College World Series: What you need to know
OMAHA, Neb. -- The College World Series field is full of pedigree. A record-tying four of the teams are from the powerful Southeastern Conference, and each of the eight has made it to Omaha at least three times in the past decade. As for individual talent, well, there's an abundance of it.
The first pitch is Saturday. Here are some things to know:
CHAMP IS BACK
Vanderbilt will defend its national championship, and with three of their eight draft picks taken in the first round, the Commodores must be considered one of the favorites. Vandy has outscored opponents 53-7 while sweeping through its five regional and Super-Regional games and is batting .354 with nine home runs in the NCAA tournament.
Four of the eight national seeds reached the CWS. The survivors are No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 Miami and No. 7 TCU. Six of the eight teams were top seeds in their regionals; Arkansas was a No. 2 and Virginia a No. 3.
FEELING A DRAFT
Four of the top eight picks in this week's Major League Baseball draft, and six first-round selections in all, will be playing in Omaha. Vanderbilt's Dansby Swanson (Diamondbacks) and LSU's Alex Bregman (Astros), both shortstops, went 1-2. Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox) and Vandy pitcher Carson Fulmer (White Sox) went 7-8. Florida shortstop Richie Martin (Athletics) was the 20th pick and Vandy pitcher Walker Buehler (Dodgers) the 24th. It's the most first-rounders in the CWS since there were seven in 2008.
SEC IS REPRESENTING
This marks the fourth time a single conference has had four teams in the CWS. The SEC tied the record it set in 1997 and matched in 2004 by sending Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt. The Atlantic Coast Conference had four teams make it in 2006.
One of the biggest story lines is whether the new flat-seam ball will help produce more home runs at TD Ameritrade Park. The total last year was three, same as in 2013. There is no shortage of power this year. Miami's David Thompson and Arkansas' Benintendi have 19 homers apiece to lead the nation, and Florida's JJ Schwartz has gone deep 18 times. Vanderbilt is sixth nationally with 66 homers, Miami is 11th with 62 and Florida is 13th with 60.
The Gators are the best defensive team in the nation with their .985 fielding percentage. No one is better than third baseman Josh Tobias, who has committed one error in 131 chances.
TCU, at 2.38, is among four teams with ERAs under 3.00. Vanderbilt, behind Carson Fulmer's 152 strikeouts, leads the nation with 9.7 Ks per nine innings. Florida's A.J. Puk is striking out 12.3 per nine innings. Cal State Fullerton's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 4.9-to-1 largely because Thomas Eshelman has walked only seven batters in 131.1 innings this season and 18 in 370.2 career innings.
ON THE RUN
LSU, TCU and Vanderbilt rank among the best base-stealing teams in the nation, with each swiping more than 100. Bregman's 37 steals are most of any player in the CWS. TCU's Cody Jones has 31.
BEST WHEN IT MATTERS MOST
Cal State Fullerton, Arkansas and Virginia all overcame rough patches on the road to Omaha. The Titans were 11-12 in late March and 21-20 on April 25. Since then they're 18-3. Arkansas started 9-2, lost 13 of its next 19 to stand 15-15 on April 4, and is 25-8 since. Virginia struggled with injuries and was 11-15 in ACC games before winning its last five to sneak into the conference tournament, where it lost three of four. The Cavaliers have won five in a row since.
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor gets to come home yet again, having brought his Cavaliers to the CWS for the fourth time in seven years. He grew up across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and went to college a few blocks away from the stadium at Creighton. O'Connor pitched on CU's 1991 CWS team, and he was an assistant on Notre Dame's 2002 team that reached Omaha.
This article was written by Eric Olson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.