Nati Harnik/Associated Press
While there were some surprises leading up to the College World Series Finals, two elite teams will battle for the 2017 national championship.
SEC rivals LSU and Florida have been great all year, although their best work has come over the past few weeks. The Gators edged out fellow national seeds Louisville and TCU in their side of the bracket, while the Tigers knocked off an Oregon State team that was 56-4 before the last two losses.
We are now left with two seeded teams that have proved they deserve this opportunity, creating what should be a competitive best-of-three series over the next few days.
College World Series Final
Game 1: June 26 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 2: June 27 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3*: June 28 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nati Harnik/Associated Press
National seeds haven’t performed too well in recent years, with those teams winning only seven of 18 tournaments since 1999, and zero in the last five seasons.
That changed this year with each of the final four teams ranked coming into the tournament and No. 3 Florida and No. 4 LSU the last two surviving.
These teams also have a lot of experience at this level, with Florida reaching Omaha, Nebraska, in three straight years, while LSU has been here twice in the last three. The difference is the Tigers have six titles in their history, while the Gators are searching for their first.
One thing that could make the difference this year is pitching.
“They take huge pressure off our shoulders [on offense],” outfielder Nelson Maldonado said of the pitching staff Sunday, per Anthony Chiusano of NCAA.com. They’ve never let up, they’re bulldogs on the mound. They never stop competing.”
“Most of the time, you can count on there being just one or zero runs up on the board, so you’re always in the game,” reliever Michael Byrne added. “It’s pretty impressive in what they’ve been able to do, and that’s pretty much why we’re here.”
Alex Faedo leads the NCAA with 157 strikeouts this season and has been especially impressive in the College World Series, shutting down TCU twice with zero runs allowed in 14 innings. The problem is the guy who got the team to the finals likely won’t be able to pitch there due to a lack of rest, at least until possibly in Game 3.
Florida will have an advantage in Game 1, with Brady Singer going up against Russell Reynolds for LSU, but the rest of the series will be filled with question marks in the rotation. The Tigers should have more confidence with Jared Poche and Alex Lange in the last two games.
Meanwhile, LSU also showed its lineup depth with No. 8 hitter Michael Papierski coming through in the biggest moments during the recent win over Oregon State:
NCAA Baseball @NCAACWS
Lefty or Righty it doesn’t matter…
LSU’s Michael Papierski hits BOMBS!! #CWS https://t.co/7AxWpXpIWF
With five hitters batting over .300 and Greg Deichmann always capable of knocking it out of the park, it’s no wonder this squad has won 20 of its last 21 games. This includes the last two over a seemingly unbeatable Oregon State team.
Then again, Florida was 2-1 against LSU during the season and continues to show it should not be counted out. The Gators have three wins in the NCAA tournament facing elimination and won’t stop now.
These conference foes know each other well and feature a combined 10 players taken in the recent MLB draft. This should create one of the best final rounds college baseball has seen in years.
All statistics courtesy of team sites and NCAA.com.