California-Irvine felled the national #1 seed in the NCAA Regionals and then ran over Oklahoma State in Super Regional play. Can the Anteaters sustain that momentum as they make their third straight road trip - this time to Omaha for the College World Series?
The College World Series kicks off on Saturday, and Vanderbilt has wound up in a bracket that includes one perennial rival, one old-school powerhouse, and a team the Commodores have never faced before. Today, we'll kick off our CWS preview with the final member of that group. The University of California-Irvine is the lowest remaining seed in the NCAA Tournament, but if the Anteaters and the 'Dores both win on Saturday they'd set up a first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Irvine limped into the NCAA Tournament in the worst possible way, losing their final six regular season games before finding their "on" switch. The Anteaters revved up to defeat two top-seeded opponents, including the #1 national seed, on their way to Omaha. No team in the country has defeated tougher competition over the last two weeks, and UCI will be aiming to repeat that performance on college baseball's biggest stage. Here's what the Commodores will need to look out for.
The California-Irvine Anteaters
Record: 40-23 (15-9 Big West)
NCAA RPI Rank: 44th (One spot higher than last week's opponent, Stanford)
All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 0-0. If both teams win (or lose) on Saturday, they'll kick off the first-ever showdown between these teams.
Best Win: A 2-1 series win over Oregon State to take the Corvallis Regional. Irvine stomped the heavily-favored Beavers - the national #1 seed - in game one behind a 14-2 effort and then bounced back from a Sunday loss to advance to a Super Regional in a tight, 4-2 Monday game. The Anteaters got clutch efforts from four different pitchers that evening to make OSU the first top-seeded team to lose in the Regional since [INFORMATION REDACTED].
Worst Loss: A season-opening series loss to #111 Fresno State at home. Irvine only lost two games to any team that finished under .500 for the season, and Fresno State accounted for each of them.
Batter to Be Wary Of: Connor Spencer sees the ball as well as any hitter in the NCAA. The junior has batter .306, .373, and .370 in his three years on campus and is a major threat out of the third spot in the Anteater batting order. He's batted .455 (10-22) this postseason with six runs and six RBI and will be the toughest out of any Vanderbilt pitcher's evening.
Pitchers to Watch: The Anteaters' best way to beat you is through their pitching. In five postseason wins, they've allowed just 2.2 runs per game. Their best bet for that is right-handed starter Andrew Morales, who was last seen eliminating Oklahoma State from their Super Regional with a complete game shutout. Morales, the 71st pick in last week's MLB Amateur Draft, went 11-2 this season and struck out 136 batters in 129.2 innings. He pitched game two of UCI's series against OSU, so there's a chance that Vandy might see him take the mound for a start in Omaha.
Even if Morales doesn't get the call for a potential matchup with the 'Dores, they are likely to see closer Sam Moore on the hill. Moore closed out 23 of Irvine's 40 wins this season and held opponents to a .223 average. He isn't unhittable, but he's a composed pitcher who will be well rested after not getting called in to last weekend's games.
Key Stat: Irvine's catchers have been successful against the steal in 2014, throwing out more than 50 percent (19 of 37) of prospective basestealers this season. While the Anteaters don't run a ton, they have the talent to make sure that a team like Vanderbilt won't run their way to free bases either.