Girlfriend’s Guide to Baseball Part 3

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The 2011 College World Series is Ending.

By Guest Blogger Rachel Freeman I SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY: Undergrad degree – cum laude – in communications. Currently pursuing a master’s in broadcast and electronic communication arts. Currently Social Media Consultant at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Not-so-secret passion: Baseball (go, San Francisco Giants!).

Here’s a review of the 8 contenders.

by Jason Csizmadi

We baseball geeks have been waiting for this moment all year: the College World Series! A double-elimination tournament that began on Saturday, June 18, has determined the two national finalists, South Carolina and Florida, who will battle it out for the national championship in a best-of-three series that started on Monday, June 27.

Here’s a review of the eight teams that competed this year.

Virginia Cavaliers (54-10)
Florida Gators (50-17)
University of North Carolina Tar Heels (50-14)
South Carolina Gamecocks (50-14) – Defending Champions
Vanderbilt Commodores (52-10)
Texas Longhorns (49-17)
Texas A&M Aggies (46-20)
California Bears (37-21)

Virginia Cavaliers (54-10)
The Cavaliers came into the tournament as the top team in the country. They took first place in the ACC during the regular season and won the league tournament. They eased through the first round (Regionals) of the NCAA tournament and then faced UC Irvine in the second round (Super Regionals). They were down to their last out of the tournament, behind 2-1 to Irvine in the bottom of the 9th, when they rallied off three hits to defeat Irvine in walk-off style. The Cavaliers are now set to take on the Cinderella story of the tournament, UC Berkeley.

Player to Watch
Danny Hultzen: Hultzen, a left-handed pitcher and designated hitter, was recently selected as the #2 pick by the Seattle Mariners in the amateur draft. He has dominating stuff both as a pitcher and at the plate. He was also named ACC Pitcher of the Year. This season he is 12-3, has a 1.49 ERA and strikes out 12.5 batters per nine innings.

Florida Gators (50-17)
Florida is the #2 team in the nation, behind only the Cavaliers of Virginia. They began the season ranked #1 and have held the top spots all season. They were co-SEC regular-season champions and won the league tournament outright. Like the Cavaliers, they had an easy time through the Regionals, then faced a tough opponent (Mississippi State) in the Super Regionals. It took them 3 games to clinch a spot in the CWS – a feat powered by a gutsy performance from junior Preston Tucker, who hit what proved to be the game-winning 3-run homerun in the final game. This will be the 7th overall appearance in the CWS for the Gators and the first time in their history with back-to-back appearances. They faced Texas in the first game of the CWS.

Player to Watch
Mike Zunino: The Gators’ starting catcher was named SEC Player of the Year. For the season, he leads his team with a .376 batting average, 22 doubles, and 18 home runs. He also had 66 RBIs.  During the postseason, Zunino has proven yet again to be an integral part of the team – he was 16-30 with 10 RBI and 3 homeruns against Mississippi State. The sophomore has garnered All-America honors from Baseball America, Louisville Slugger, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

University of North Carolina Tar Heels (50-14)
Recently, UNC has been a household name in Omaha. They have appeared in the CWS nine times, with five of those appearances since 2006. They’re nationally ranked at #3, and defeated Stanford to reach the CWS by sweeping them in two straight games. It may surprise skeptics to know that the Tar Heels are back, given that they lost their ace pitcher to the MLB draft last year and their Freshman All-America player to rules violations. Nevertheless, they came back and faced Vanderbilt in their first game.

Player to Watch
Colin Moran: Moran, only a freshman, was named ACC Rookie of the Year this season after hitting .335 with 20 doubles, nine homeruns, and 69 RBIs. Those 69 RBIs led all ACC players in RBIs. He is the Tar Heels’ starting third baseman and was recently named to the Baseball America All-America First Team.

by White & Blue Review

South Carolina Gamecocks (50-14)

The Gamecocks came into this year’s College World Series as the defending champions. In 2010, they defeated UCLA to become the champions of NCAA men’s baseball. This year they were co-SEC regular-season champions with Florida and coasted through the Regionals and Super Regionals unbeaten. Even with injuries to their best player, first baseman Jackie Bradley, Jr., and their weekend pitching rotation, the Gamecocks are out for back-to-back titles and faced Texas A&M in their first game of the tournament.

