 94 1/3 innings and team are hitting him at a .199 clip while Roberts has a 1.58 ERA in 102 1/3 innings with teams hitting him at a .204 clip. Bullpen-wise, the Cavaliers have one of the nation's premier closers in right-hander Branden Klein, who has recorded 17 saves in 30 appearances and has a 2.15 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. Also keep an eye on Cody Winiarski, who has a 3.04 ERA in 74 innings, Kyle Crockett, who has a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings, Whit Mayberry, who has a 3.03 ERA in 32 2/3 innings and Justin Thompson, who has a 3.35 ERA in 37 2/3 innings.
CWS forecast: The Cavaliers are the favorite to win their side of the CWS bracket, but must avoid going into an offensive lull as they did at times against UC Irvine last weekend. Virginia has the rotation and bullpen to win the national title. Now the offense, which has been productive much of the season, must rise to the occasion.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org