One has to admit that the bottom half of this summer's CWS bracket looks a bit less exciting than the top half. While the latter boasts three ACC powers in Clemson, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina as well as national powerhouse Cal State-Fullerton, the former seems just a bit less attractive, at least at first glance.
National number two seed Rice is the class of the bracket, while seventh-seed Georgia has been one of the hottest teams in the country over the past six weeks but isn't known as one of the SEC's baseball regulars. Oregon State is a relative new-comer to the college baseball scene, while Miami is anything but a new-comer but is also a squad who has played its best ball of the season over the past two weeks.
Just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, I recommend you not judge this quartet of teams too quickly. The talent among them is unbelievable, and each has earned its way to Omaha over the past few weeks and is now less than a half-dozen wins away from a national title.
The best of the best from the four schools represented in this bracket:
1B: Joe Savery, Rice
SP: Eddie Degerman, Rice
Others Considered: Greg Buchanan (2B, Rice), Danny Gil (RP, Miami), Tyler Henley (OF, Rice), Jonathan Wyatt (OF, Georgia), Rip Warren (RP, Georgia)
Oregon State's Pitching Staff: Pitching has been the biggest reason OSU has played just five games (the minimum number possible) over the past two weekends. OSU's hurlers have combined to allow an average of just 2.4 runs per game in NCAA play.
2B Jemile Weeks, Miami: The younger brother of former Souther U. and current Brewers hitting star Rickie Weeks, this freshman was 6 of 12 at the plate in Oxford last weekend with 8 RBI and 5 runs scored.
2B Greg Buchanan, Rice: The senior played a key part in the Owls' Super Regional win over Oklahoma. Buchanan went 7 for 13 at the plate last weekend with 3 runs scored.
LF Jonathan Wyatt, Georgia: The Dogs' leadoff hitter went 8 for 16 at the plate last weekend against South Carolina, driving in 5 runs and scoring 4 more himself.
Georgia's Pitching Staff: The Bulldogs allowed an average of nearly 9 runs per game last weekend, partially due to the fact that they gave up a NCAA record-tying 5 consecutive homeruns in Saturday's loss.
Miami's Pitching Staff: After allowing just an average of 3 runs per game in Regional play, the Canes' hurlers allowed 20 runs in the 3 games in Oxford...and one of those was a shutout!
Oregon State's DH Slot: With both John Wallace and Mike Lissman giving it a shot, the Beavers got no hits in eight at-bats out of the DH last weekend against Stanford.
3B Brian Friday, Rice: After being one of the Owls' top hitters all year long, the sophomore got just one hit in 11 at-bats last weekend, though the one hit was a three-run homer.
Oregon State is the only one of these four schools who has not won a national title since 1990. The Beavers have made just eight all-time appearances in NCAA play, six of those coming prior to 1987.
Georgia won the national title in 1990, the only championship game appearance in UGA history. In fact, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament just a half-dozen times in school history, their second-best finish a third place result in Omaha.
Miami has won two national titles in the past seven years, the first in 1999 and the second in 2001. The 'Canes also won championships in 1982 and 1985, while making title game appearances but losing in both 1974 and 1996. All total, UM has made 34 NCAA Tournament appearances, earning 5 third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish in addition to those results previously mentioned.
The Rice Owls made their only championship game appearance in 2003 and came away with the school's only national title - regardless of sport - in history. Rice has made 11 total NCAA appearances.
WHY ____ WILL ADVANCE TO THE TITLE SERIES
....Rice - The Owls have a half-dozen players hitting above .320 and have a quality mix of young talent and senior leadership. 1B Joe Savery and 3B Josh Rodriguez are among the best in the country, yet if SS Brian Friday snaps out of his mini-slump and hits as well as he has all season, he actually leads the squad in average. Starter Eddie Degerman has been beaten just once all year, while reliever Cole St. Clair is an ace out of the bullpen. Winning game one is a must since Rice's starting pitching drops off a good bit after Degerman, but if they can knock off the Dawgs to start things off, their chances improve dramatically.
....Georgia - Though the Bulldogs' starting pitching isn't the greatest, they proved this past weekend against USC that they are capable of scoring enough runs to win big games. Don't forget they've already taken down both Florida State and South Carolina, two Omaha regulars, to get to this point. Solving Rice ace Eddie Degerman on day one will certainly be a huge test, however. If they can keep it close for the first 7 innings, though, Joshua Fields can come in out of the bullpen and slam the door late in that game, or any other.
....Oregon State - The Beavers didn't last long in 2005 but are hoping to make a run this summer on the back of a stellar pitching staff. Jonah Nickerson and Dallas Buck are among the best starters in the country, while Kevin Gunderson is one of America's top closers. With those two guys starting games one and two, OSU has a great shot to pick up the all-important first two wins while watching their bracket-mates battle from the losers' bracket. And don't forget about the hitting either; seven Beavers have averages of .318 or better, let by OF Cole Gillespie's .386 mark. Don't overlook the boys from out West.
....Miami - The 'Canes are one of the most storied programs in all of college baseball, and though they didn't have the greatest regular season, they've certainly gotten the job done over the past two weeks. The starting pitching isn't all that great, but with the guys UM brings to the plate, it doesn't always have to be. OF Jon Jay and 2B Jemile Weeks are among the best hitters in the country and always seem to get on base. As long as Miami continues to score runs, they'll have the chance to turn it over to stud relievers Chris Perez and Danny Gil late in the contest.