The College World Series Finals kick off Monday night in Omaha with an unlikely matchup that no NCAA baseball fan could have seen coming. The 12-team postseason, which began June 15, has been narrowed down to the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Michigan Wolverines. The best-of-three series will kick off Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m. on ESPN, with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday, June 25, at 7 p.m. on ESPN. If necessary, Game 3 would be Wednesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Scouting the Commodores
The Commodores have long been a college baseball powerhouse and this season was no different as Vanderbilt entered the postseason ranked as the No. 2 overall seed. Vanderbilt is a well-balanced team with star power in the lineup and the pitching rotation. The offense, which was sixth in the nation with a .314 average, is led by outfielder J.J. Bleday, the fourth overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft and the SEC Baseball Player of the Year. Bleday led all of Division I in home runs with 26 dingers. Asides from Bleday, infielder Austin Martin was a machine at the plate as he hit .406 with 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Shortstop Ethan Paul led the team with 72 RBI and also hit .316. On the mound, Vanderbilt is led by freshman Kumar Rocker. Rocker was 11-5 with a 3.38 ERA but had one of the greatest single-game performances that you’ll ever see against Duke earlier this month. Rocker threw a no-hitter with 19 strikeouts against the Blue Devils to keep the Commodores season alive. Asides from Rocker, Vanderbilt has the nation’s leader in wins, Drake Fellows, who went 13-1. RHP Mason Hickman led the team with his 2.08 ERA and was 8-0.
Scouting the Wolverines
No one, and I mean NO ONE, expected the Wolverines to reach this stage. The Wolverines finished second in the Big Ten and weren’t even ranked in the latest top 25 rankings. They were the No. 3 seed in the Corvallis regional, then took down the top-seeded UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles to reach the 12-team College World Series. From there, Michigan beat Texas Tech, Florida State and Texas Tech again to reach the finals. Michigan doesn’t have the star power or great offense that Vanderbilt has, but they’ve figured out a way to reach this stage with their pitching, led by their three-headed monster of pitchers. The Wolverines finished 9th in the nation with a 3.40 ERA. LHP Tommy Henry has looked like a shutdown ace this postseason and during the regular season, he was 11-5 and led the team with 127 strikeouts. Statistically, Karl Kauffmann was their top pitcher as he went 12-6 with a 2.75 ERA in 19 starts. In the bullpen, Jeff Criswell has been the team’s best reliever in the postseason. Outside of these three guys, the Wolverines don’t have much depth in the bullpen. On offense, Jordan Brewer was their best hitter, hitting .329 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs. Jimmy Kerr only hit .278 but led the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (62). Jordan Nwogu led the team with 78 hits and also hit .326.
Game 1 is expected to pit Vanderbilt’s Drake Fellows against Michigan’s Tommy Henry and with the way Henry has pitched, combined with the scrappiness of Michigan, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Michigan pull off the upset in Game 1. In Game 2, we should see Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker against Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann. Rocker has looked incredible in recent weeks and it’s tough to pick against him and Vanderbilt getting swept by Michigan. In Game 3, Vanderbilt would have the advantage of being the designated home team and in the final game of the season, where each team has practically every pitcher to use, the more talented team should win. Vanderbilt wins the College World Series, 2-1.