If you go by the national rankings, the two best teams in the 2014 College World Series will square off Tuesday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha in a winner’s bracket showdown between No. 3 Virginia and No. 7 TCU.
The Horned Frogs (48-16 will go with left-handed ace Brandon Finnegan on the mound. Finnegan comes into the game with a record of 9-3 and a 2.12 ERA. The senior left-handed starter ranks fifth nationally with 129 strikeouts. He was the only Big 12 player to be selected in the first round in the recent MLB first-year player draft, the 17th overall pick by the Kansas City Royals.
Finnegan last pitched in a 3-2 win over Pepperdine in the Super Regionals, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing two hits while striking out seven.
TCU will need a good performance from its ace because Virginia (50-14) also comes in with an outstanding pitching staff, and Tuesday night’s starter, Brandon Waddell, is one of its best. The sophomore lefthander, like Finnegan, is 9-3 this season in 16 starts with a 2.66 ERA.
The Cavaliers’ have a staff ERA of 2.31, which ranks fifth in the nation, but Virginia will be going up against the country’s best staff, based on ERA. The TCU pitching corps has a combined ERA of 2.12
Virginia, making its third trip to the College World Series in the past six seasons, is the pick of most exerts as the team to beat among the eight teams that prevailed in their Super Regionals and qualified for this year’s CWS field. TCU, however, is an opponent that matches up will with the Cavaliers.
Both teams have excellent pitching and play good defense, two factors that, more times than not, produce championships. The hitting comparisons are fairly close as well: TCU is hitting .282 as a team, and Virginia averages .281. Virginia has an on-base percentage of .379; TCU owns a .371 percentage.
The two teams are also well positioned and comparable at the back end of the bullpen, as well. Virginia’s Nick Howard has a school-record 19 saves this season, fourth best in the nation, and an ERA of 2.05. Opponents are hitting just .185 off the right-handed closer.
The numbers are even better for TCU closer Riley Ferrell. Ferrell has 15 saves and an ERA of 0.57. Opposing teams are hitting .138 off of the Horned Frogs’ sophomore right-hander.
All things considered, it appears that Tuesday night’s showdown shapes up as a good old-fashioned pitching duel. Meaning that the team that is able to mount the most offense will be the likely winner. A win in this game would be huge for TCU, winners in 33 of their last 37 games.
The winner will be off until Friday night, when they will be opposed by Vanderbilt, another team with an outstanding cast of starting pitchers. The loser will play a day earlier, on Thursday night, against the winner of Tuesday’s elimination game between Texas Tech and Ole Miss.
“If you get hot and you play the best, you can be the national champion,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said on Sunday after his team’s 3-2 comeback win over Texas Tech. “And so we would much rather be the team playing the best than the very best team.”
Both TCU and Virginia are playing extremely well right now, which should make for an outstanding tussle for supremacy on Tuesday night.