Keys To The CWS Finals

Three Keys For Oregon State:

1. Limit The Lefties.

Oregon State has to keep North Carolina’s dangerous lefthanded hitters (Reid Fronk, Tim Fedroff, Josh Horton, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager) in check. The Tar Heels generally hit lefthanders well–they put up four runs in one inning against Rice southpaw Bobby Bramhall on Thursday–but it helps to have a lefty against them. Oregon State’s best lefthander, Joe Paterson, has been pitching out of the bullpen, where he has dominated (3-0, 0.89 with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 20 innings in seven NCAA tournament appearances, six of them in relief), but he is capable of pitching long stints and entering the game whenever the Beavers need him most. Game One starter Jorge Reyes said he worked hard to develop a changeup to combat lefties after he allowed a pair of home runs to lefthanded hitters in a relief outing against Georgia on Feb. 10. He now feels comfortable with the pitch and uses it effectively against lefties.

2. Keep Swinging Hot Bats.

Oregon State was a pitching-and-defense team for most of the season, but they scored 19 runs over their last two CWS games against Arizona State and UC Irvine. Most notably, catcher Mitch Canham snapped out of his 6-for-36 skid with a 3-for-5 performance against the Anteaters, smacking his first home run since May 18. When the wind gets blowing out at Rosenblatt Stadium, it helps to have some guys capable of hitting the long ball, because slugfests can develop in a hurry. Canham and senior outfielder Mike Lissman are Oregon State’s two best power bats, and both will probably need to have good series to keep up with a UNC team that has found its power stroke over the last two games. Lissman will be under the microscope–he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft a month ago for taking nearly $8,000 from an elderly relative, but the Beavers never punished him for the incident. Oregon State administrators have said in published reports that they were waiting for all the facts to come out before making a decision, and by the time the plea was entered, too much time had elapsed. Incidentally, Lissman is tied for the OSU lead with two NCAA tournament homers and eight postseason RBIs.

3. Keep Playing Beaver Baseball.

That means playing loose and confident, and never wilting when the pressure mounts. The Beavers have vanquished many opponents by simply being the tougher, more poised club, and veteran leaders like Canham and Darwin Barney are masters at boosting everyone’s morale. But this North Carolina team is not easily rattled, so the Beavers will have to be at their sharpest.

Three Keys For North Carolina:

1. White-Out The Beavers.

North Carolina needs a strong start from freshman righthander Alex White, UNC’s Game One starter. White had a solid freshman year, serving as North Carolina’s Saturday starter from wire to wire, but he has struggled mightily since tossing seven shutout, two-hit innings against Virginia in the ACC tournament. In the NCAA tournament, White is 0-2, 16.76 with 19 hits allowed in 9 2/3 innings. His stuff has still looked good–his fastball showed life and velocity (93-94) in a loss to Rice on Sunday–but he has struggled with his command, particularly with his secondary offerings. North Carolina’s bullpen is tired, and the Tar Heels desperately need White to last into the middle innings at least Saturday so they don’t have to put such a burden on stud relievers Rob Wooten and Andrew Carignan. Long reliever Matt Danford is rested, and catcher/righthander Tim Federowicz has pitched just two innings in the postseason, but he can be inconsistent. Wooten and Carignan are UNC coach Mike Fox’s go-to guys, but he’d love to avoid taxing both again Saturday. That means an early lead and a strong start by White will be essential.

2. Stay Relaxed

North Carolina has rediscovered its dormant power stroke, slugging five home runs over the past two games after hitting just one in its previous 13 games, but the key will be getting big hits when it matters most. The Tar Heels left 11 runners on base in last year’s 3-2 loss to Oregon State in the decisive game of the championship series. Third baseman Chad Flack figures to play a critical role this weekend. Flack has had a rough season and has been quiet of late, batting just .261 in the postseason, but his one home run was a game-winner against South Carolina in the third game of the Chapel Hill super-regional. He’s gotten plenty of clutch hits for UNC over the last two years, including two home runs–one of them a walk-off shot–against Alabama in the 2006 super-regionals.

3. Strong Up The Middle

This North Carolina team has reshaped its identity as a group of tough, fundamentally sound players who defend very well. Sophomore Garrett Gore has seized the second base job largely because of his reliable glove, and his presence has shored up the middle of the diamond, but he still leads the team with 17 errors. Horton is capable of dazzling with the glove–witness his diving stop and strong throw on a Diego Seastrunk ground ball up the middle in the first inning Thursday–but occasionally botches routine plays. His five postseason errors lead the Tar Heels. Teams that are strong up the middle have an advantage in tight situations, and no one is stronger up the middle than Oregon State (Canham, Barney, Joey Wong and Chris Hopkins are all very good defenders). The Beavers have a defensive edge at all four of those positions, as Canham is a better receiver than Tim Federowicz, Barney and Wong are steadier and flashier than Horton and Gore in the middle infield, and Hopkins has more range than Seth Williams in center. Defense burned UNC a year ago, but this is a more confident, less tentative bunch, and its .974 fielding percentage ranked 15th in the nation this season. There is little margin for error in the College World Series, and UNC will need to play its best defense to win.