Alabama Coach Brad Bohannon Breaks Down CWS Finals Matchup
To get a better feel for this week’s College World Series finals matchup, we talked with Alabama coach Brad Bohannon, the head coach of one of six teams to have played multiple games this season against both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
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Alabama played Mississippi State at home on the final weekend of the regular season, two weeks after it traveled to Nashville to play Vanderbilt. So, not only did the Crimson Tide play both teams, they did so in the last month of the regular season.
Bohannon came away impressed with both teams.
“Having played both clubs in May, I’m not surprised that they’re the last two teams standing,” he said.
Bohannon found both teams to have a lot of similarities and in both cases, their pitching is what stood out to him the most, though they get there in slightly different ways.
“Mississippi State has really good starting pitching and an absolute buzzsaw on the back end,” Bohannon said. “Vanderbilt, maybe their 1-2 punch with (Kumar) Rocker and (Jack) Leiter are a little bit stiffer than Mississippi State and not quite as deadly on the back end, but both teams pitch at a high level with their top five or six guys and they’re really hard to score against.”
Mississippi State will start lefthander Christian Macleod (6-5, 4.61) on Monday in Game 1 and after that coach Chris Lemonis had said everything is to be determined. Ordinarily, righthander Will Bednar (8-1, 3.34) would factor prominently into the rotation, and he still may, but after starting Saturday’s winner-take-all bracket final against Texas, his availability is uncertain.
No matter how the starters shake out, Mississippi State is trying to get the ball to All-American relief ace Landon Sims (5-0, 1.52, 12 SV, 96 SO, 53.1 IP).
“Both of his two pitches are plus,” Bohannon said. “He really pitches off the high-spin four-seam fastball up in the zone. He does a good job of throwing it up in the zone. He has a really good slider that seems to have a little different shape than your typical slider and he does a good job of throwing them both for strikes.”
For Vanderbilt, everything revolves around All-American righthanders Kumar Rocker (14-3, 2.52) and Jack Leiter (10-4, 2.08). Leiter is expected to get the start Monday on full rest and Rocker should be ready to go in Wednesday’s if-necessary third game after last pitching Friday.
“Having Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter as a 1-2 punch, its special,” Bohannon said. “Its something that happens once in a coaching career – or every other year if you’re Vanderbilt – but to have two guys with over 100 innings with sub-2.50 ERAs that are strike throwers that pitch into the seventh inning every time out, that’s special.”
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While neither lineup has found its groove in Omaha, both have high-end offenses. But they approach the game in different ways. Mississippi State grinds out at bats and is difficult to strike out, while Vanderbilt is prone to the strikeout, but also hits a lot of home runs and steals a lot of bases.
That dichotomy, against these two pitching staffs, makes for a fascinating matchup.
“It’s crazy that you’ve got two of the best teams in college baseball and there’s 170 difference in strikeouts between the two clubs,” Bohannon said. “Vanderbilt, obviously, a very good offensive club. 90 stolen bases, 89 home runs, just a lot of threats. Mississippi State, you feel that they’re going to put the ball in play all the time. We tell our kids, ‘Hey, if you just put the ball in play, you’ve got a 30 percent chance of getting on base.’ It’s a lot easier said than done.
“This is the typical Vanderbilt power stuff, power arms that strike out a bunch of guys against a team that at least by SEC standards is the toughest to strike out. It’s two heavyweights slugging it out.”
Beyond the key matchups of the series, Bohannon said executing the little things will be crucial. Playing good defense, taking the extra base and executing skill plays could end up changing at least one of the games and, by extension, the series.
“These games are going to be tight,” he said. “I would be really surprised if two of these three games aren’t tied in the seventh inning or one-run games. When you get in those situations all the little things are amplified. You have to be able to get a bunt down you have to be able to defend the short game, maybe steal a base when the math of the leg time and the catcher’s throw isn’t very favorable.
“You’re going to have to execute the little things at a high level.”
With such evenly matched teams, its no surprise that Mississippi State and Vanderbilt played three close games when they squared off in Nashville during the regular season. After they split the first two games, the Commodores won the rubber game to take the series.
Bohannon said that result, which was two months ago, won’t mean much this week in Omaha. But he expects a repeat of the closeness of that series.
“The games were tight,” he said. “These were two teams that were great teams. Nobody is surprised they’re the last two standing. This is a 50-50 series.
“It’ll be a lot of fun to follow the series and I’ll be happy for whoever wins it.”