It is all down to this. Two teams, three games, two wins for the ultimate prize.
UCLA and Mississippi State have each rolled through the College World Series field without dropping a game at 3-0. The Bruins have gone unbeaten holding teams to a single run per game in the process. Their offense has scored only eight runs in the three wins and is hitting just .182 as a team but has maximized their opportunities.
Mississippi State has leaned on a stellar bullpen and gotten plenty of offense in their week in Omaha. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 14-9 winning a pair of one-run games. They have some pop in Wes Rea and Hunter Renfroe and a red-hot leadoff man in Adam Frazier.
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Neither team was on the short list of clubs a month ago people felt would be playing on June 24. Teams like Vanderbilt, Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, Florida State, Oregon, Arkansas, and South Carolina lost prior to the College World Series. Top remaining seeds North Carolina, LSU, and Oregon State dropped out this week.
Both UCLA and Mississippi State had solid seasons which put them into the easy host selection category on Memorial Day. The Bruins were huge underdogs on the road at Cal State Fullerton and close the Titans out in two games. The Bulldogs were underdogs at Virginia and also closed it out early.
For the second consecutive season we'll get a Pac 12 versus SEC final. Arizona ended South Carolina's title reign in 2012. The conference everyone except the RPI feels are the two strongest meet - although neither conference's champion is representing it.
Mississippi State will go with Trevor Fitts (0-0/2.86) in game one. Expect Chad Girodo (9-1/1.56) to get a look in relief early on. The Bulldogs have used only Fitts and Kendall Graveman (8-5/3.09) as starters in their three CWS games. Gravemen started Friday so the Bulldogs might need another option for game two Tuesday. Luis Pollerena (6-3/4.32/12 GS), Jacob Lindgren (4-3/4.18/14 GS), and Ben Bracewell (1-1/1.48/2 GS) would be potential candidates. In the postseason MSU has a stacked bullpen led by closer Jonathan Holder (2-0/1.24/21 svs), Ross Mitchell (13-0/1.27/2 svs), Girodo, and Will Cox (3-1/2.51).
The Bruins used three different starters in their three CWS wins and should be set up to do the same in the championship series. Adam Plutko (9-3/2.29) will start the opener Monday with Nick Vander Tuig (13-4/2.31) ready to go Tuesday. If there is a game Wednesday, Grant Watson (9-3/3.01) should be back after starting Friday. The Bruins bullpen is also strong with David Berg (7-0/0.96/23 svs), James Kaprielian (0-0/1.59/2 svs), Zack Weiss (2-1/2.27), and Cody Poteet (4-6/4.84) leading the way.
The Bruins hit just .248 as a team this season with Pat Gallagher (.283/1/20) leading the team. Kevin Kramer (.276/3/41), Eric Filia (.271/1/26), Brian Carroll (.257/0/20/30 sbs), and Pat Valaika (.250/5/46) pace the lineup.
MSU is hitting .298 as a team, higher than any starter at UCLA. Frazier (.358/0/38) leads the Bulldog attack with Renfroe (.355/16/65), Alex Detz (.320/1/31), Brett Pirtle (.312/2/33), and Rea (.300/7/40) all hitting well in the postseason.
Offensively the Bulldogs have a sizable advantage. UCLA has an equally large advantage with starting pitching. Both bullpens are stellar. UCLA is fielding .980 while MSU is fielding .972. The lower scoring the game is, the more it favors the Bruins.
In a different ballpark, Mississippi State's lineup advantage might be too much to overcome. In TD Ameritrade where the park plays like a National Park, that lineup advantage is negated.
The key to the series is if MSU's starting pitching vs. the Bruins lineup. If UCLA can take advantage of the weakest part of the Bulldog staff, they have a chance. If MSU's pitchers put up zeroes, the SEC claims yet another championship - their fourth in five seasons.