Having two teams from the same conference meet up to decide the College World Series is rare, but it has happened before (the last time in 1998). This year, as the CWS moves into TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Texas and Texas A&M are hoping to make the championship round an all-Big 12 Conference affair.
The Longhorns took two out of three from the Aggies during the regular season but the teams wound up as Big 12 co-champions. For the second straight season, Texas A&M won the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City.
"It's a cool deal, and everybody (in Texas) of course wants to see Texas and Texas A&M play again to see who comes out on top," A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin told the San Antonio Express-News. "If we end up meeting up with them, that's fine and dandy. But we wouldn't mind beating someone else at the end of it, either."
Texas is in a four-team pool with North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Florida. The Longhorns will face the Gators at 6 p.m. Saturday in their CWS opener. Texas A&M is in a four-team pool with California, Virginia and South Carolina. The Aggies will open against the Gamecocks, the defending national champions at 6 p.m. Sunday.
The four-team pools play a double-elimination format until one team is left in each pool. Those two teams will meet in a two-out-of-three championship series that starts on June 27.
Texas is making its 34th CWS appearance, extending its NCAA record. Texas A&M is making its fifth appearance and first since 1999. The last time the Big 12 had more than one team in the field was 2005; that's also the last year that the Conference had a national champion (Texas, which defeated Florida in the championship game).
Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the eight teams contending for the College World Series title:
Texas Longhorns (49-17)
CWS Appearances: 34 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2011). All-time record is 82-55.
Road to Omaha: The Longhorns' 34th trip to the CWS did not come easy. Texas battled from the brink of elimination in regional action after losing to Kent State in the second game of the tournament. The Longhorns squeaked by Texas State 4-3 before defeating Kent State twice to advance to the Super Regional round. Texas then faced Pac-10 power Arizona State, losing to the Sun Devils 3-1 in the first game of the Super Regional before rebounding for 5-1 and 4-2 wins to return to Omaha for the first time since 2009.
The story line: The Longhorns won the first CWS played at Rosenblatt Stadium in 1950 and they hope to win the first played at Omaha's new TD Ameritrade Park.
Who to watch: The Longhorns' offense, a season-long project, has been solid with at least eight hits in each of the last six games. Texas, though, relies on "small ball" - they lead the nation with 109 sacrifice bunts. Shortstop Brandon Loy (.344, 23 doubles), first baseman Tant Shepard (five homers, 40 RBI) and third baseman Erich Weiss (.358 average, 44 RBI) are the key producers in the lineup. Weiss is one of five freshmen who are key contributors. Junior Taylor Jungmann, who was a key factor in UT's last CWS trip in 2009, is one of the nation's top pitchers. Senior Cole Green and junior Sam Stafford are also top-notch starters while Corey Knebel has set a school record for freshmen with 19 saves.
Fun fact: Texas coach Augie Garrido, the only coach to lead two different schools (Cal State Fullerton and UT) to championships also has now had a team in the College World Series in five different decades - the '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s and '10s.
Texas A&M Aggies (46-20)
CWS Appearances: 5 (1951, 1964, 1993, 1999, 2011). All-time CWS record is 2-8.
Road to Omaha: A couple of rain delays or even giving up 23 runs to Florida State could not keep the Aggies away from Omaha for the first time since 1999. Despite several hours of weather delays, Texas A&M claimed a regional championship with a shutout of Arizona on a Tuesday afternoon, and returned to the diamond in Tallahassee on Saturday to notch its first win against FSU. The Aggies then overcame a 23-9 loss to the Seminoles on Sunday, bouncing back to take an 11-2 victory to capture the Tallahassee Super Regional championship.
The story line: The Aggies come to Omaha on a serious roll, having won 16 of their last 20 games. They've won the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship and advanced through the NCAAs despite losing top pitcher John Stilson to a torn muscle in his throwing arm.
Who to watch: Sophomore outfielder Tyler Naquin, the Big 12 Player of the Year also earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the College Station Regional. He's hitting .390 with 23 doubles, 44 RBI and 65 runs scored. He's also an outstanding defensive outfielder with a strong and accurate arm. DH Matt Juengel and first baseman Jacob House are tied for the team lead in RBIs with 49. The Aggies utilize their speed. They're second in the nation with 29 triples and have 107 stolen bases. While the Aggies average just 5.9 runs per game, the offense has come alive over the last three weeks. A&M is averaging 7.5 runs in its last 11 games. With Stilson being sidelined, A&M relies on pitchers Ross Stripling and Michael Wacha. Stripling is 14-2 with a 2.29 ERA while Wacha has been outstanding during the postseason. He has given up just two runs in 21.1 innings during three tournament starts.
