OMAHA—Kirk Kenney and I had lunch today at Lo Sole Mio, where we met Jim Callis and his entire family—wife Ann and four kids. The Callis clan made the drive from Chicago to Omaha yesterday and headed right for the Drover, where an anonymous do-gooder picked up their entire tab. He told the waitress that he had kids and understood how hard it is to get out with the family, and he made sure the waitress did not tell the Callises until he had left. How's that for Midwestern hospitality?
We've got a sterling slate of games on tap today; let's get to the picks:
John: The last two nights have provided the two best games of the Series; I'm not sure if it's really close. This Series is building momentum, and today has a chance to be a special day. We've got the Palmetto State rivals on one side facing each other in Clemson and South Carolina, and TCU and UCLA, already rivals from their thrilling game Monday that capped that day's historic tripleheader, in the other.
In the first game, I helped build the Rob Rasmussen bandwagon, and I'm not hopping off now. The Bruins' lefthander beats Matt Purke and gets UCLA to the championship series. In my weekend in Omaha, I thought UCLA was the best team there, with a solid offense, good-enough defense (really, how good does the defense have to be when Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have more than 300 strikeouts combined?) and of course outrageous pitching. TCU showed that it can scratch and claw for runs as it did against Cole, and it doesn't have to score a ton behind Purke. But Rasmussen is underrated. All the guy did in his last start was beat Fullerton in the Super Regional with a complete-game two-hitter. There's no Christian Colon in TCU's lineup (sorry, Brian Holaday). I'm going with the Bruins.
In the battle of the state of Mark Sanford, John C. Calhoun and the nation's most amazing politics, I'm taking the Tigers against my initial feelings. I still think this is shaping up a lot like 2002, when the Gamecocks came out of bracket after losing their opener and won it by beating Clemson twice, but for some reason, I am more confident about Clemson now. The Tigers' defense doesn't seem to be hurting them; their offense is the best one in the field; their pitching is rested; and they've found a closer in Alex Frederick, the Clemson Cutter. (No? Not a good nickname? How about a poor man's Scott Bittle?) South Carolina pulled a rabbit out of its hat last night against Oklahoma, and could do so again today. If the Gamecocks win the first one, I would be on them sweeping and winning the bracket in an '02 redux. But as it is, I'll pick the team that isn't struggling to score runs, and that's Clemson.
John's Picks: UCLA, Clemson
Aaron: UCLA has been the best team in Omaha to this point, but I'm not yet prepared to abandon my pre-CWS national champion pick, TCU. The Horned Frogs just seem to have that magic working for them, reminding me of Oregon State in 2006, when the Beavers ran through the loser's bracket to win the title. TCU is in better shape on the mound than the Beavers were in '06, as Purke will throw on nearly full rest today. As good as Rasmussen is—and he's very, very good—I think Purke is even better, and I think he helps make his case for CWS Most Outstanding Player with another sterling effort today.
I'm surprised to see John is reversing course on the South Carolina-Clemson matchup, but I'm going to stick with the Tigers, for many of the same reasons. The Tigers are playing with all kinds of confidence right now, and it's striking how much looser coach Jack Leggett and his team seem than the last time Clemson was here in 2006. I don't think the Tigers lose back-to-back games like they did in 2002, mostly because this team just has the right vibe—and it comes straight from the top. "I'm the same guy, but just like anybody else, you learn from your experiences out here. I do feel like I'm more relaxed maybe," Leggett said after beating Oklahoma on Wednesday. "And in that (2002) situation, we came out of the box and won the first two ballgames. We had three days to think about where we were. I like the idea we're playing again on Friday. We just get right back on the saddle and play."
Clemson will start freshman righty Dominic Leone—the third straight New Englander to start for the Tigers in Omaha. As a native New Englander myself, how can I pick that? South Carolina will try to piece together its pitching, starting with lefthander Michael Roth. The Gamecocks have largely succeeded with the Johnny wholestaff approach on Sundays most of this season, but I'm not convinced it will work today against Clemson's quality offense.
Aaron's Picks: TCU, Clemson
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