The 2014 College World Series kicks off today with the Texas Longhorns taking on the UC-Irvine Anteaters. Texas (43-19) made it to Omaha by outlasting Rice and Texas A&M in the Houston Regional, and then sweeping Houston in the Austin Super Regional. UC-Irvine (40-23) shocked No. 1 national seed Oregon State in the Corvallis Regional before handling Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Super Regional.
UC-Irvine comes to Omaha hitting .272 as a team. The Anteaters have five players hitting .293 or better. Connor Spencer leads the team with a .370 batting average and 44 RBIs. Jerry McClanahan is second on the team in average (.320) and RBI (36). The power comes from Taylor Sparks with five home runs. He is third on the team in RBIs with 34. The Anteaters only have 12 team home runs.
The strength of the UC-Irvine squad is its pitching. All-American Andrew Morales is 11-2 with a 1.53 ERA. He shut down the Oklahoma State in the regional-clinching game last weekend. If Texas can get into the Anteater bullpen, Evan Manarino (2.83) and Sam Moore (1.88) have been rock solid this season. Moore has 23 saves. The team ERA is 2.76.
Texas is not that different from UC-Irvine. The team batting average is .268. Madison Carter, Mark Payton and CJ Hinojosa are all hitting .300 or better. Hinojosa has been red-hot in the postseason. The sophomore is hitting .476 while leading the squad in RBIs with six. Payton has done a great job of getting on base. He sports a .467 on-base percentage. He also has reached base in 101 consecutive games. Ben Johnson and Brooks Marlow lead the team in runs scored. Johnson (45) and Marlow (39) will need to get on base to generate offense in a game where runs could be at a premium.
Nathan Thornhill will need to continue his recent dominance if Texas wants to avoid falling into the losers bracket. Thornhill is 8-2 with a 1.57 ERA. He limited the Houston Cougars to just two runs in his last start. If Thornhill falters, Morgan Cooper, Travis Duke and John Curtiss have been outstanding in relief.
Defense should not be overlooked. UC-Irvine has committed 64 errors to Texas’ 61. Kacy Clemens has done a great job at first base saving Texas defenders numerous times. The difference in this game could come down to the play in the field.