School Baseball – What You Have to Know About Every School World Collection 2021 Crew
After being closed for a year and covered in orange diversion barrels, the Road to Omaha has reopened. As you read this, eight college baseball teams are setting up camp in O-Town so as not to be the last team standing, but the only team to be 74 on TD Ameritrade Park’s infield turf.
Who makes up the octet of teams fighting for the title this year, how did they get to Omaha and which players are the best to have them on the hunt to the end? Flip your rally cap, order a Medium Rare Whiskey Filet from The Drover, and read on as we roll out our Cliff (Gustafson) ‘s Notes preview of the 2021 College World Series.
No. 2 Texas Longhorns (47-15)
Way to Omaha: Big 12 Regular Season Champion; won Austin Regional and Super Regional by defeating Southern, Arizona State, Fairfield and South Florida
CWS story: 37th Appearance (first ever); best result: first, six times, at the latest in 2005
Key player: Ty Madden, RHP, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year
Storylines: So how does a team stumble at its conference tournament and still be ranked No. 2 nationally? When this team is so talented that smart baseball people know it can’t be ignored. While the Longhorns certainly have no problem scoring runs, this team is built around the hill. The Horns boast the nation’s lowest ERA team (2.87). Ty Madden is the award-winning headliner, but Tristan Stevens (11-3) was also the first-team All-Big 12, and Redshirt newbie Pete Hansen is 9-1 with an ERA of 1.94, the ninth lowest in the nation. Meanwhile, All-Big 12 honorable mentions of Tanner Witt and Aaron Nixon share 13 saves.
Tennessee legend Peyton Manning calls the school’s baseball coach, Tony Vitello, to prepare for the volunteer’s trip to the College World Series.
No. 3 Volunteers in Tennessee (50-16)
Way to Omaha: First place, SEC East; Runner-up in the SEC tournament; won Knoxville Regional and Super Regional by defeating Wright State, Liberty and LSU
CWS story: Fifth appearance, for the first time since 2005; best result: second, 1951
Key player: 3B Jake Rucker
Storylines: The Vols have long been one of those “shouldn’t they be better at baseball than they are?” Programs that, despite a fairly rich tradition of professional baseball talent, oddly enough, only make five CWS appearances. The job head coach Tony Vitello did in just four seasons in cranking up this program got a lot of buzz in the college baseball world – a bit too much for Vols fans as his name is associated with every big time job offer in this season. But right now, Tennessee is totally focused on winning in the city where its most famous athlete screamed on the line of scrimmage. “Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!”
No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores (45-15)
Way to Omaha: Second place, SEC East; won Nashville Regional and Super Regional by defeating Presbyterian, Georgia Tech and East Carolina
CWS story: Fifth appearance, all since 2011; best result: first, 2014 and 2019
Key figures: RHPs Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, the best one-two in Omaha
Storylines: The longest-serving defending champions of the CWS (thank you, COVID) spent a large part of the early season right where they ended up in first place in 2019 on a super talented but super young roster in 2021. That inexperience popped up in the form of inconsistency throughout the year , but Tim Corbin’s incredible coaching time has always been anchored with great pitches (see: David Price), and this year is no exception. Kumar Rocker was the CWS 2019 prodigy hero but is now the grizzled veteran. He and Jack Leiter are an odd college baseball couple, but all Omaha eyes will be on them while all Omaha television cameras are on their famous fathers. To learn more about these two you should read this profile piece and pitching breakdown feature, both written and / or reviewed by a really handsome ESPN senior writer.
No. 5 Arizona Wildcats (45-16)
Way to Omaha: Pac-12 champions; won Tucson Regional and Super Regional by defeating Grand Canyon, UC Santa Barbara and No. 12 nationally seeded Ole Miss
CWS story: 18th appearance and third since 2012; best result: first, four times, 2012 at the latest
Key figures: Two great newbies, DH / 3B Jacob Berry and C Daniel Susac
Storylines: Arizona was a powerhouse of the CWS back then, and after taking a long backseat with Southeast teams, the Wildcats have become Omaha regulars again. How? Insult, insult and even more insult. They lead the nation in terms of runs (510) and hits (701) and are among the leaders in batting average (.327, fourth), doubles (131, second) and on-base percentage (.426, third). This engine is powered by Jacob Berry and Daniel Susac, who became the first freshman duo in UA baseball history to achieve double-digit homers.
