College World Series 2021 finals: Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State, all-time titles, top draft prospects
There will be an all-SEC College World Series finals matchup in 2021.
Vanderbilt clinched its a second consecutive appearance in the championship round of the NCAA baseball tournament Saturday morning when the NCAA announced that N.C. State was removed from competition because of rising COVID-19 cases on the team. Mississippi State continued its stay in Omaha on Saturday night when it beat Texas in walk-off fashion 4-3.
The Commodores (48-16) and Bulldogs (48-17) have both enjoyed dominant campaigns on their way to the national championship series.
Here’s what you need to know about the SEC rivals’ matchup.
How many NCAA titles does each team have all time?
Vanderbilt’s baseball program has reached new heights since Tim Corbin took over as head coach in 2003.
Before Corbin arrived in Nashville, the Commodores had been to only three NCAA baseball tournaments. Since then, they’ve made it to the tournament 16 times including an active streak of 15 straight seasons — not counting 2020, when the regular season ended early and the postseason was canceled. Vandy has reached Omaha and the College World Series five times.
The Commodores are also college baseball’s most recent champion, having claimed the title in 2019 against Michigan. It was the second time Corbin’s team won a national championship; he also led it to a title in 2014. Vandy was the runner-up in 2015.
The Bulldogs have never won a national championship in baseball despite maintaining a consistent presence in the postseason. