Mississippi State fans taking in the College World Series are going to see a lot of orange in the stands.
There will be plenty of maroon and white packing the bleachers at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, but each of the Bulldogs’ three opponents in their four-team bracket features the same color. If Mississippi State is to make it to the best-of-three championship series, the Dawgs will have to get through the orange crush of No. 2 seed Texas, No. 3 Tennessee and unseeded Virginia along the way.
And just like each school brings a different shade of orange to Omaha, each will present a different challenge for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs’ journey begins against the Longhorns at 6 p.m. Sunday, but MSU will face at least one of the other two opponents before its third straight Omaha run is done.
Here’s the book on Mississippi State’s three opponents as the 2021 CWS gets set to begin.
No. 2 Texas (47-15, 17-7 Big 12)
Shade: Burnt orange
RPI: No. 5
CWS appearance: No. 37
The Longhorns swept through NCAA Regional and Super Regional play, scoring double-digit runs in four of their five games. The other — Game 1 of the supers against South Florida — was a chink the proverbial armor as the Bulls scored three runs in the top of the ninth for a stunning comeback. But Texas flexed its muscle by walking off with a win in the bottom of the inning, then winning 12-4 the following day to book its ticket to Omaha.
Texas, of course, faced off with Mississippi State in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 20. The Bulldogs got to ace Ty Madden early in an 8-3, season-opening win in which Landon Sims threw four shutout innings, striking out 10. Texas lost to Arkansas and Ole Miss to finish 0-3 in the tournament. Since then, they’ve lost only 12 games, losing just one Big 12 series to eventual top-eight seed Texas Tech.
Like the Bulldogs, the Longhorns have pitching and plenty of it. They lead the nation in team ERA at 2.89 and will be a tough test for MSU’s offense whether Madden (2.41 ERA) or Pete Hansen (1.84 ERA, ninth in the nation) starts Sunday.
Ivan Melendez is Texas’ best hitter, owning a .321 average, 12 home runs and 46 RBIs. Zach Zubia has driven in a team-high 57 runs.
No. 3 Tennessee (50-16, 20-10 SEC)
Shade: Tennessee orange
RPI: No. 3
CWS appearance: No. 5
The Volunteers didn’t drop a single game in Regionals or Super Regionals, though they played in a lot more close games than Texas did. It took a walk-off grand slam from Drew Gilbert to give the Vols a 9-8 win over Wright State in the Knoxville Regional opener, and they clinched the regional with a 3-1 win over Liberty before beating LSU 4-2 in Game 1 of Super Regionals. In Game 2, though, Tennessee pounded the Tigers to the tune of 12 hits and 15 runs.
The Vols have played 66 games, three more than anybody in the nation, and they’ve used that extra time on the field to rack up the offensive production. They’re behind only No. 5 Arizona, another CWS participant, in total bases, and their slugging percentage of .477 ranks 23rd in the country. They’re also eighth in the country in ERA at 3.42 thanks to a strong bullpen and three solid starters — Blade Tidwell (3.57 ERA), Will Heflin (4.07) and Chad Dallas (4.10).
Tennessee whipped Mississippi State in the two teams’ lone meeting, an SEC tournament elimination game at the Hoover Met on May 27. The Vols sent the Bulldogs home with a 12-2 run-rule win, scoring three or more runs against Christian MacLeod, Will Bednar and Sims while Dallas tossed 6.2 strong innings.
Virginia (35-25, 18-18 ACC)
Shade: Rotunda orange
RPI: No. 28
CWS appearance: No. 5
The Cavaliers are one of two unseeded teams to make the College World Series, though they didn’t pull it off in quite as dramatic a fashion as N.C. State. The Wolfpack upset No. 1 Arkansas in Fayetteville to stun the Razorbacks and end their season, while Virginia beat fellow unseeded team Dallas Baptist in three games in a Super Regional held at a neutral site — Founders Park in Columbia, South Carolina. It was the same locale where the Hoos emerged from a Regional featuring No. 11 seed Old Dominion, the host Gamecocks and Jacksonville.
Kyle Teel’s grand slam in Game 3 against DBU sent Virginia to Omaha, but the Hoos’ strength is on the other side of the ball. They rank 14th in the country with a 3.61 team ERA and eighth with 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings (Mississippi State is first at 12.4). Andrew Abbott has 152 strikeouts in 100.2 innings of 3.04 ERA baseball, while Zach Messenger and Matt Wyatt are key bullpen pieces.
Virginia was swept by Notre Dame in mid-March in Charlottesville before beating the Irish 14-1 in the ACC tournament. The Hoos also faced VCU on May 4 at home, losing 7-5 to the Rams.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.