The College World Series is here for the first time since 2019. The finals will see the Vanderbilt Commodores face off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a three-game series. Game one will take place on Monday, June 28 at 7 p.m. ET. Game two will be on Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. ET and the if-needed game three will be on Wednesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. ET. All games will be aired on ESPN networks, with games one and three on ESPN2.
The Commodores were given their spot in the finals after a shocking forfeiture by NC State in the early hours of Saturday, June 26. The NCAA forced the Wolfpack to withdraw from the series after multiple players – the majority of which were vaccinated – tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The Wolfpack, with just 13 active players, had beat the Commodores on Friday, and were planning to play again on Saturday before being sent home. Vanderbilt is looking to win their third national championship and their second in a row.
The Bulldogs fought their way to the finals after beating Texas 4-3 on a walkoff Saturday night. Mississippi State RHP Will Bednar went 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on four hits. He was replaced by right-handed closer Landon Sims, who gave up no hits. Texas started RHP Tristan Stevens, who went five innings and surrendered three runs on nine hits. He was replaced by righty Cole Quintanilla who gave up the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. After Mississippi’s Kellum Clark was hit by a pitch to start the inning, he was replaced by pinch runner Brayland Skinner, who promptly stole second. The game-winning hit then came in the form of a single by freshman Tanner Leggett. That single sent MSU to their second CWS finals. The team is looking for their first national championship.
Vanderbilt, a #4 seed in this year’s championship, looks like the early favorite. They are headlined by starting pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, both of whom are slated to be top-ten overall draft picks next month. Rocker, a junior, boasts a 2.52 ERA in 19 games pitched. He was selected to the All-SEC First Team for his performance in the regular season, and is a Golden Spikes Award finalist. Leiter, a sophomore, holds a 2.08 ERA in 17 games. He was named the SEC Newcomer of the Year for this season, and was selected to the All-SEC First Team along with his teammate. Also keep an eye on leadoff man Enrique Bradfield Jr. and first baseman Dominic Keegan. Bradfield, a freshman, was named SEC Freshman of the Year this season and has slugged his way to a .346 AVG while driving in 38 runs. Keegan, a junior, has a strong .359/.435/.664 line, and was named SEC Co-Player of the Week on March 1. The Commodores look to hold onto their title of national champions under coach Tim Corbin who is in his 19th year as head coach.
Mississippi State is a #7 seed in the tournament, and are on a sort of “underdog revenge tour” after taking down #2 Texas. Their star is also a starting pitcher, a sophomore righty out of Pennsylvania, Will Bednar. Bednar owns a 3.34 ERA in 18 appearances with 135 strikeouts on the year. In his freshman year, he earned Freshman All-American honors and finished fourth in strikeouts among SEC freshmen. Also making noise in the Bulldog lineup are the one and two hitters, center fielder Rowdey Jordan and right fielder Tanner Allen, respectively. Jordan is a senior from Auburn, Alabama, and holds a strong .328/.426/.561 line over his senior season while leading the team in hits, stolen bases, and runs scored during his junior year. Allen is a senior out of Theodore, Alabama, and currently leads his team in batting average and on-base percentage, slugging his way to a .382/.452/.622 line. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 36th round of the 2017 draft, and the Colorado Rockies in the 34th round of the 2019 draft. The Bulldogs are led by head coach Chris Lemonis, who is in his third season with the team. He led the team to the CWS in his inaugural year, and hopes to bring home their first title this time around.
It’s sure to be an action packed series, with three of the best collegiate starting pitchers slated to throw and two stacked lineups facing off against each other. Be sure to catch all of the action on ESPN and ESPN2, starting tomorrow night at 7 p.m. ET.
Photo: Rebecca S. Gratz and hailstate.com