Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 College World Series is almost upon us. Eight teams will enter, each with its own action-packed path to Omaha, but only one can be crowned champion.
UCLA comes into the tournament on a hot streak, winning five straight postseason games to punch its ticket, but every other team has had its share of success too. The Bruins will likely be underdogs in their first game against No. 4 LSU, and could be facing ACC powers NC State or top-seeded North Carolina shortly thereafter.
To get a better idea of what UCLA is up against in Omaha, read on for a complete, team-by-team preview of the 2013 CWS field. Best case scenario, the Bruins would only face one of the four teams from the top bracket, and that would be in the championship series.
But just for your edification—and to help you fill out your bracket challenge entry—each of UCLA’s seven CWS counterparts is broken down below. And just in case any of you readers aren’t UCLA fans, I threw in a breakdown of the Bruins as well. Here we go!
No. 1 North Carolina
UNC dog piles after clinching a CWS berth, Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 57-10
Postseason Record: 9-2
Standings: ACC Regular Season and Tournament Champion
Key Player(s): DH Colin Moran, LHP Kent Emanuel
Notes: For most of the season, North Carolina hovered around the top of the rankings, competing with Vanderbilt for the top spot. But after sweeping the ACC regular season and tourney titles, the Tar Heels were rewarded with the No. 1 overall seed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. However, after barely surviving Florida Atlantic in the Chapel Hill Regional, UNC was again brought to the brink of elimination in the Supers. And yet, the Heels kept calm and carried on, eliminating rival South Carolina to advance to Omaha. The calling card for UNC this season has been offense, and no one is more menacing than designated hitter Colin Moran. The First Team All-American was named ACC Player of the Year after batting .348 with 13 home runs, 88 RBIs and 60 walks drawn. However, as strong as their offense is, the Heels have a very valuable weapon on the pitching mound too. Junior lefty Kent Emanuel was named Third Team All-American by the NCBWA after setting a school record with 28 career wins. He was also tabbed ACC Pitcher of the Year for his efforts in 2013. If Emanuel and the UNC pitching staff can hold serve, the Heels’ offense has the firepower to take them to the top.
No. 3 Oregon State
OSU pitcher delivers vs. UCLA, Credit: Jeff Poirier
Overall Record: 50-11
Postseason Record: 5-1
Standings: Pac-12 Regular Season Champion
Key Player(s): RHP Andrew Moore, LHP Matt Boyd
Notes: Oregon State is the only other Pac-12 team to make the CWS, and one of three national seeds to get through the Super Regionals. The Beavers won the regular season Pac-12 title before sweeping their Regional and hosting Kansas State in the Supers. And though the Wildcats stole the opener, OSU wasn’t going to go down that easily—the Beavs rallied back to win the next two and get to Omaha for the fourth time in nine seasons. The 2013 Oregon State squad is all about pitching, headlined by Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and First Team All-American Andrew Moore. The right-hander is tied for first in the nation with 14 wins, and boasts an ERA of 1.36 through 119 innings pitched. But Moore isn’t the only big arm for the Beavers, as senior southpaw Matt Boyd earned All-American honors from Baseball America as well. Boyd has thrown 122.2 innings with an ERA of 2.13, and has only dropped three decisions (one of which came against UCLA in April). OSU will be favored in its opening bracket, and should have a good chance to get to the championship series. Once there, Moore, Boyd and the Beavs could easily find themselves hosting the program’s third national title in history.
No. 4 Louisiana State
LSU, Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 57-9
Postseason Record: 9-1
Standings: First in SEC West (2nd overall), SEC Tournament Champion
Key Player(s): SS Alex Bregman, RHP Aaron Nola
Notes: The SEC got nine teams into the NCAA Tournament, but LSU is one of only two to make it to the CWS. The Tigers punched their ticket to Omaha after an impressive run through the Regional rounds that included a 2-0 sweep of Oklahoma in the Supers. The SEC Tournament champions were the only team to land two players on the All-American first team (Baseball America). Shortstop Alex Bregman and RHP Aaron Nola nabbed the honors, also collecting SEC Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. Nola will likely take the mound against the Bruins on Sunday to open the Tigers’ CWS run, and he’s got some nasty stuff. Nola has recorded 111 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched for an ERA of 1.82, while opponents have batted just .195 against him. Nola will present a major challenge to UCLA’s inconsistent offense, especially if Bregman can get his bat going. The 6’0″ slugger has posted a batting average of .385 to go with 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. If Adam Plutko can’t find a way to slow down Bregman, it could be another big day for the Purple and Gold as they chase a seventh CWS title.
UCLA SS Pat Valaika (10) tags out Cal State Fullerton SS Richy Pedroza (6).Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 44-17
Postseason Record: 5-0
Standings: 3rd in Pac-12
Key Player(s): RHP David Berg, SS Pat Valaika
Notes: After faltering the final series of the regular season, UCLA bounced back in a big way by sweeping through the LA Regional and Fullerton Super Regional. The Bruins bested No. 5-seed Cal State Fullerton to earn their third trip to the CWS in four years, despite an average showing from the offense. The unquestioned UCLA star, at least in terms of national recognition, is relief pitcher David Berg. The scintillating sophomore throws a sick side-armed slider, part of the reason he was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and First Team All-American. When Berg takes the mound, it’s lights-out the rest of the way, and usually ends with a W for the Bruins. His 21 saves to date are a school record, and his 0.88 ERA is good for second in the country. Berg is only one piece of a stacked pitching staff, and his skills should be on full display in Omaha. But if the Bruins are going to make some noise this year, the offense will have to step up. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Pat Valaika will be key here. The junior shortstop is not a dominant at the plate, but he is one of the main threats in the UCLA order (a lineup that doesn’t feature a single .300 hitter). If Valaika and the UCLA offense can support its pitchers, the Bruins have more to bring to the table than most think as they pursue the program’s first CWS title.