No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs (45-16)
Way to Omaha: Second place, SEC West; won Starkville Regional and Super Regional, defeating Samford, VCU, Campbell and the national number 10 Notre Damere
CWS story: 12th appearance and third straight; best result: runner-up, 2013
Key player: OV Tanner Allen
Storylines: In the powerful SEC, most national attention always seems to be on someone other than the state, whether it’s the Vandy Boys who win the Nattys or Arkansas doesn’t (sorry, too soon?). But this will be the third straight CWS to be played to the clink of the Bulldogs’ cowbells. It was legendary Mississippi state coach Ron Polk who once said to me, “They give me a racket, an ace and a tighter and I like my chances.” Well, that roster includes SEC Player of the Year Tanner Allen and his .392/10/62 numbers, Will Bednar and his 7-1 record and Golden Spikes finalist Landon Sims and his 4-0 record too 10 parades. So, Coach Polk, this is a check, check and check.
No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (38-15)
Way to Omaha: Third place, Pac-12 regular season; won Stanford Regional and Lubbock Super Regional by defeating North Dakota State, UC Irvine and No. 8 nationally seeded Texas Tech
CWS story: 17th appearance, for the first time since 2008; best result: first, 1987 and 1988
Key player: OF Brock Jones, who crushed three homers in Stanford’s superregional clincher
Storylines: The Cardinal used to be a regular in Omaha, winning consecutive titles in 1987 and ’88, making five appearances in the 1980s, four in the 1990s, and five in the first decade of this millennium. But this is her first visit in 13 years and the first without legendary head coach Mark Marquess in the dugout. Now they’re being coached by a hero on those title-winning teams, David Esquer, who took just four seasons to bring his alma mater back to the banks of the Missouri River.
Jonny Butler helped get NC State past # 1 Arkansas and into the College World Series. AP Photo / Michael Woods
NC State Wolf Pack (35-18)
Way to Omaha: Second place, ACC Atlantic; Runner-up in the ACC tournament; won Ruston Regional and Fayetteville Super Regional by defeating Alabama, Louisiana Tech and the No. 1 nationally seeded Arkansas
CWS story: Third appearance, for the first time since 2013; best result: third, 1968
Key player: BY Jonny Butler
Storylines: Remember all that stuff we told you about how hard it is to believe Tennessee hasn’t been to Omaha more? Well, multiply that disbelief by five when it comes to NC State. How on earth can a program making its third trip to Omaha right now amid a talented hardball state like North Carolina and a team that has produced dozens of great league players (including Carlos Rodon)? This burglary crew who pissed off senior Arkansas in Fayetteville is full of thugs. Butler (.377 / 13/48) is one of six pack hitters with 10 or more homers and at least 35 RBIs.
Virginia Cavaliers (35-25)
Way to Omaha: Third place, ACC Coastal; won Columbia Regional and Super Regional, defeating Jacksonville, South Carolina, Old Dominion and Dallas Baptist
CWS story: Fifth appearance, all since 2009; best result: first, 2015
Key player: LHP Andrew Abbott
Storylines: UVa made it back to Omaha for the first time since the 2014/15 consecutive finals, and the Cavaliers managed the hard way losing their openers in both the regional and super-regions but fighting their way back even if they did COVID logs forced her to play her super 5½ hours from home in Columbia, South Carolina. I suppose here we should give you a detailed breakdown of the Hoos lineup, but instead we want to remind you of two things: 1. UVa head coach Brian O’Connor is from the Omaha area, a hero of Creighton’s legendary run of college 1991 World Series in his hometown, and he’s also one of the players featured in the famous Road To Omaha statue in front of TD Ameritrade; 2. The UVa Auxiliary Stephen Schoch is a national treasure and you should read these Q&A he did with the same handsome senior ESPN writer we mentioned earlier last week.