College World Series field is set
The field for the College World Series is set, and it's full of intrigue.
There's Cinderella times two and the return of last year's finalists.
South Carolina -- the two-time defending champ -- and No. 1-seeded Florida, in fact, will meet Saturday at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN3). It marks the first opening-round rematch of the previous year's championship since 1960, when Arizona beat 1959 champion Oklahoma State.
The Gamecocks secured their spot on Monday with 5-1 victory over Oklahoma. Arkansas beat Baylor 1-0 in 10 innings, and Kent State, the first qualifier from Mid-American Conference since 1976, won in walk-off fashion, 3-2 at Oregon.
The Monday winners join the Gators in Bracket Two, with Arkansas and Kent State to play Saturday at 5 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN3).
Bracket One features upstart Stony Brook, the first CWS participant ever from the America East Conference, against UCLA at 5 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3) on Friday in the series opener at TD Ameritrade Park, followed by Florida State and Arizona at 9 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3).
Behind the controls, Mike Martin of FSU makes his 15th CWS appearance in 33 years. Martin has never won a title, but he has got the market cornered on experience. The other seven coaches have combined for 15 visits.
A look at the CWS qualifiers:
How they got here: The Razorbacks, 16-14 in SEC play, entered the postseason as a No. 2 seed in Houston and used a pair of 1-0 victories to earn the trip to Omaha -- first over host Rice in the key regional game and then on Monday against Baylor in 10 innings to win Game 3 of the Waco Super Regional.
Star player: Arkansas usually goes offensively as junior third baseman Matt Reynolds goes. He's hitting 338 with 7 homers, 43 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
Weapon: Senior second baseman Bo Bigham does all the little things that a CWS team needs. Nothing looks pretty about his stats, but Bigham has been a full-time starter for three years and started all 13 postseason games as a freshman in 2009, Arkansas' most recent CWS visit.
Weakness: The bats can go cold and stay that way for a while. The Hogs won in Waco despite scoring seven runs in three games. Four of their five postseason wins have come by one run, and they scored one run in two games at the SEC tournament in May.
How they got here: The Wildcats will make their 16th College World Series appearance -- and their first since 2004. Arizona advanced by sweeping St. John's in last weekend's Tucson Super Regional.
Star player: Arizona will feel good about its chances if pitcher Konner Wade turns in a performance similar to the one he gave in Saturday's 7-4 victory over St. John's. Wade pitched all nine innings and allowed just six hits and two earned runs. He faced 33 batters -- just six over the minimum.
Weapon: Left fielder Johnny Field leads Arizona with a .383 batting average and a .553 slugging percentage. The Wildcats are also regarded as one of the country's fastest teams. They led the Pac-12 with 81 stolen bases.
Weakness: Arizona has a habit of falling behind early. The Wildcats have trailed in 34 of its past 47 games. They rallied to win 19 of those 34 games, including a 10-inning victory against St. John's on Friday.
How they got here: The No. 1-seeded Gators cruised through regional play at home, ousting Georgia Tech 15-3 in the final before a sweep of the Gainesville Super Regional over North Carolina State. The Gators needed 10 innings in the finale, winning 9-8 Sunday.
Star player: Junior catcher Mike Zunino, the first college player selected in the professional draft this month (No. 3 by Seattle), brings a super-charged bat to Omaha, with 19 homers and 64 RBIs to go with his .322 average.
Weapon: The depth of coach Kevin O'Sullivan's pitching staff is unmatched at the CWS. Here's an example: Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 overall draft pick in 2010 and top freshman pitcher nationally a year ago as a starter, is unbeaten this season, but Florida has used him as a reliever to set the stage for closer Austin Maddox.
Weakness: This is like looking for a tiny mole on the face of a supermodel, but the Gators have struggled against top left-handed pitching. In fact, NC State's Carlos Rodon held them in check in Game 2 of the super regional until a weather delay finished his day on the mound. Up next: South Carolina's Michael Roth.
Florida State (48-15)
How they got here: The Seminoles qualified for their 21st College World Series by sweeping Stanford last weekend in Tallahassee. Florida State has won five straight games after entering NCAA play with seven losses in its previous 10 contests.