North Carolina State
NC State Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner (8), Credit: Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 49-14
Postseason Record: 7-1
Standings: 2nd in ACC Atlantic (4th overall)
Key Player(s): SS Trea Turner, LHP Carlos Rodon
Notes: UNC isn’t the only team from the Old North State going for it all, as North Carolina State also played its way into the CWS field this year. The Wolfpack clawed its way through an upset-minded Rice squad fresh off eliminating No.8-seed Oregon. It took two ninth-inning comebacks for NC State to take down the Owls, with the clinching victory requiring 17 innings to complete. It wasn’t pretty for the Wolfpack, but winning grind-it-out games is a valuable asset in the postseason. Unfortunately for NCSU and All-American shortstop Trea Turner, they drew in-state rival North Carolina to kick off the CWS. The Pack has gone 1-2 against the Tar Heels this season, most recently falling in 18 innings in the ACC Tournament semifinals. However, if there was a time for Turner and Co. to break out, why not in Omaha? Turner boasts a .377 batting average with seven home runs, 41 RBIs and a healthy mark of 27 stolen bases. If he can bring his hot hitting on the road, NC State has a chance to put itself in prime position on Sunday.
Mississippi State, Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 48-18
Postseason Record: 8-2
Standings: 3rd in SEC West (5th overall)
Key Player(s): RF Hunter Renfroe, RHP Jonathan Holder
Notes: Mississippi State is one of a few teams to knock off national seeds in the Super Regional, taking down No. 6-seed Virginia in Charlottesville in two games. The Bulldogs were nearly perfect in the NCAA Tournament, aside from dropping one game to upstart Central Arkansas in the Starkville Regional. MSU is led by superstar right fielder and First Team All-American Hunter Renfroe. With a career average of .242 coming into 2013, Renfroe put on a show as a junior this year, hitting .352 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Couple those numbers with his speed on the base paths and his rocket from the outfield, and Renfroe easily separates himself as the MSU player to watch. But if there were another, it’s right-hander Jonathan Holder, a sophomore reliever with a tiny ERA of 1.17. Holder earned Second Team All-American honors after striking out 81 batters in 46 innings pitched. Let that sink in for a minute. This kid is an absolute monster on the bump, and could be a key reason the Bulldogs find success in their ninth trip to Omaha.
Indiana celebrates getting to Omaha, Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 48-14
Postseason Record: 8-1
Standings: Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Champion
Key Player(s): C Kyle Schwarber, 3B Dustin DeMuth
Notes: Indiana is the first Big Ten team to make it to Omaha since Michigan in 1984, ending a nearly 30-year drought for the storied conference. The Hoosiers finished with a .708 winning percentage in B1G play, losing only one three-game series all year (sweep at Michigan State that included two extra-inning losses). But IU really didn’t catch the eye of the nation until sweeping through its Regional and taking down No. 7-seed Florida State in the Supers. The trip to Omaha will be the Hoosiers’ first in program history, but they aren’t stopping there. Led by All-Americans Kyle Schwarber and Dustin DeMuth, Indiana is looking to make a splash next week. Schwarber is a hard-hitting sophomore with a batting average of .372, 17 home runs, 50 RBIs and 38 walks drawn. His impressive production from the catcher position earned him second-team honors from Baseball America. Just 90 feet away from Schwarber at the hot corner is DeMuth, a third-team selection who also swings a strong bat. The junior third baseman is batting .396 with 40 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. With those two in the lineup, the Indiana offense could be a serious factor in Omaha, so long as the pitching holds up.
Louisville celebrates getting to the CWS, Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Record: 51-12
Postseason Record: 5-2
Standings: Big East Regular Season Champion
Key Player(s): RHP Jeff Thompson, RHP Kyle Funkhouser, RHP Anthony Kidston
Notes: After claiming the regular season conference title, Louisville made a quick 0-2 exit from the Big East Tournament, raising questions about the team’s resilience. But the Cardinals silenced the doubters by sweeping their Regional, and then going into Nashville to topple the No. 2-seed Vanderbilt Commodores in two games. Louisville is led by All-American starter Jeff Thompson, who has put together an 11-1 campaign with an ERA of 2.00. The Big East Pitcher of the Year anchors a rotation that also includes two Freshman All-Americans in Kyle Funkhouser and Anthony Kidston. The two right-handed pitchers have combined to go 10-1 this season, though they were little used in the Super Regional versus Vandy. Louisville is making its first CWS appearance since 2007, so the Cards should be psyched up to get going on Saturday against the Hoosiers.
The complete interactive 2013 College World Series bracket can be seen on NCAA.com. Enjoy Omaha!