On Monday, the final round of the 2019 College World Series will get underway. What started as a 64-team tournament has since been reduced to two teams vying for the national championship in a best-of-three series. Sometimes the storyline writes itself, and in this case the juggernaut-versus-underdog vibes are there for the picking. On one side, you have the Vanderbilt Commodores, one of the preeminent collegiate programs in the nation, who have won 33 of their last 36 games en route to a school record 57 wins. On the other, the Michigan Wolverines, who are making their first championship round appearance since 1962.
Will the favorite prevail? Or can Michigan complete its Cinderella run?
Here’s a quick look at the schedule and how to watch the championship round:
Game 1: Monday, June 24: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN (or streaming on ESPN+)
Game 2: Tuesday, June 25: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN (or streaming on ESPN+)
Game 3 (if necessary): Wednesday, June 26: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN (or streaming on ESPN+)
Now, onto five things to know.
1. How Vanderbilt got here
Vanderbilt entered the tournament ranked as the No. 2 seed in the country, behind UCLA. As such, they hosted their regional round in Nashville, Tennessee, where they outlasted Indiana State, McNeese State, and Ohio State. Vanderbilt then hosted a super regional best-of-three series against Duke, whom they knocked off 2-1. From there, Vanderbilt advanced into the finals by outlasting Auburn, Mississippi State, and Louisville — Vanderbilt had to top Louisville twice as part of the double-elimination round.
Vanderbilt is 57-11 on the season, and 8-1 as part of the tournament. In those nine games, they’ve outscored their opponents by a 26-run margin.
2. How Michigan got here
On the flip side, Michigan was not one of the 16 nationally ranked seeds. Rather, it was the three seed as part of No. 16 Oregon State’s regional. Michigan nonetheless advanced past the Beavers, Creighton, and Cincinnati to advance to the super regionals. There, Michigan bested UCLA, the top seed in the land, in a closely played three-game set. Michigan then punched is ticket to the finals by winning a group that included Arkansas, Florida State, and Texas Tech — with Michigan edging Texas Tech twice for this honor.
Michigan is 49-20 on the year, including 8-2 in the tournament. Their run differential across those 10 games is plus-37.
3. Kumar Rocker is a potential superstar
Although Kumar Rocker likely won’t start until Game 2 for Vanderbilt — Drake Fellows will presumably get the nod in Game 1 — Rocker’s appearance will be the most anticipated of the series.
It was Rocker who, if you’ll recall, recently became a sensation by. On the season, he’s posted a 3.38 ERA while fanning 103 batters in 93 ⅓ innings. That’s impressive stuff for a freshman pitcher in the SEC.
Rocker, who has the kind of frame and fastball-slider combination scouts love to see, won’t be eligible for the draft until after his junior season. Another strong start on the national stage could push his stock even higher — if such a thing is possible.
4. Michigan’s coach trying to top mentor
Rocker might be the breakout player of the tournament, but Michigan coach Erik Bakich could be the breakout manager. You may have seen Bakick referenced in regard to this interview:
Anyway, this championship would mean more to Bakich than the obvious. As Anthony Fenech detailed, Bakich came from Vanderbilt, where he served as the recruiting coordinator under his mentor Tim Corbin.
Now, Bakich has the opportunity to carve out his own legacy. That could begin by defeating his mentor for the national championship.
5. MLB draftees to watch
Predictably, this series will feature a number of players who were selected in June’s draft.
On the Vanderbilt side of things, the top draftees to watch are outfielder J.J. Bleday (No. 4, Marlins), pitcher Drake Fellows (No. 173, Padres), catcher Philip Clarke (No. 267, Blue Jays), shortstop Ethan Paul (No. 274, Pirates), and outfielder Stephen Scott (No. 317, Red Sox). The Commodores also had pitchers Zach King (Marlins), Jackson Gillis (Brewers), Joe Gobillot (Rays), A.J. Franklin (Royals), and Patrick Raby (Reds) selected, as well as outfielder Pat DeMarco (Yankees), catcher Ty Duval (Athletics), and first baseman Julian Infante (Marlins). Again, this team is loaded.
Michigan had its fair share of draftees, too, led by pitchers Tommy Henry (No. 74, Diamondbacks) and Karl Kauffmann (No. 77, Rockies) and outfielder Jordan Brewer (No. 106, Astros). The other Wolverines selected were pitcher Jack Weisenburger (Athletics) and third baseman Jimmy Kerr (Tigers).