The 2016 College World Series is well underway and it’s clear this year is different. The mainstay teams like LSU, Vanderbilt, and Cal State Fullerton have been replaced with first timers Coastal Carolina and UC Santa Barbara, as well as Oklahoma State, a team who has not been to the CWS since 1999.
The NCAA’s Managing Director of Championships and Alliances Ron Prettyman said having a few new faces in the mix for this year’s CWS is great for the sport.
“I don’t think anybody wants to see that consistent dominance by one, or two or three teams,” Prettyman said. “It’s been a nice mix this year because we’ve had two new teams, we’ve had two or three teams that haven’t been here for awhile, and we have the regulars.”
A few familiar faces made the trip, but have been sent packing early. No. 3 Miami lost its opening round game, finding itself in the loser's bracket early. The Canes then faced off against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, a definite underdog.
The Canes looked like they might be in control, but after a weather delay UCSB took over after its offense exploded with a four-run sixth inning. The deficit was one Miami couldn’t come back from, making the Canes the first team sent packing and giving the Gauchos their first ever College World Series win.
“Happy for our guys, our fans and everybody is celebrating like we just won the whole thing,” UC Santa Barbara Head Coach Andrew Checketts said. “But it's hard to act like you've done it before when you've never done it before.”
The top-ranked Florida Gators matched up against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, a team which had also never been to the College World Series, in their first round game. Behind an incredible performance by Chanticleers starting pitcher Andrew Beckwith, Coastal Carolina was able to stun the Gators with a 2-1 victory.
The Gators then fell to Texas Tech, the only remaining nationally ranked team, in an elimination game Tuesday. While Texas Tech was ranked No. 5 nationally, this was just its second College World Series appearance, and just its first win in the event.
The two highest seeded teams, Florida and Miami, combined for just five runs in their College World Series runs. Florida was just the third No. 1 ranked team in history to go winless in the College World Series. The last time the SEC and the ACC went winless in the CWS was in 1984, when neither conference had a team in the event.
“To have seen the top seeds get knocked off by some of the newcomers has really been an interesting phenomenon in this World Series, and it’s going to be fun down in the last few games here,” Prettyman said.
With all of the top dogs falling early, it leaves one to ask, is this the year of the underdog? One thing is for sure, Omaha loves the underdog.
“I think you can relate it to Omaha in a way,” Omaha local Luke Mullins said. “You might not think much of it or even know where it’s at, but once you see it and experience it, it makes a name for itself. Just like the underdog, proving to everyone what they’re made of and that they can compete with anyone.”
While the attendance numbers so far this year might not show it, you could hear it in the concourse when Gauchos pinch hitter Ryan Cumberland hit a two-run single to break the tie with Miami. You could hear it when freshman designated hitter Luken Baker hit the first home-run of the College World Series to send Texas Tech to the losers bracket.
“I think Omaha sometimes thinks of themselves as the underdog, even though it’s a fantastic city,” NCAA Managing Director of Championships and Alliances Ron Prettyman said. “I have seen Omaha gravitate over the years to the underdog.”
Even Arizona, a team that won the College World Series in 2012, is seen as an underdog in some aspects. The Wildcats were not picked to win their regional which featured host Louisiana-Lafayette, a team that was ranked in the top 25 most of the season.
They weren’t supposed to win their super regional against Mississippi State, a team that was ranked in the top five most of the season. They prevailed in both instances, and are now feeling the love in Omaha.
“The advantage of this weekend is, unless Coach Morris brought the whole state of Florida down here, we had 14,000 people that were not wearing Arizona stuff and yelling "bear down" last weekend,” Arizona Head Coach Jay Johnson said.
With the top two seeds out, it’s a race to the finish for the remaining underdogs. Coastal Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, Oklahoma State and Arizona will all try to prove what Fresno State proved in 2008: they can hang with the big dogs.