There are five teams remaining in the 2019 College World Series. By the time the dust settles Thursday, our final four teams will be standing. Mississippi State and Louisville battle for survival at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha with first pitch scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
Here is a closer look at tonight's matchup and a prediction for who will win.
The elimination game: Who to watch
Mississippi State: Just call him the hit man. Jake Mangum is having a 2019 of historic proportions. He first set the SEC all-time hit record, then moved into fourth place all-time in Division I baseball for career hits before tying the Diamond Dawgs single-season hit record of 107 set by Adam Frazier in 2013.
But it isn’t just a guy getting hits. He makes this lethal offense go. He led off the ninth inning with a double to set the stage for the big comeback win over Auburn. With the Diamond Dogs trailing 6-1 in the seventh against Vanderbilt, Mangum followed a Marshall Gilbert home run with another Omaha double and later came around to score himself. This lineup is deep with plenty of bats — like Elijah MacNamee or Tanner Allen — that can turn the tide with one swing. But it all starts with Mangum at the top.
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Louisville: The big bats for Louisville have been somewhat quiet thus far in Omaha. Alex Binelas, who delivered that regional walk-off hit and led the team with 14 home runs this season, is 1-for-8. Logan Wyatt, who was the first Cardinal off the board in the MLB draft, is 1-for-9. It seems like these two are ready to explode and if they do at the same time, the Cardinals may have a rematch with the Vandy Boys.
But, with Wyatt and Binelas cold, it could be a guy like Danny Oriente or Drew Campbell who may be the difference maker. Oriente has at least a hit in each game and Campbell had a big RBI in the Cardinals win over Auburn. Of course, Tyler Fitzgerald showed he could do damage in the win over the Tigers. After finishing second on the team in hitting and third in home runs, Fitzgerald, who’s also a menace on the base paths with 18 stolen bases, launched the Cardinals only home run in Omaha and can change the game in so many different ways.
How Mississippi State and Louisville got here
Mississippi State swept its way through its own Starkville Region, winning its three games by 4.33 runs. The Bulldogs then hosted the Super Regional against a Stanford team that was hanging around the top five for most of the season, and defeated them handily by 11 total runs in a two-game sweep. They opened Omaha in what is seemingly becoming a patented style for the Bulldogs, coming from three runs down in the ninth for their 28th come-from-behind win of the season, before dropping a close one to Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
The road to Omaha for Louisville wasn’t as easy. Illinois State proved to be a tricky out on the Cardinals home turf, beating Louisville once and coming from behind to tie it in the ninth of the regional final if necessary game. The Cardinals walked it off in the ninth and went on to totally dominate a very good East Carolina team in the Super Regional, winning both games by a combined score of 26-1. Louisville has had its back to the wall since the start of the College World Series, dropping its opener to Louisville before eliminating Auburn for the chance to play one more game.
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These two have met before in Omaha, but not TD Ameritrade Park. The last meeting was in 2007, so a lot was different, minus the fact that it was an elimination game. The Cardinals rose victorious in a big way, sending the Bulldogs home behind a 12-4 victory. It’s something Louisville has become particularly good at. The Cardinals sent Auburn home from Omaha on Wednesday, giving them their third win in 12 CWS elimination game matchups. All three wins have been against SEC foes.
Mississippi State vs. Louisville prediction
As we said, Mississippi State’s lineup is deep, and seemingly has a swagger that even if they are down to their final strike, they can win it all. The Bulldogs have had opportunity aplenty in Omaha this year, sometimes they’ve capitalized, others they haven’t. Louisville just keeps chugging along. The Cardinals were the early season favorites in the ACC, but the conference proved to be a tough one with annual tournament regulars Florida State, North Carolina, Clemson, Duke and N.C. State doing their thing while Georgia Tech re-emerged as a legitimate threat. Lo and behold, here's Louisville, the last team standing from a deep ACC much like many anticipated.
Pitching will be a big factor. JT Ginn, Mississippi State's probable starter, has been all that and more in his freshman campaign, going 8-4 with a 3.36 ERA and a pretty 103-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just over 80 innings pitched. Problem is, with Mississippi State sweeping its Super Regional and Ginn the third starter, he hasn't pitched since May 31. That's quite the load for the freshman.
Louisville is expected to throw southpaw junior Nick Bennett. Bennett started that walk-off regional win back on June 3, and that was his last appearance, so he, too, may have some rust to shake off. That's what gives the edge to Mississippi State. Opponents are hitting .256 against Bennett, and this Mississippi State team is hitting .316 overall, the fifth-best mark in the nation. Like we said, the Bulldogs bats haven't gone cold in Omaha, they just seem to be missing out on the big hit. One year after being so close to the finals, the Mississippi State senior triumvirate of Mangum, MacNamee and Gilbert should fuel the Bulldogs back to the semifinals once again.
Prediction: Mississippi State wins, 7-4 in its 29th come-from-behind win of the season.