For the first time since 1955, Wake Forest is back in the College World Series in Omaha. After storming through the NCAA Regionals with a 48-7 run differential, the Deacs swept Alabama in the supers, surviving Game 1 by a run before blowing away the Tide the following afternoon.
No. 2 Florida, No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Virginia, No. 8 Stanford, Tennessee, TCU and Oral Roberts join Wake Forest in Omaha, with the Cardinal, Tigers and Volunteers filling out the Deacs four-team pool.
Wake Forest will open up play against Stanford Saturday afternoon at 2pm ET, 1pm local.
With that, let’s dig into the Deacs’ opponents in the pool round of the College World Series.
LSU (No. 5 Overall)
Conference Record (SEC): 19-10
How the Tigers got to Omaha:
After losing twice in the SEC Tournament, LSU blitzed through the Baton-Rouge Regional, defeating Tulane 7-2 and winning twice against Oregon State. The Tigers then swept No. 12 Kentucky in the supers by a 22-3 run differential.
They are, without a doubt, one of the hottest teams in the country, and among the most talented.
This is LSU’s first College World Series appearance since 2017, and it last took the trophy home in 2009.
One can’t begin talking about LSU’s arms without first mentioning Paul Skenes, who is one of the best pitchers in the country and a surefire top-five pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. Skenes currently boasts a 1.77 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 107 innings. He’s allowed just 65 hits and 18 walks while striking out 188. Skenes has held opposing batters to an unbelievable .170 batting average this season. He is a force. Based on the magnitude of getting to the winner’s bracket, along with what they’ve done thus far in the postseason, it is likely Skenes gets the ball in Game 1 against Tennessee.
Ty Floyd is the Tigers’ No. 2 starter, and there’s a pretty large drop off from Skenes. The junior touts a 4.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 78 innings, allowing 63 hits. He has nearly half Skenes’ strikeout total (83) and almost double the walks (32). Floyd also did not get through more than 3.1 innings in both the regionals and supers.
Riley Cooper will likely act as the third starting pitcher, but also could play a role as a long reliever. He’s started just three games this season, but did open the team’s regional-clinching victory. Cooper has a 5.02 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 52 innings this season, but has just one earned run in 6.2 innings to his name during the NCAA Tournament.
If not Cooper, the third starter would be Thatcher Hurd, who relieved Floyd with five innings in the NCAA Regional. He did not pitch in the supers, and has a 6.49 ERA.
In terms of relievers, Christian Little has the most innings, but hasn’t pitched since before the SEC Tournament, and seems to have been a midweek starter for the Tigers. Blake Money follows right behind with a 5.97 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 31.2 innings. Money doesn’t issue many walks, but doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, either.
Griffin Herring will prove to be important out of the ‘pen. In 29.2 innings, he’s struck out 35, and holds a 4.55 ERA. Lastly, LSU’s closer is Gavin Guidry. He finished out the final two games of the regional and got the last outs of the supers. He has a 3.42 ERA in 23.2 innings and has only allowed one home run all season.
The top five hitters for LSU are something else. That lineup can hit you hard out of the gate. Leading off is the star of the team — right next to Skenes — Dylan Crews. The center fielder comes into the College World Series with a .443 batting average and 1.303 OPS. The likely No. 1 overall pick this summer has drawn 61 walks for an on-base percentage of .570.
Third baseman Tommy White is very good in the two-spot as well, which leaves some teams battling whether to intentionally walk Crews. White sports a .377 average and leads the team in home runs (22) and RBI (97). He has 40 less walks than Crews.
DH Cade Beloso (.316 avg) and catcher Hayden Travinski (.427) both have 14 home runs this season in the four and five holes, respectively. In the three spot, first baseman Tre Morgan gets on base nearly half the times he comes to the plate.
In short, a preview could go into depth on every hitter in the lineup. When it comes to the bats, there isn’t much of a weakness for LSU.
Stanford (No. 8 overall)
Conference Record (PAC-12): 23-7
How the Cardinal got to Omaha:
Stanford lost twice in the conference tournament and had to go the long way ‘round in the NCAA Regional. After losing to Texas A&M in their second game, the Cardinal ran the table with a win over Cal State Fullerton and two over the Aggies to move forward.
It was the same in the supers. Stanford choked away Game 1 against Texas by giving up five runs in the ninth inning. But, the Cardinal fought back and won the second game, and hung on in the finale with the help of a walk-off dropped fly out lost in the lights.
This is Stanford’s third-straight appearance in Omaha, but the Cardinal haven’t won the title since 1988.
Like LSU, Stanford has a clear-cut No. 1 pitcher in Quinn Matthews, whose performances in the NCAA Tournament thus far have been nothing short of phenomenal. The senior threw a 156-pitch complete game in the second contest of the supers to give Stanford life and propel them ahead to Omaha. Matthews comes into the College World Series with a 3.60 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 120 innings. He will more than likely take the mound against Wake Forest on Saturday.
