It's the first Sunday of the College World Series, which means it must be Father's Day. I wouldn't be here in Omaha if my dad hadn't instilled in me a deep love for the game of baseball at a very young age. As it turned out, our baseball road trips—to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Montreal, New York and the West Coast and just about everywhere in between—were good preparation for a life of baseball road trips as an adult. Thanks, Dad!
Let's get to Sunday's picks.
Florida State vs. Stony Brook
UCLA vs. Arizona
I have flip-flopped back and forth on the first game, which I could see going either way. I don't see Stony Brook playing as poorly as it did Friday against UCLA, and if these two teams both play up to their potential, they should be very evenly matched. Both are led by a dynamic All-American in center field (Travis Jankowski and James Ramsey), both have experienced cores of quality upperclassmen surrounding their two big stars, both can drive pitchers crazy with their patience at the plate, and both will hand the ball to strike-throwing sinkerballers today (SBU's Brandon McNitt against FSU's Mike Compton). I think pundits and fans can put too much emphasis sometimes on which team is likely to feel more pressure, and in this case, I think there is some pressure on both teams to avoid an 0-2 showing—Stony Brook surely wants to silence the doubters who called it a fluke after it was shellacked Friday, while Florida State must be desperate to avoid a record fifth 0-2 showing in Omaha, which would give more ammunition to those who love to mock the Seminoles for their CWS futility. I expect both of these veteran teams to be focused and determined, which should make for a great game. One thing in Stony Brook's favor is that Friday's blowout kept its key bullpen arms fresher, while FSU had to extend Robert Benincasa for four innings against Arizona. And Compton allowed 11 hits last week against Stanford, while McNitt is coming off seven very strong innings against LSU. But I just believe in James Ramsey and that Florida State infield—those guys aren't going to let FSU go 0-2 this time around. I'll take the 'Noles.
The late game is tough to peg as well, because both of these teams are very dangerous offensively and very athletic on defense. Arizona always feels like a couple of swings away from an offensive eruption at any time, but I have concerns about starter Konner Wade, who has been prone to having one bad inning that can cost him. UCLA excels at barging through the door when an opposing pitcher opens it a crack, and I expect the Bruins will get an opportunity or two against Wade—and I expect them to take advantage. UCLA starter Nick Vander Tuig has pitched very well in the postseason, and like Plutko, he is a flyball pitcher who should be well suited for TD Ameritrade Park. I'm taking UCLA because of its edge on the mound.
I picked the Seminoles as the team most likely to go 0-2 in this bracket coming into Omaha, so I'm sticking with that one. Benincasa being extended to four innings the other night somewhat negates Florida State's greatest edge. The Seminoles played fairly well the other day against Arizona; they didn't lose the game. Arizona beat them. The same was true of Stony Brook, though. It didn't feel like the Brook wasn't up to it, it just felt like UCLA was the better club.
I'm honestly not sure which is the better club between Florida State and Stony Brook right now, and it feels like McNitt and Compton are a push as a starting matchup. I'm taking Stony Brook just on a hunch that the pressure's off the Seawolves now and they'll play more up to their potential offensively today. Florida State has buckled under pressure in Omaha before; those were different teams, though, and really has no bearing on this game. I don't think the Seminoles will choke; I just think Stony Brook will be a bit better.
As for the nightcap, I was impressed by Arizona on Friday night, as its lineup lived up to its billing in terms of its athleticism and energy. It scored just four runs though, and UCLA will put more pressure on the Wildcats offensively than Florida State was able to. Aaron has gushed all year about UCLA's offensive ability—it's a slashing, gap-hitting, aggressive team that has responded well to having Rex Peters run the offense after the departure of Rick Vanderhook to Cal State Fullerton. John Savage's Bruins team is playing confidently, won two of three in Tucson this year and looks like the best team in the bracket.
Aaron: Florida State, UCLA.
John: Stony Brook, UCLA.
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