Star player: Jayce Boyd (.389) and James Ramsey (.382) both have gaudy batting averages. They've combined to drive in 116 runs this season.
Weapon: The Seminoles' top two starting pitchers are freshmen. Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton are a combined 19-4.
Weakness: Mike Martin is the third-winningest coach in NCAA history, but the 33rd-year coach has yet to win a national title. This will be Martin's 15th trip to the College World Series.
Kent State (46-18)
How they got here: The Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference and swept through regional play in Gary, Ind., highlighted by a 7-6, 21-inning win over Kentucky. They earned the school's first trip to the College World Series with a 3-2 win Monday over Oregon in Game 3 of the Eugene Super Regional.
Star player: Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider, the hero against Oregon for his walk-off double in the ninth inning of the super regional finale, arrives in Omaha as career leader in at-bats and doubles among all players active in Division I this year.
Weapon: Two 11-game winners lead the pitching staff. Senior lefty David Starn has been a part of four shutouts this year, and sophomore right-hander Tyler Skulina towers over opponents on the mound at 6-foot-6.
Weakness: Kent State has never been on this stage or anywhere like it. Despite four consecutive postseason bids, the Golden Flashes could be awestruck in a bracket with three teams from the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina (45-17)
How they got here: The eighth-seeded Gamecocks, two-time defending national champions and winners of a record 21 straight in the NCAA postseason, beat rival Clemson twice en route to a sweep of the Columbia Regional, then dispatched Oklahoma 5-0 and 5-1 in the super-regional.
Star player: Senior left-handed pitcher Michael Roth is 6-0 in his career in the postseason and 7-1 this year with a 2.50 ERA in 115 innings. He threw 7 2/3 innings in the super regional opener.
Weapon: Playing in Omaha. It's like a second home to the Gamecocks, who have won 11 straight games at the CWS over the past two years since an opening-round loss to Oklahoma in 2010.
Weakness: Could that unprecedented winning streak breed a feeling of overconfidence? If so, it won't happen Saturday night against Florida, which has defeated the Gamecocks in three of four meetings this year.
Stony Brook (52-13)
How they got here: The Seawolves defeated host schools in both the regionals (Miami) and super regionals (LSU) to advance to their first College World Series. They outhit the Tigers 35-15 over three games last weekend and have now won 28 of their 31 contests.
Star player: Travis Jankowski, a junior center fielder, is hitting a team-high .422 and also leads Stony Brook in on-base percentage (.485). He is the highest-drafted Seawolves player ever after the Padres took him with the 44th overall pick in last month's draft.
Weapon: The Seawolves -- who rank second nationally with a .335 batting average -- get a lot of attention for their offense. And rightfully so. But they were equally impressive in the field against LSU last weekend thanks, in part, to a pair of dominating pitching performances by Tyler Johnson and Frankie Vanderka.
Weakness: Stony Brook is just the second No. 4 seed to reach the College World Series since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999. Fans across the country will be rooting for the Seawolves simply because of their unlikely trek to Omaha. How will they handle the pressure?UCLA (47-14)
How they got here: The Bruins are in their second College World Series in three years after sweeping TCU in last weekend's Los Angeles Super Regional. UCLA has outscored its opposition 33-9 in five postseason NCAA games this month. The Bruins have won 16 of their past 17 games.
Star player: Saturday's 4-1 victory over TCU marked the sixth victory for starting pitcher Nick Vander Tuig in his past seven starts. Vander Tuig is 10-3 on the season. Reliever David Berg, who pitched the final three innings of Saturday's win and did not allow a run, made his 47th appearance this season, leaving him four shy of the NCAA record.
Weapon: Right fielder Jeff Gelalich leads the Bruins with a .365 batting average and 11 home runs. He also boasts team highs in steals (15) and on-base percentage (.485).
Weakness: UCLA is hitting .309 as a team, but the Bruins don't hit for much power. Take away Gelalich, and UCLA has hit just 12 home runs in 61 games. The Bruins have scored seven or more runs just three times in their past 10 games.