The road to Omaha is complete for eight teams. Now all have their sights set on the national championship.
Here are eight storylines to follow heading into the 2018 College World Series:
Will Blaine Knight remain perfect?The SEC has been a known hotbed for some of the top talent in the country, and Arkansas ace Blaine Knight has put himself in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in the conference. The second-team All-SEC junior righty is 12-0 on the year with a 2.84 earned run average in 101.1 innings pitched. He’s held opponents to a .226 batting average against and allowed 32 earned runs with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 92:23.
Depending on how Razorback coach Dave Van Horn wants to use Knight, he’ll have to face a combination of Florida, Texas and Texas Tech. In his one outing this year against the Gators, Knight allowed three runs through 5.2 innings in a 6-3 Arkansas win.
Is Michael Byrne the X-factor for Florida?
Florida has no shortage of star power on its squad whether it be SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India, SEC Pitcher of the Year Brady Singer, No. 2 starter Jackson Kowar or any number of the thumpers in the Gators’ lineup. However, what separates Florida from the rest of the field is their premier closer Michael Byrne.
Byrne was once again named a finalist for the Stopper of the Year Award after registering 15 saves in 34 appearances while sporting a team-best 1.59 ERA. The junior is Florida’s all-time leader in saves with 34 over the last two years and has walked only five batters to 60 strikeouts in 2018. Much was made of Austin Langworthy’s walk-off home run that sent the Gators to the CWS, but Byrne pitched four scoreless innings of relief, allowing just one hit and earning the win in Game 3 of the Super Regionals. The last thing the other teams in the field want to see is Byrne on the mound while trailing late in the game.
Can Elijah MacNamee continue to be Mr. June for Mississippi State?
Elijah MacNamee is one of the hottest hitters heading into the College World Series after an astonishing regional and Super Regionals. MacNamee is hitting 12-for-36 (.333) with 10 runs, 12 hits, five home runs (two walk-offs),13 RBIs and a double this NCAA tournament. It will be interesting to see how opposing pitchers attack him at the plate, and it is worth noting that he has not drawn a single walk yet in the postseason. If he gets pitched around, we’ll see if he can remain disciplined at the plate or if he begins chasing out of the zone, looking to deliver another big blow for the Bulldogs.
What will North Carolina get out of Gianluca Dalatri?
After missing a large part of the season due to an elbow injury, the Tar Heels were fortunate when starting pitcher Gianluca Dalatri returned to action in the regular season finale. Dalatri has since made three starts against Georgia Tech (ACC tournament), Houston (Regional) and Stetson (Super Regional) and hasn’t lasted more than five innings in each — he's topped out at 73 pitches. We’ll see if coach Mike Fox will stretch out Dalatri for a longer appearance, or, understandably so, keep him on a pitch limit.
Can Oregon State avoid going cold at the worst possible time like in 2017?
Much like this season, Oregon State was rolling heading into Omaha last year. The Beavers were the No. 1 overall seed in the 2017 tournament and went undefeated in regional and Super Regional play before winning their first two games at TD Ameritrade Park.
But needing one more win to clinch a spot in the championship series, Oregon State dropped back-to-back games against LSU (3-1, 6-1) in their worst two-game stretch of the season. The Beavers hit a combined 5-for-59 (.085) with six walks and 21 strikeouts.
Oregon State returned almost everyone in their lineup this year, headlined by Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach, and once again swept through the first two rounds of the tournament — including two wins over LSU in regionals. There’s no doubt the Beavers are ready to turn the page after falling just short in 2018.
Outside of Kody Clemens, who else on Texas will break out in Omaha?
Texas second baseman Kody Clemens has put up video game-like numbers this season after an unbelievable showing in the Super Regionals where he was 5-for-8 with three homers. On the year, Clemens has .356/.449/.745 splits with 85 hits, 58 runs, 15 doubles, three triples, 24 home runs and 72 RBIs.
Just to put some of those numbers in perspective, David Hamilton is the next closest Longhorn with 63 hits and Zach Zubia is second on the team with 44 RBIs. Texas will need one of these two — or someone else — to step up in big ways in Omaha if it has a shot at a seventh national championship. Who are some other candidates to break out? Keep an eye on Duke Ellis, Masen Hibbeler, Ryan Reynolds and DJ Petrinsky.
Can Texas Tech win low-scoring games?
The magic number for the Texas Tech offense this season has been six runs. When reaching that output, the Red Raiders are 34-3 on the year. When scoring five runs or less, they are 10-15, including a 9-9 mark when scoring 3-5 runs and a 1-6 record when scoring two or fewer runs.
Much of the attention on the Texas Tech roster will go to third basemen Josh Jung and left field Grant Little (151 RBIs combined), but the Red Raiders sport a CWS-low 4.40 team ERA.
How will Washington find different ways to manufacture runs?
The Huskies enter the College World Series ranked last among the eight teams in runs scored with 299, 75 fewer than the seventh-ranked Longhorns. Designated hitter Joe Wainhouse (19 home runs, 59 RBIs) and shortstop Levi Jordan (eight, 42) are the only hitters in Washington’s lineup with more than 35 RBIs on the season. Primed to appear in their first CWS in program history, we’ll see if Washington can manufacture runs in creative ways.