OMAHA—Mississippi broke up John Manuel's perfect picks bid with a win against Texas Christian last night, and he took Jim Shonerd and I down with him—we all picked the Horned Frogs. I thought that was the most entertaining game of the College World Series so far, thanks to a lack of wind for the first two-thirds of the game, which lent itself to some offense. A little variety goes a long way.
Today I'm diverging from John and Jim on both games, so this could be a make-or-break day in the BA Picks Pool. Texas is the only one of the final four teams that is bringing back its ace today; the Longhorns will go with Nathan Thornhill on five days' rest against Vanderbilt's Tyler Ferguson. I think both teams are making the right pitching decisions. If Vandy can win today, its pitching will be set up perfectly for the Finals, with a rested Carson Fulmer ready to go for Monday. If Vandy loses today, it can bring back Ferguson for tomorrow's rematch against Texas. It's a sound strategy, and Virginia is doing likewise, using Josh Sborz today rather than bringing back Nathan Kirby on four days' rest. The Commodores and Cavaliers are blessed to have potential 2015 first-round picks as No. 3 starters in Ferguson and Sborz, but neither is as consistent with his command as the team aces. I'm still picking Vanderbilt in the first game because I love the depth of the bullpen, and if Ferguson struggles, Hayden Stone, Adam Ravenelle and Brian Miller can bail him out. But I don't think he will struggle, and I have been so impressed with Vanderbilt's disciplined offensive approach in Omaha. I expect the 'Dores to score a few runs against Thornhill.
Mississippi is opting to start lefthander Jeremy Massie rather than bring back Chris Ellis. This move is a mild surprise to me, but I have a good feeling about it. Virginia's four most dangerous hitters are lefthanded—Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, Joe McCarthy and Branden Cogswell—so throwing a southpaw against them makes sense, and Massie is wily, if not overpowering. I got a good vibe from the Rebels yesterday; I think they have some offensive confidence now, which makes them very dangerous. I think they'll keep their bats rolling today and force a rematch Saturday (but I'm still leaning toward Virginia to win the bracket).
John Manuel (0-1 yesterday; 9-1 overall): Texas, Virginia
Aaron Fitt (0-1 yesterday; 7-3 overall): Vanderbilt, Mississippi
Jim Shonerd (0-1 yesterday; 5-5 overall): Texas, Virginia