Breaking down the bracket

 

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

For the second time in as many years, Mississippi State baseball team is heading to the College World Series. 

 

After dispatching of Southern University, Central Michigan and Miami in the Starkville Regional, MSU swept Stanford in the Super Regional to reach Omaha. 

 

Joining the sixth-seeded Bulldogs on their side of the bracket are No. 2 seed Vanderbilt, No. 7 seed Louisville and Southeastern Conference Western Division foe Auburn. 

 

MSU will take on Auburn in its opening game of the competition at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.  

 

Here's a quick look at what each of the three other teams on MSU's side of the bracket will bring to the CWS:  

 

 

 

Auburn (38-26, SEC) 

 

MSU's first opponent is a common one. The Bulldogs and Tigers battled through a three-game set in Starkville March 22-24. After dropping the first game, 6-5, MSU won the final two games of the series -- including a 20-15 slugfest in the final contest. 

 

Auburn comes into the week having defeated No. 14 seed North Carolina in the Chapel Hill Super Regional and escaping No. 3 seed Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Regional. 

 

At the plate, the Tigers' offense is limited. Not a single player in the projected starting lineup is averaging better than .287, nor has anyone notched more than nine home runs on the year. 

 

That said, Auburn is fairly dangerous once on the base paths. Ryan Bliss, Kason Howell and Will Holland each boast 11 or more stolen bases this season. 

 

Edouard Julien and Rankin Woley possess extra-base hit ability as they have combined for 31 doubles in 2019. Julien also leads the team in slugging percentage at .435. 

 

On the mound, Tanner Burns will anchor the Auburn pitching staff as presumed weekend starter. Davis Daniel has been sidelined for almost all of this season with an arm injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in April.  

 

Burns has battled arm soreness this season but has responded strongly. He is 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 15 starts and leads the team with 79 innings pitched. 

 

Jack Owen has been the second best arm for coach Butch Thompson. Owen boasts a 2.83 ERA in nine starts this season. He has thrown 8 2/3 innings in the NCAA tournament. 

 

Cody Greenhill and Will Morrison will factor in out of the bullpen as each have 24 or more relief appearances this season. 

 

Elliott Anderson and Ryan Watson could also see action as the two have just four starts in the 51 appearances between them in 2019. 

 

 

 

No. 2 Vanderbilt (54-11, SEC) 

 

The Commodores enter the College World series as the favorite to take home the title after unseeded Michigan dismissed No. 1 UCLA last weekend. 

 

Vanderbilt and MSU have played just once this season -- a 1-0 Commodores victory in the SEC tournament May 23. 

 

Starting pitcher Kumar Rocker has been the star of the postseason after he no-hit Duke in the super regional to the tune of 19 strikeouts. 

 

The Vanderbilt starting rotation goes four deep as Rocker, Mason Hickman, Patrick Raby and Drake Fellows have all started at least 11 games this season.  

 

Fellows is the staff ace with 104 innings pitched this year. He is 12-1 with a 4.15 ERA and leads the team in strikeouts at 120. 

 

Tyler Brown, Jake Eder and Ethan Smith should figure into relief roles. Hugh Fisher and Zach King could also appear out of the bullpen. 

 

At the plate, the Commodores bring the SEC's most prolific offense to Omaha. Junior slugger JJ Bleday, the No. 4 overall pick in this month's MLB Draft, leads the nation with 26 home runs on the year. 

 

Austin Martin is first on the team in batting average at .410. He reached the 100-hit plateau this year with a 2-for-3 effort against Duke in game three of the Nashville Super Regional. 

 

In all, five of Vanderbilt's projected starting nine are hitting .300 or better and have 77 or more hits this season. 

 

 

 

No. 7 Louisville (49-16, Atlantic Coast Conference) 

 

Louisville coach Dan McDonell has been, perhaps, one of the best college baseball coaching hires in more than a decade.  

 

A former assistant under Mike Bianco at Ole Miss, McDonell has lead the Cardinals to all five of the program's CWS appearances in his 13 years at the helm. 

 

The Cardinals reached Omaha after outscoring No. 10 East Carolina 26-1 in a two-game super regional sweep. 

 

Tyler Fitzgerald and Alex Binelas are names watch in the batter's box. Fitzgerald ranks second on the team with a .324 batting average and leads the squad with 82 hits and 64 RBIs on the year. 

 

Binelas brings a power factor to the Louisville lineup. He is No. 1 on the roster with 14 home runs and ranks second in RBIs (59). 

 

Logan Wyatt and Danny Oriente are also more than capable hitters. Oriente is hitting a team-best .330, while Wyatt is third in RBIs with 53 in 2019. 

 

Reid Detmers and Michael McAvene are the notable arms for the Cardinals. Detmers is 12-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts this season. He also leads the team in innings pitched at 107 1/3. 

 

McAvene will bolster the Louisville bullpen. After being thrown out of a regional game against Indiana in bizarre fashion, he will return from his mandatory four-game suspension this weekend. McAvene has seven saves and has allowed just 16 hits in 30 1/3 innings of work. Opponents are also hitting a meager .160 against him. 

 

Adam Elliott and Michael Kirian are Louisville's next best relief options as they hold ERAs of 2.64 and 1.53, respectively. 

 

Bryan Hoeing could also be used in a variety of situations. He has tossed 60 innings this year, though 15 of his 20 appearances have been in relief.

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.

 

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