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CWS Top Teams Bracket, Elite Eight: 2019 Vanderbilt vs. 2011 Florida

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Today would have been the start of the CWS Finals. 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.

2011 Florida Gators (53-19 overall; CWS runner-up)

No. 24 seed

The Gators played for a national title for the second time in the 2000s in 2011. UF played Texas for the national title in 2005 but fell short of the ultimate goal. This time around, the Gators were tasked with trying to knock destined South Carolina off its perch. UF fell short yet again, but it was an incredible run to the CWS Finals. Florida defeated Manhattan and Miami (twice) to advance to the Super Regional round before taking two of three from Mississippi State to advance to the College World Series.

Once in Omaha, the Gators put together a rather drama-free run through their side of the bracket. UF defeated Texas before double-dipping SEC East rival Vanderbilt 3-1 and 6-4 to advance to the CWS Finals against the Gamecocks. UF dropped the first game to the Gamecocks, 2-1, before losing 5-2 to finish as the national runner-up. It was a disappointing end to a magical season, but a lot of accomplished and this run set the stage for UF’s eventual national championship in 2017.

In that 2011 CWS, to give you an idea of how different the bats are, UF hit .245, which ranked fourth in the field. South Carolina, the top team, ended the CWS with a .263 team batting average. A little different, eh? Too funny. By comparison, Florida finished the tournament with an impressive 1.96 team ERA, two spots behind South Carolina, which had a 0.88 ERA. Florida finished the tournament sixth in fielding with a .963 clip.

In terms of individual standouts in 2011, Bryson Smith led the Gators with a .368 average and two RBIs, while current Big Leaguer Mike Zunino hit .316. Hudson Randall and Karsten Whitson (now a coach at South Florida) were the headliners on the mound. Randall had two starts and a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings, along with 11 strikeouts and a walk, while Whitson had a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 innings, along with nine strikeouts and three walks. Nick Maronde, Austin Maddox, and Greg Larson had unblemished marks out of the bullpen.

This was a strong run, and has since been followed by five CWS appearances for Kevin O’Sullivan’s program.

How They Match Up: The Commodores and Gators have had some epic matchups over the years, and if you pitted these two teams together, you’d have the same result. The Gators had a solid rotation, but Vanderbilt likely gets the edge with righthander Kumar Rocker leading the way. The ‘Dores also have a bit more balance from an offensive standpoint going into this matchup. But it’s up to the voters to decide!


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