Five Takeaways From the College World Series' First Week

Author:
Publish date:
Jun 26, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Tje Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrate the win against the Texas Longhorns at TD Ameritrade Park.

Mississippi State celebrates after beating Texas, 4-3, on a walk-off single to advance the College World Series finals.

OMAHA — The first week of the College World Series was full of great plays, exciting games newsworthy moments, as the eight teams who arrived in Omaha and were whittled down to just two—Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Those two teams will battle for the national championship when the finals start Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, SI Kids has narrowed the list down to five kid-approved updates from Omaha:

COVID-19 Outbreak Eliminates NC State

NC State was supposed to play in an elimination game Saturday to determine who would play in the CWS finals, which starts Monday. Instead the Wolfpack was eliminated early Saturday morning by the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.

With NC State eliminated, Vanderbilt automatically advanced to the finals.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after NC State played in a delayed game against Vanderbilt with a roster of just 13. Shortly before the game was supposed to start, NC State put out this announcement on Twitter:

“Several players from the team have been put into COVID-19 protocol and will be unavailable for today’s game. NC State, the NCAA and appropriate parties are working together to monitor the situation.”

The NCAA requires athletes, coaches and other staff working closely with a team to be tested for COVID-19 every other day if they are not vaccinated. If the person is vaccinated and not showing COVID-19 symptoms, they will not be tested.

Friday’s game of NC State vs. Vanderbilt was delayed by two hours and seven minutes, and when the game began the Wolfpack only four pitchers and nine position players available because of the coronavirus.

Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said the team was presented with two options Friday afternoon: forfeit the game or play shorthanded. It decided to play ball.

Because of the limited roster, several players were sent to new positions. These players include freshman pitcher Sam Highfill, who started at first base Friday and went 3-for-4, with his first two hits coming against Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker.

“I looked at it as more of an opportunity than a problem that we had half our team,” Highfill said.

There were signs earlier in the week that something was amiss. After the Wolfpack's victory against the Commodores on Monday, Avent spoke about an illness affecting his players and assistant coach Chris Hart.

"Coach Hart's been sick for probably five or six days," Avent said. "J.T. Jarrett caught the bug a couple of days ago. This bug seems to be going around."

"I've got it a little bit. This bug seems to be floating around. And I think right now it's important for our players to get some rest."

Avent would not answer questions Friday night about COVID-19 or whether he or his players are vaccinated. When pressed by a reporter about whether any of the players who had to sit the game out had tested positive for the virus, the coach drew a hard line.

“Once again, you're talking about stuff that's personal information,” he said. “And probably protected by whatever, HIPAA. That's something I don't want to discuss.”

Even though the NC State lost 3–1 to Vanderbilt, Avent said he couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance of his smaller team against the 2019 national champions.

“Just a great gutty performance by a gutty team,” he said. “That's who we've been all year. Some guys stepped up today and played in roles they haven't been asked to play in. Just really proud of that.”

Jun 26, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs pitcher Will Bednar (24) throws against the Texas Longhorns at TD Ameritrade Park.

Mississippi State righthander Will Bednar

Smashing Records

Two Mississippi State University pitchers broke the CWS single-game strikeout record in Monday's game and led their team to a 2–1 victory over Texas.

Redshirt freshman Will Bednar struck out 15, the most for any individual pitcher at the CWS in 25 years. Bednar was relived at the beginning of the 7th inning, one pitch after after walking Zach Zubia. In total Bednar threw 108 pitches, walking one and allowing one hit.

Sophomore Landon Sims pitched the remainder of the game with six strikeouts. Their combined 21 strikeouts crushed the record set by Ohio State in 1968.

Bednar, who is the younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher David Bednar, said he tried to focus on the game and not count his ks.

“I wasn't trying to, but I kind of kept peeking up at the board,” he said.

Father’s Day Home Run!

Virginia catcher Logan Michaels hit his first homerun of the season on Father’s Day in front of his father, Jeff Michaels. who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.

“When I hit that, I instantly, when it went over the fence, I started thinking about my dad, and it's one of the most special moments we could share together,” he said. “I was sitting in the dugout after it happened. I got pretty emotional. For him to be here for what he went through in the past, just for him to be here and be able to see that, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Just a really special moment.”

Logan Michaels estimates that his dad has only been able to make it to about 15 of the Cavaliers’ games since his diagnosis. The ball was recovered from the stands and given to Jeff Michaels during the game.

Jun 20, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Virginia Cavaliers catcher Logan Michaels (12) celebrates with outfielder Chris Newell (9) after hitting a home run in the third inning against the Tennessee Volunteers at TD Ameritrade Park.

Virginia's Logan Michaels celebrates after hitting a home run on Father's Day.

The graduate student also knocked in two runs to help Virginia beat Tennessee 6–0.

Texas eliminated Virginia from the CWS on Friday with a 6–2 victory.

Look for Coach in Road to Omaha Statue

Countless fans and Omaha visitors have taken a photo with Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor—at least a bronze sculpture of him. O’Connor is part of the most iconic symbol of the CWS: the “Road to Omaha” statue in from of TD Ameritrade Park.

The 1,500-pound bronze statue shows four 1991 Creighton baseball players celebrating at home plate. The Blue Jays are the first and only Omaha team to make it to the College World Series.

“I’m the one on the far right,” he said. “At least that's what I'm told.”

The statue was originally dedicated on June 7, 1999, during Omaha’s 50th anniversary year as the home of the College World Series, at Rosenblatt Stadium. When Rosenblatt was torn down, it was moved to the new home of the CWS.

O’Connor said “it’s a privilege” to be a part of the iconic statue; however, he made it clear that now it’s the current CWS players' turn to be in the spotlight.

“It's about these young men. It's their experience,” he said. “I've had this experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to be here and looking forward to competing. But it's about them and their opportunity here in Omaha.”

Virtual Award

The Dick Howser Trophy is typically presented at the College World Series, but due to COVID-19, the award was presented virtually.

Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps become the first relief pitcher to earn the award, which is often called the Heisman trophy of baseball. This is the 34th year the honor has been given, presented annually by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Kopps beat out well-known finalists such as Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung and Vanderbilt pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Kopps had the nation’s lowest ERA (0.90) and WHIP (0.76), striking out 131 in 89 2/3 innings of work.

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said he was fortunate to have a player of Kopps’ dedication and skill.

“I don’t think I’ll ever witness this again,” he said. “It’s so rare to see a pitcher that can close a game, come in the middle of the game, start a game, pitch back-to-back days. We had to fight him to get off the mound half the time.”

The Dick Howser Trophy was created in July 1987 to honor the late Dick Howser, a two-time All-America shortstop for Florida State who became a Major League All-Star. He later managed the Kansas City Royals and in 1985 led them to their first World Series title. He died two years later from brain cancer.