Player to Watch
Michael Roth: Roth is a junior left-handed pitcher. He ranks second in the nation with a 1.02 ERA and has not given up a run in his last four starts. Roth is a surprise success this season, after having pitched only 3 1/3 innings before the postseason began in 2010. However, he was the winning pitcher against Clemson to get the Gamecocks to national title game. That experience has paid off this year: Roth was recently named to Baseball America’s All-America First Team.

Vanderbilt Commodores (52-10)
The Commodores made their first-ever appearance in this year’s College World Series. They are currently ranked 6th nationally and defeated two-time CWS champion Oregon State (2006, 2007) to make it to Omaha. This postseason the Commodores have outscored their opponents 46-7. Their dominating hitting has been matched by their pitching. The Commodores enter the CWS with an SEC-leading ERA of 2.38, which is also good for third in the nation. Vanderbilt also led the nation in number of selections to Baseball America’s All-America teams, placing four players on the 48-player list. They facedNorth Carolina in their first game.

Player to Watch
Sonny Gray: The junior for the Commodores is the team’s ace pitcher. He was recently selected as an All-American and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the MLB amateur draft. He currently holds a 12-3 record with a 1.97 ERA. He will take the mound for the Commodores in their first ever CWS appearance.

Texas Longhorns (49-17)
Texas rounds out the nationally ranked teams competing in this year’s College World Series, coming in ranked #7. They have 34 appearances in the CWS and have won six national titles in baseball (most recent title was 2005). Getting to the CWS this year was a battle, though. The co-Big 12 regular-season champs faced elimination in the Regionals against Kent State but were able to edge by them by defeating Kent State in back-to-back games. Texas again faced elimination in the Super Regionals against Arizona State and yet again won two straight games to advance. Texas’s team focus is pitching and defense, and their close games prove that. They faced Florida in their first game.

Player to Watch
Corey Knebel: Only a freshman, Knebel has been the Longhorns’ closer all season. He was named the 2011 NCBWA Freshman Pitcher of the Year. He currently has 19 saves on the season, which set a school record for freshmen. He also holds a 1.15 ERA and has 60 strikeouts in 54.2 innings of work.

by White & Blue Review

Texas A&M Aggies (46-20)
While this will be the Aggies’ 5th appearance in the College World Series, they have had little success in the tournament once they get to Omaha. They are 2-8 lifetime but are hoping that changes in 2011. They defeated Arizona and Florida State, two perennial baseball powerhouses, in the Regionals and Super Regionals, respectively. They shared Big 12 regular-season champ honors with Texas and won the conference tournament. Right before postseason play began, they lost their pitching ace to a season-ending shoulder injury. However, the depth of their pitching carried them through the postseason and right to Omaha. They faced South Carolina in their first game.

Player to Watch
Tyler Naquin: The Big 12 Player of the Year leads his team with a .390 batting average and 65 runs scored. He is also hitting .483 in the postseason. The right fielder is the Aggies leadoff batter and went 2-5 with two runs scored in the clinching game against Florida State a few weekends ago.

by White & Blue Review

California Bears (37-21)
There’s more to say about the Bears than there is room in this blog post. What’s worth noting is that before the season began, the Bears thought this would be their last season ever. The team was cut in October, one day before their fall practices began. In April, it was announced that they raised the $9 million necessary to keep the program alive. They are the Cinderella team of this CWS, not only for this comeback story but also for the way they have played. They were down to their last half-inning against Baylor in the Regionals, down 8-5, when they scored four runs to defeat Baylor and advance to the Super Regionals. This is the first time since 1992 that the team’s been in Omaha. They faced Virginia in their first game.

Player to Watch
Tony Renda: The sophomore second baseman was recently named Pac-10 Player of the Year. He is hitting .335 with 14 doubles and 42 RBIs. He strained his calf during the Super Regionals and was limited to designated hitter. That didn’t stop him, however, as he went 3-9 against Dallas Baptist in the Super Regionals. As a freshman, Renda was named as a Freshman All-American and was first team All-Pac 10. Not only is he a force on the field, but he is a leader in the clubhouse.

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