Arriving in Omaha courtesy of possibly the greatest moment in college baseball history, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos are battle-tested and ready to take on College Baseball's elite. After sweeping past #2 Louisville, the most popular championship pick, in the Super Regionals, the Gauchos have a lot of confidence.
The sweep over the Cardinals wasn't as easy as it sounds. Both games were gritty low-scoring affairs, that tested the strengths of the Gauchos - namely, their pitching and ability to manufacture runs. After edging Louisville 4-2 in the opener, the Gauchos trailed 3-0 into the bottom of the ninth. They were staring at the increasingly likely possibility of having to battle through another grueling dogfight with the Cardinals in a Game 3.
But Sam Cohen had something else to say about that.
Using two walks and a single to load the bases with one out, the Gauchos pinch-hit Cohen, a freshman reserve catcher, sparingly used during the season. In easily the biggest moment of his young career, and facing one of the best pitchers in college baseball, Cohen golfed a grand slam over the right field seats, launching the Gauchos into their first ever College World Series berth. It was easily the most dramatic ending to a Super Regional in recent memory.
UCSB has the advantage of being placed in the weaker of the two 4-team sections in Omaha. Out of the three national seeds remaining, the Gauchos have to deal with just one in their region, with #1 Florida and #5 Texas Tech duke it out in the other region. The Gauchos meanwhile only have #3 Miami in their region, and they get to face a fellow unranked squad in Oklahoma State. However, the Cowboys, out of the prolific Big 12, will be considered favorites over the Big West underdogs.
A major part of this is the experience the Cowboys boast in Omaha. While the Gauchos prepare for their first trip to college baseball's biggest stage, the Cowboys are getting ready for their twentieth, albeit their first since 1999. They have already won a national title. However, USCB has proved they can beat the best and are undefeated in the NCAA tournament thus far. The Cowboys also boast a 5-0 record, so which unranked team will advance into the winner's bracket? Let's preview both teams.
Pitching-Heavy Cowboys Storm into Omaha
The Gauchos will be dealing with a red-hot Oklahoma State squad. Pioneered by spectacular pitching, the Cowboys ended the regular season on a 10-3 run, before stumbling briefly to very tough competition in the Big 12 Tournament. After a quick departure, accumulating just one victory, in the conference tournament, the Cowboys shook off that disappointment and turned towards the NCAA Tournament, where they were given a very tough draw. They had to beat Clemson twice, which they did, by large margins both times, and then drew another South Carolina powerhouse, this time the Gamecocks of South Carolina. The Cowboys featured the same marvelous pitching, allowing two runs in sweeping the Gamecocks, 5-1, and 3-1. Oklahoma State pitching is 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA during the NCAA tournament, led by the versatile Tyler Buffett, who was a closer until the NCAA tournament, but has hurled two seven-inning gems against South Carolina and Clemson.
Their offense hasn't been necessarily explosive, but they've been effective. They surprisingly walloped Clemson, totaling 21 runs in two games against the Tigers, but, besides that, Oklahoma State has been scraping by with their low-scoring offense. Their team average is just .268, but they are led by a couple of singles-hitting speedsters in R.J. Davis and Donnie Walton, who make things happen with fairly consistent hitting and aggressive base running. They will anchor the Oklahoma State offense. But if Oklahoma State is to make a run in this tournament, it will likely not be their offense that launches them through this tournament. Their pitching better be ready to be tested. Because that is the only way the Cowboys will be able to make a move in this tournament.
Scrappy Gauchos rely on pitching and gritty offense
USCB is not built on their offense. They rely on some timely hitting - they had some pretty timely offense against Louisville - and a healthy dose of solid pitching. They allowed just five runs in their Super Regionals, weathering a potent attack from Louisville. Getting the start for the Gauchos against the Cowboys will likely be 12-game winner Shane Bieber. He'll be complemented by a pair of solid hurlers in Noah Davis and Joe Record, who have combined for 12 wins.
They aren't the most nationally recognized names, but they get the job done for the Gauchos, keeping their offense in games until they come through with some timely hits. Their timely offense is led by Austin Bush, their home run leader with 11 dingers. Bush, like much of the USCB team, does not hit for a great average, totaling a .269 average, just seven ticks higher than the team's .262 batting average, which ranks 205th in the nation. However, Bush is a power-hitter to be feared and this Gauchos' squad is a gritty one, with a penchant for stringing together just enough hits for victory. Their formula has worked all season, and certainly throughout this tournament, and they will be ready for the Cowboys.