Fun fact: Of the eight teams that advanced to Omaha, Texas A&M is the only team to win on the road. The Aggies won the Tallahassee Super Regional, defeating Florida State in three games.
California Golden Bears (37-21)
CWS Appearances: 6 (1947, 1957, 1980, 1988, 1992, 2011). All-time CWS record is 10-6.
Road to Omaha: The No. 3 seed in the Houston Regional, the Golden Bears battled back through the loser's bracket and scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to stun Baylor in the championship game. The Bears swept No. 3 seed Dallas Baptist in two games in the Santa Clara Super Regional.
The story line: Because of state-wide budget cuts for education, Cal's athletic department announced last September that it was eliminating baseball along with several other sports. However, private fund raising of over $9 million convinced school officials to announce in April that baseball would not be eliminated.
Who to watch: Sophomore second baseman Tony Renda was the Pac-10 Player of the Year. He is hitting .335 with 14 doubles and 42 RBI. Chad Bunting leads the team with seven homers and has been hitting well in the postseason. The pitching staff is outstanding. The Bears' 2.84 ERA is 11th in Division I. Justin Jones and Erik Johnson are the top starters while Kyle Porter and Matt Flemer are the best out of the bullpen.
Fun fact: Of the seven teams to reach Omaha, Cal is the only one that wasn't a No. 1 seed in a regional. The Bears were the No. 3 seed at the Houston Regional and used a four-run ninth inning rally to eliminate Baylor and advance. Cal is the lowest-seeded team to reach the CWS since No. 4 seed Fresno State won the title in 2008.
Florida Gators (50-17)
CWS Appearances: 7 (1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011). All-time CWS record is 8-13. Highest finish was second in 2005.
Road to Omaha: The Gators scored 33 runs in three easy victories to win the Gainesville Regional. In the Super Regional, Florida clobbered Mississippi State 11-1 in the first game of the series, and seemed to be on the way to Omaha until the Bulldogs belted a two-run, walk-off homer to win 4-3, evening the series at 1-1. In the deciding contest, the Gators rallied from a two-run deficit in the seventh inning to earn an eventual 8-6 victory and their second consecutive CWS berth.
The story line: In the first season of using bats with reduced "exit speed," Florida is still an offensive juggernaut. The Gators have hit 67 homers and in six NCAA victories have they've scored 55 runs.
Who to watch: Mike Zunino was the Southeastern Conference player of the year. He's hitting .376 with 22 doubles, 18 home runs and 66 RBI. Preston Tucker, the most outstanding player at the Gainesville Regional, is hitting .314 with 14 homers and team-best 68 RBI. They're the two most several dangerous hitters on a team that is hitting .311 for the season. Freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson, sophomore Hudson Randall and junior Alex Panteliodis are the top pitchers. Florida's 3.01 ERA is 20th in Division I.
Fun fact: Florida's best finish at the College World Series was second in 2005. The Gators lost to Texas in the championship series that year.
North Carolina Tar Heels (50-14)
CWS Appearances: 9 (1960, 1966, 1978, 1989, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011). All-time CWS record is 14-17.
Road to Omaha: The Tar Heels allowed just three runs in winning the Chapel Hill Regional. North Carolina continued to roll by sweeping Stanford with 5-2 and 7-5 victories to notch its fifth trip to Omaha in the last six years.
Story line: The Tar Heels' starting catcher is Jacob Stallings. He's the son of Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings.
Who to watch: The Tar Heels are efficient (.289 team average) and patient at the plate; they've drawn 340 walks, the second-most in Division I. Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year Colin Moran is hitting .335 with 20 doubles, nine homers and 69 RBIs. North Carolina has allowed just 10 runs in five NCAA games. Patrick Johnson is 13-1 with a 2.27 ERA to lead a staff that has a 3.26 ERA. The Tar Heels' pitchers are averaging nine strikeouts per game and the pitching is backed by a defense that is sixth nationally in fielding percentage.
