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No 2017 College World Series participant can match Coastal Carolina's underdog triumph last year. Omaha instead hosts a prestigious crop of top programs looking to bolster proud legacies.
Five of the last eight teams standing reached last year's Super Regionals, but only Florida and TCU make their second-straight trip to Nebraska. However, all but one squad are currently ranked in D1Baseball.com's Top 25.
Per NCAA.com's Daniel Wilco, the remaining teams have combined to earn a 40-4 record in tournament play. Two of the favorites, Oregon State and LSU, have not lost in over a month.
With the field evenly divided into two brackets, one of the stacked groupings starts the double-elimination stage on Saturday.
Baseball America's Michael Lananna shared the slate's probable starting pitchers:
While the winners will vie for control of the quadrant, the losers will fight to avoid an early exit. Let's take a look at both bouts.
College World Series Saturday Schedule
Oregon State vs. Cal State Fullerton: 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
LSU vs. Florida State: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Oregon State vs. Cal State Fullerton
No Omaha matchup will look as lopsided as Oregon State vs. Cal State Fullerton. While the 54-4 Beavers haven't lost since April 29, the 39-22 Titans tout the worst record of any remaining competitor.
Cal State, however, is far from a Cinderella school. This marks the Titans' fifth College World Series appearance since winning the 2004 crown, and they haven't missed a tournament since 1992.
"We've been here plenty of times and done some things here for people to know who we are—we're embracing that," junior Taylor Bryant told Omaha's World-Herald's Jon Nyatawa. "We know there's an expectation. We'll still enjoy it and take it all in. But once Saturday comes, the business starts."
Beating the Beavers wouldn't be the upset of the century, but it would certainly surprise most onlookers. The Titans have scored the fewest runs per game (5.48) of the eight remaining teams, and their mighty adversaries hold an NCAA-best 1.80 ERA.
Oregon State's starter, Jake Thompson, is 14-0 with a 1.52 ERA and .184 opposing batting average. The Boston Red Sox's fourth-round selection will face Connor Seabold, who decided to let everyone see how bold he could be.
The confident sophomore didn't express any fear over facing the nation's No. 1 seed, per Orange County Register's Robert Morales.
"Good. Good," Seabold said of his reaction to learning Cal State's first opponent. "That's what we wanted because we know we're better than them. We know we can beat them. If we play the better game, we'll win. So that's what we've gotta believe."
His conviction isn't entirely unfounded; he has recorded a 2.48 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. The righty also doesn't have to worry about hitting Oregon State's dominant pitching staff. He instead must combat a contact-orientated offense lacking power.
That could play into the power pitcher's hand, but the Beavers collectively boast a .388 team on-base percentage. Seabold will have little margin for error during Cal State's upset bid.
LSU vs. Florida State
In search of its seventh national title, LSU enters Omaha with a 16-game winning streak. The Tigers scored 49 runs over five June contests, and they start the College World Series by sending Alex Lange to the mound.
Before getting selected with pick No. 30 of this year's MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs, the right-handed junior posted a 2.92 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 111 innings. According to SEC Country's Nick Suss, he's not looking ahead to his professional career yet.
"I'm excited," Lange said of Saturday's start. "I'm really excited for the opportunity. It's going to be fun. This is why you come to LSU. This is what you want out of college baseball."
Their ace typically gives the Tigers a sizable edge, but he has labored during the tournament. Despite limiting Mississippi State to three runs in his Super Regional start, Lange struggled to command the strike zone with six walks. He relinquished five runs in his prior outing,
He's also running into a sizzling Florida State lineup, which bludgeoned Sam Houston State into submission with a 19-0 Super Regional elimination victory on Sunday. The Seminoles have tallied 95 runs and a dozen victories over their last 13 games.
They make opponents throw strikes, drawing an NCAA-high 380 walks. Led by outfielder Dylan Busby, they also wield the power to clear the crowded bases.
Head coach Mike Martin is making his 16th CWS appearance, but he's still pursuing his first national title. According to the Associated Press' Joe Reedy, via NCAA.com, he said this squad stands out from most others he has managed during his long tenure.
"I would say up to this point it is one of the most special years that I've had in the 38 years I've made out a lineup," Martin said. "It makes me as one of the coaches feel good because a team believed in themselves."
Martin will counter Lange with Tyler Holton, who comes into this start flaunting a 2.20 ERA. Seven strikeouts against Sam Houston State represented the sophomore's lowest tally since April 29, so fans will get treated to a battle of two power aces.