Joey Dixon started Game 1 of the Super Regional for Stanford — but slots in as the No. 2 guy — and heads to Omaha with a 4.86 ERA in 13 starts. He has yet to lose a start this season (7-0), but is not close to the strikeout machine that Matthews is, and has issued more walks in 40 less innings.
Starter No. 3 is a gray area for the Cardinal. Nick Dugan (7.27 ERA) got the ball to open Game 3 of the supers and pitched for 3.2 innings with three earned. Matt Scott (4.86 ERA) has 12 starts this year, but was only used for an inning each in two of the three games against Texas. Scott falls behind the other starters in strikeout rate. Drew Dowd has started three times this season, but seems to slot more in the role of the first guy out of the ‘pen after a starter. Dowd’s strikeout numbers rival Dixon’s in 17 less innings.
Whomever the third starter is, the other two would likely be big bullpen arms in Omaha.
Otherwise, two additional names are worth keeping an eye on. Brandt Pancer (44.2 IP) has a 4.43 ERA and one of the higher opposing batting averages on the team, but the walk rate is low. Ryan Bruno is the closer. He got tagged in that role in the first game against Texas, and the over-five ERA is a concern.
Seven of Stanford’s nine starting batters sport an above-.300 batting average. Third baseman Tommy Troy is a legit threat in the two-spot. He has a .397 average and has mashed 17 home runs, while getting on base in 48% of his at-bats. Left fielder Alberto Rios is another home-run threat in the middle of the lineup, leading the team with 18 while batting .387. Rios also is the best at getting on base for Stanford.
Eddie Park isn’t a bat built for the long ball, but is a really good table-setter with a .340 average in the leadoff spot.
Braden Montgomery, Malcolm Moore, Carter Graham and Drew Bowser all have 14 or more home runs to boot. Montgomery — the DH and cleanup hitter — can mash, but is also really adept at getting on base with a team-high 50 walks. That type of production is incredibly dangerous against pitchers.
Tennessee (2-seed, not ranked for tournament)
Conference Record (SEC): 16-14
How the Vols got to Omaha:
Tennessee is the one team in this pool that didn’t host a NCAA Regional, and they traveled for the supers as well. In between comfortably beating Charlotte twice, the Volunteers essentially locked up the regional with a 14-inning barn-burner win against host Clemson.
With a rain-affected Super Regional, Tennessee played one-and-a-half games in one day, dropping the first, before mounting a comeback to stay alive for a finale on Monday, where it posted a shutout to go to Omaha.
Tennessee has now made the College World Series in two of the last three years, but are still searching for its first NCAA championship crown.
Tennessee’s No. 1 starter is Chase Dollander, one of the best pitchers in the MLB Draft and likely a top-10 pick. The junior has a 4.50 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 86 innings, boasting a solid 118 strikeouts and low walk rate. Dollander went eight innings in the Super Regional in game two to force a final match with Southern Miss.
Drew Beam (3.78 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) slots in as the second starter, and was critical in the Vols moving on to Omaha with six scoreless innings in game three of the supers. Beam does have one the highest opposing batting average out of any Vols that will pitch in the CWS.
The final starter is Andrew Lindsay, who gave up four earned runs in four innings this past weekend. Lindsay does have the best ERA and WHIP amongst the starters, but has pitched less innings while starting just eight times.
Chase Burns (4.64 ERA) will be a big piece out of the bullpen — or as another starter — sporting an unbelievable 105 strikeouts in just 66 innings.
Seth Halvorsen was the only other big-time reliever to see a full outing against Southern Miss. He pitched four innings of one-run baseball, and has a .199 opposing batting average.
Zander Sechrist (2.05 ERA) hasn’t pitched since the Clemson Regional. Same story for AJ Russell (0.94 ERA, 0.56 WHIP).
Camden Sewell and Aaron Combs are other options out of the bullpen.
Maui Ahuna is a serious threat as Tennessee’s leadoff hitter, batting a .302 average, but the strikeout count (38% of at-bats) is quite high. Jared Dickey is impressive in the three-spot, leading starters with a .325 batting average. He’s knocked in 51 RBI while seldom striking out.
Christian Moore and Griffin Merritt are formidable in the middle of the lineup, hitting fourth and sixth, respectively. Both go into Omaha with batting averages hovering around .315. Merritt also leads the Vols with 18 homers, while Moore trails by one.
Zane Denton and Blake Burke are also names to look out for with the long ball; both have 16 blasts this season.
Coverage of Wake Forest baseball and the College World Series will continue in Omaha. Stay tuned to Blogger So Dear for news, game stories and features.