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Predictions for Saturday and Sunday’s College World Series games

On June 19th, the College World Series is set to kick off in Omaha. Unlike most seasons, this one has drawn raucous fanfare from folks on Rocky Top. Gaining entry into the CWS for the first time since 2005, the Tennessee Volunteers are going to look to make a push for a national championship.

As far as team championships go at Tennessee, it would mark the first since women’s indoor track and field captured one in 2009 and since women’s basketball did so in 2008. It would be the first championship for a men’s team since 2002 when indoor track and field got the job done.

But there are four games currently scheduled to be played this weekend, and many will likely be keeping a keen eye on them, perhaps in an effort to be entertained throughout the weekend; perhaps in an effort to scout potential Vols’ opponents.

NC State (35-18) v. Stanford (38-15)

How did they get here?

NC State: Knocked off Arkansas in three games after losing game one, 21-2.

Stanford: Beat Texas Tech handily in two games, 15-3 and 9-0.

What’s important in this game?

NC State: Road record. Away from home, the Wolfpack are 19-4, an excellent mark which far surpasses their home total of 13-12. With these games being played in Omaha, perhaps NC State will have a road advantage?

Stanford: Brock Jones. The Sophomore hit three home runs en route to the Cardinal-clincher against the Red Raiders in the super regionals. In 53 games this year, Jones has 16 home runs and a 1.072 OPS.

Saturday’s Winner: Stanford

Arizona (45-16) v. Vanderbilt (45-15)

How did they get here?

Arizona: The Wildcats were one of the teams that found a way to unseat an SEC opponent. Taking the 9-3 win in game one, Arizona quickly put Ole Miss’ backs against the wall. Culminating in an elimination game three, the Wildcats throttled the pedal and didn’t look back, earning a 16-3 win and trip to Omaha.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores were perhaps the team to beat coming into the season, with star pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter highlighting the billing and filling up mock draft sheets. Ultimately, the club left something to be desired throughout SEC play, although they still had a very good year. To get to Omaha, Vandy glided by East Carolina in two games on the backs of their pitchers. A close 2-0 and 4-1 series saw Vanderbilt continue its ascension to the pinnacle of the college baseball world.

What’s important in this game?

Arizona: Find ways to get on base. When you get on base, good things can happen. The Cats’ on-base percentage ranks second in all of Division I baseball (.428), second only to Wright State. In order to overcome Vandy’s stinging pitching, they’re going to need to create opportunities on the base paths and that starts with getting there.

Vanderbilt: The inverse of Arizona’s on-base strategy, which would be to have your stud pitchers prevent the Wildcats from getting much traction on the base paths. If Vanderbilt can show up in the pitching department, they’re going to be tough to beat, period, but especially with a week’s rest separating them from their last game.

Saturday’s Winner: Vanderbilt

Virginia (35-25) v. Tennessee (50-16)

How did they get here?

Virginia: To earn their spot in Omaha, the Cavaliers had to overcome a pesky Dallas Baptist club. Ultimately, it took those two teams three games to reach a decision one way or another. After losing game one, 6-5, Virginia found a way to win by scores of 4-0 and 5-2 to book a ticket to the CWS.

Tennessee: After a game one scare in the regionals against Wright State — which ended with a walkoff grand slam — the Volunteers rode their momentum straight through super regionals, not dropping a game all the while. Besting LSU in their super by scores of 4-2 and 15-6, Tennessee looks poised to secure a win Sunday — but never underestimate a pesky underdog.

What’s important in this game?

Virginia: Manage the home run. Tennessee hits home runs — lots of them. Part of that is because Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville is conducive to that type of offense, but with the power this team has, you have to figure some bombs are bound to surface in Omaha, particularly in that midwestern summer air.

Tennessee: Use your offense to your advantage. Like Arizona, Tennessee has a tendency to get on base. They draw a lot of walks (330, fifth in NCAA) and hit a lot of those aforementioned home runs (98, fourth in NCAA). That’s been one of their big recipes for success this year: Finding ways to get runners aboard and coming up with a big hit (usually a home run, it seems) in order to demoralize their opponent or simply get back into the game.

Sunday’s Winner: Tennessee

Mississippi State (45-16) v. Texas (47-15)

How did they get here?

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs, who finished second in the west division of the SEC, got through a red hot Notre Dame club on its way to Omaha. Taking a compelling game one, 9-8, then losing an uncontested game two, 9-1, the Bulldogs shot the door on the Irish, 11-7, in game three.

Texas: The co-leaders of the regular season in the Big 12, the Longhorns have been one of the best teams in baseball all year, even if they don’t get some of the acclaim that SEC clubs have been soaking up recently. Texas played a close game one with USF, winning 4-3, before comfortably pulling away in game two, 12-4, and earning its spot in the CWS.

What’s important in this game?

Mississippi State: Score. Simple enough, right? The Bulldogs have averaged 7.1 runs per game this year, and that’s without doing any one thing particularly incredibly. That can be a challenge to overcome, obviously, but they’ve found ways to do it. Their calling card, if it can be called that, is the home run. They rank 30th in the NCAA with 70 home runs. Seldom ranking near the top in any other metric, the Bulldogs will have to use the home run to be competitive.

Texas: Pitching. Owning the best team ERA in the NCAA (2.89), the Texas pitching staff has been excellent this season. Although the Longhorns score fewer runs per game on average than Mississippi State (7.1 to 6.8), Texas likely has enough on its pitching staff to neutralize the bats of the Bulldogs.

Sunday’s Winner: Texas