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CWS Top Teams Bracket, Semifinals: 2019 Vanderbilt vs. 2006 Oregon State

College World Series


Today would have been the final day of the 2020 CWS Finals, if the series had gone three games. Since we don’t have live baseball to watch, we’re taking a look back at the greatest CWS teams of the modern 64-team NCAA tournament era. In conjunction with NCAA.com, we’ve made our picks for the 32 best Omaha teams since 1999 and seeded them into a bracket.

Now it’s your turn. Each day, we’ll present a few matchups for fans to vote on, as we work our way through the bracket to determine the greatest College World Series team of the super regional era.

 


2019 Vanderbilt Commodores (59-12 overall; CWS champion)

No. 1 seed

In a bracket chock full of champions, the 2019 Commodores earn our top seed because of their sheer dominance and overwhelming talent. This team entered 2019 saddled with the highest expectations as the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Very often, the consensus preseason No. 1 team proves to be the most talented squad in the country, but as the adage goes — it’s usually the hottest team that wins the national title, seldom the best team. The 2019 Commodores were the first consensus preseason No. 1 in the 64-team era to actually win it all. Along the way, the Commodores checked all the boxes, going 23-7 in the SEC to win the nation’s most rugged conference by two games, and then coupling it with an unbeaten run to the SEC tournament championship. The Commodores rode their elite offense to a 3-0 run through the Nashville Regional, then bounced back from a blowout loss to Duke in the super regional opener. Freshman sensation Kumar Rocker delivered one of the greatest pitching performances in college baseball history with Vandy’s season on the line in Game Two of the super, striking out 19 Blue Devils in a no-hitter. Then the Commodores cruised a 13-2 victory in Game Three to reach Omaha, where their bats went rather quiet but their arms proved more than capable of doing the heavy lifting.

Facing powerhouse national seeds Louisville and Mississippi State in bracket play, Vandy’s pitching allowed just six runs in a 3-0 run to the Finals, setting up a showdown between Vandy coach Tim Corbin and his one-time assistant, Michigan coach Erik Bakich. The Wolverines took the opener 7-4, but once again Vandy proved its mettle with its back to the wall, as Rocker and Mason Hickman came through with standout performances to lead the Commodores to 4-1 and 8-2 victories, and their second national title. Rocker earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors, going 2-0, 1.46 with 17 strikeouts against three walks in 12.1 CWS innings. Hickman (1-0, 0.75 in 12 innings) also had a worthy case for the honor, as did shutdown closer Tyler Brown (0.00 ERA and three saves in four appearances and 7.2 innings).

Vandy’s staff posted a 2.50 ERA in Omaha, picking up the slack for an offense that hit just .221 in Omaha, despite ranking eighth in the nation in batting and scoring, first in home runs, fifth in slugging, and second in walks and doubles over the course of the season. Given the level of competition Vandy faced in the SEC, those numbers are even more impressive, and its offense was widely regarded as the nation’s best in 2019, led by first-round pick JJ Bleday and future first-rounder Austin Martin, along with senior stars Ethan Paul and Stephen Scott plus dangerous sophomores Philip Clarke and Pat DeMarco.

2006 Oregon State Beavers (50-16 overall; CWS champion)

No. 12 seed

The first of three Oregon State teams to win the national title, this group entered the season with high expectations — which they set for themselves a year earlier, when the plucky upstart 2005 Beavers reached Omaha and went 0-2, prompting closer Kevin Gunderson to defiantly guarantee that the Beavers would be back in Omaha a year later. At the time, that seemed like an awfully bold proclamation, considering OSU had been to Omaha just once before (in 1952) and hadn’t even been to a regional since 1986. Who besides the men in orange and black could have predicted that Oregon State was actually a budding dynasty?

Ranked No. 8 in the preseason, Oregon State was rock-solid all season long, winning the Pac-10 title and hosting a regional, but getting snubbed for a top-eight national seed. But after OSU waltzed unbeaten through its regional, it got to host a super regional anyway, thanks to Stanford’s upset triumph in the Austin Regional. The Beavers swept that series too and returned to Omaha riding high — only go get blasted 11-1 by Miami in their CWS opener. And that’s when the magic happened. Oregon State rode dominant pitching through the losers’ bracket, beating Georgia and Miami, then shutting out Rice in back-to-back games, setting up the first of two straight CWS Finals showdowns against North Carolina. The Tar Heels won the opener, putting OSU’s back against the wall once again, but hot bats carried Oregon State to an 11-7 win in Game Two, and the Beavers came from behind in the late innings to win a scintillating winner-takes-all Game Three, 3-2.

Righthander Jonah Nickerson earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors after making three starts (two on short rest) in Omaha, going 2-0, 0.84 in 21.1 innings. Nickerson and Dallas Buck gave these Beavers a dynamic one-two punch for most of the season, with All-America submariner Gunderson holding down the back of a standout bullpen that really shined in Omaha. Gunderson pitched 11 heroic innings over five appearances in Omaha, and he recorded the final out of the last game against UNC, then whipped his glove high into the air. This team also featured two iconic players at premium up-the-middle positions in shortstop Darwin Barney and catcher Mitch Canham, and its biggest power source was Pac-10 Player of the Year Cole Gillespie.

How They Match Up: There’s a reason the 2019 Commodores earned the No. 1 seed in our field of 32 — those ‘Dores were a true juggernaut that excelled in all phases of the game and were stacked with premium talent. Vandy, one of the best offensive teams of the last decade, has a clear offensive edge in this matchup against an OSU lineup that ranked 57th nationally in scoring and 175th in homers per game. These two teams were roughly equal in pitching and defense — both of them were very good in both areas, though Vandy had more high-end power arms and OSU stood out more for its staff-wide pitchability.


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