Vanderbilt won Game 2 of the 2019 College World Series finals on Tuesday, forcing the decisive Game 3 from TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on Wednesday night.
The final first pitch of the 2019 college baseball season is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN as Vanderbilt and Michigan battle for the 2019 national championship. Let's take a look at how a national title could be won.
What Michigan needs to do to win the 2019 CWS title
Michigan was able to get by using its Big Three — Karl Kauffmann, Tommy Henry, and Jeff Criswell — on the mound in its first four games. Tuesday night was a different story. Freshman right-hander Isaiah Page put together a great start, just his fifth of the season, but only made it four innings. The rest of the bullpen was not as successful in its first appearance in the College World Series.
That's okay if Kauffmann and Criswell can do their thing. Both are now well rested, and if the two can once again tag team as they did in Michigan's first and third game, the Wolverines will have a great chance to walk away with a W. Kauffmann has hurled 13 innings in Omaha, allowing six runs with four walks and five strikeouts. He wasn't at his best last Friday, but a 15-run output by the Wolverines allowed him to get by. Criswell has relieved him in both games, tossing five innings of shutout ball while striking out ten.
So, while being able to stay out of the bullpen and get five or six quality innings from Kauffmann is a big key, so will the lineup construction. Jordan Nwogu had five hits and three RBI in the College World Series out of the leadoff spot, but left the game injured on Tuesday with a quad strain after just two at-bats. Dominic Clementi replaced him, but his .195 batting average and .276 on-base percentage are not ideal out of the leadoff spot. Head coach Erik Bakich mentioned freshman Riley Bertram — who hit .400 in limited action this season — could be called upon to provide a spark. The top of this lineup has been so pivotal to the fast starts for Michigan, so it will be interesting to see how they can get it going.
What Vanderbilt needs to do to win the 2019 CWS title
Well, since Kumar Rocker — who set a Vanderbilt CWS record with 11 strikeouts in Tuesday's victory — can't pitch again (we think), Vanderbilt faces the same dilemma as Michigan. The Commodores need a big start from probable starter Mason Hickman to limit the bullpen.
Tyler Brown picked up his fourth save in the College World Series, but he had to get eight outs to do it. It will be a lot to ask Brown to go more than an inning or two the very next night, so Vanderbilt hopes Hickman can get it some innings. Rocker did what no one else could this CWS and kept Michigan off the board, especially in that first inning where the Wolverines scored four games in a row. Hickman was superb against Louisville last Friday, tossing six two-hit shutout innings. If he can repeat that and go seven or even eight, he'll put the Vandy Boys in prime position to win their second title since 2014.
While Vanderbilt is certainly hitting the ball well, the Commodores scored two runs on wild pitches last night, showing they will take runs any way they can. The bats are getting timely hits, like Philip Clarke's big seventh-inning blast, but what could be highly advantageous is to do what Michigan has done well all CWS: work the pitcher.
Kauffmann has not gone less than six innings since May 10, with a string of four straight starts of seven innings or more in between. Being patient will go along way in burning Kauffmann's pitch count, and forcing Michigan to turn to Criswell earlier, giving the Commodores their best shot to get to that Michigan bullpen. Plus, waiting for the right pitch could get Austin Martin and JJ Bleday's bat going, two bats that could help put the game away early if they find their groove.