Fun fact: North Carolina coach Mike Fox was a second baseman on the 1978 Tar Heels team that played in the 1978 CWS. He's one of only six men to play and coach in the event. He has either played or coached in all of North Carolina's 14 CWS victories.
South Carolina Gamecocks (50-14)
CWS Appearances: 10 (1975, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1985, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011). All-time CWS record is 23-17.
Road to Omaha: South Carolina swept through both the Columbia Regional and Super Regional, outscoring foes 26-11, and allowing more than two runs once in five games. The Gamecocks came back from a 2-0 deficit in the second Super Regional game against Connecticut for an eventual 8-2 victory that sealed their second consecutive trip to Omaha.
Story line: The Gamecocks are trying to become the first team to win back to back national titles since Oregon State in 2006-07.
Who to watch: First baseman Christian Walker is the top producer in a balanced hitting attack. He is hitting .359 with 18 doubles, 10 home runs and 60 RBIs. Jackie Bradley Jr., the CWS Most Outstanding Player last season, has been sidelined since April 23 because of a wrist injury. It's possible that he could be available at some point during this CWS. The Gamecocks have some outstanding pitchers and the team has a sterling 2.60 ERA. Junior left-hander Michael Roth (13-3) ranks second in the nation with a 1.02 ERA; he has not allowed an earned run in his last four starts. Freshman reliever Matt Price has 18 saves.
Fun fact: In last year's CWS, South Carolina lost its opener to Oklahoma. Since then, the Gamecocks have won 11 consecutive NCAA tournament games.
Vanderbilt Commodores (52-10)
CWS Appearances: First appearance.
Road to Omaha: With a three-game sweep in the Nashville Regional under their belts, the Commodores continued their dominant play against Oregon State in the Super Regional round, defeating the Beavers in two games by a combined score of 20-4. Vanderbilt outscored foes 46-7 in five NCAA postseason games en route to its' first-ever College World Series berth.
Story line: Vanderbilt is one of three Southeastern Conference teams at the CWS but the Commodores are making their first trip to Omaha.
Who to watch: The Commodores are fifth nationally with a .319 team average and they're averaging 7.1 runs per game. Junior third baseman Jason Esposito leads the way with a .357 batting average, 22 doubles, nine homers and 59 RBIs. Aaron Westlake has been on a tear in the post season; he has 17 homers and 54 RBI. The Commodores are third in the nation in ERA (2.38). Right-hander Sonny Gray is the ace; he's 12-3 with a 1.97 ERA. Junior left-hander Grayson Garvin could also be considered the ace considering he's 13-1 wit a 2.37 ERA.
Fun fact: Vanderbilt outfielder Mike Yastrzemski is the grandson of Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski.
Virginia Cavaliers (54-10)
CWS Appearances: 2 (2009, 2011). All-time CWS record is 1-2.
Road to Omaha: After cruising through the Charlottesville Regional by outscoring foes 29-3, and then blanking UC Irvine 7-0 in the first Super Regional contest, the Cavaliers looked like they were a lock for Omaha. But the Anteaters had no intentions of folding that easily, and took the second game by a score of 6-4 to force a winner-take-all game on Monday. The Cavaliers headed into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 2-1, and pulled off the comeback, keyed by Chris Taylor's two-out, two-run single to send UVa to Omaha for the second time in three years.
The story line: The Cavaliers have been a highly ranked team each of the last three seasons but that has not translated into CWS success. This is just Virginia's second trip to Omaha. Last year the Cavaliers were a No. 1 seed but were upset in the Super Regional by Oklahoma.
Who to watch: Third baseman Steven Proscia is hitting .335 and leads the team with eight homers and 58 RBI. Virginia has hit just 24 home runs but they're averaging 7.1 runs per game. The Cavaliers have a lot of "gap power" - they're 11th nationally in doubles with 145. ACC pitcher of the year Danny Hultzen leads an outstanding pitching staff. He's 12-3 with a 1.49 ERA and averages 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The Cavaliers lead the nation in ERA at 2.27, is third in strikeouts per nine innings and is fifth nationally in fielding percentage.
Fun fact: Virginia entered the NCAA tournament as the overall No. 1 seed. The last year the No. 1 seed won the CWS was Miami (Fla.) in 1999. That was the first year of the current format using Super Regionals.