COLLEGE WORLD SERIES FINALS: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary); 8 p.m. ET; ESPN
There's a lot of interesting history to keep an eye on over the next two and potentially three nights in Omaha, but here's one of the more intriguing parts of this match-up: We've been here before. Last year. Not only is Vanderbilt the reigning national champion in baseball, but Virginia is the reigning runner-up. Only twice before have the same two teams met in the College World Series finals in consecutive years -- in 1972-73, when Southern Cal beat Arizona State twice in a row (it was a one-game final back then); and in 2006-07, when Oregon State knocked off North Carolina in back-to-back championship series.
As you can see, the precedent is kind to Vanderbilt's chances tonight, though we all know or should know that precedents like that don't mean much in sports. Even drawing too much information from last year's meeting between these two teams is dangerous. And while the #CurseOf55 meme about Virginia is amusing to those of us who like knocking the ACC down a peg or two, that also doesn't much matter, unless it somehow gets in the heads of the Cavaliers.
WHY VANDERBILT WILL WIN: Pitching has a lot to do with it. It looks as though the Vanderbilt rotation for this series will be Carson Fulmer -- who, by the way, hasn't pitched in more than a week -- Philip Pfeifer and Walker Buehler. Getting two wins against those three arms, assuming they pitch up to their potential, is going to be difficult. The Vanderbilt offense was hit-or-miss in Omaha last week, even for the formerly offense-allergic TD Ameritrade; unless that changes, the Commodores are going to need their pitchers to show up.
WHY VIRGINIA WILL WIN: Virginia's pitching isn't bad either, but at this point, the best answer might be that the Cavaliers think they can win. Virginia went just 15-15 in the ACC in the regular season and ended up as the No. 3 seed in the Lake Elsinore, Calif., Regional. And then they just kept winning. UVA swept its regional, swept the super regional and won every game in Omaha except one. For a team that was streaky all year long, the Cavs got hot at the right time. Keep an eye on Matt Thais, already Virginia's best hitter during the regular season, who is 10-for-22 (.455) with a home run -- his 10th of the year -- and two doubles since the beginning of the Charlottesville Super Regional.
PREDICTION: Until I see Vanderbilt lose a game in the NCAA tournament, much less two out of three, it's hard for me to pick against that pitching. Sure, Dansby Swanson's slump is a little concerning, but not enough at this point to cause full-blown panic. For the same series as last year, I'll pick the same result. Vanderbilt wins in three games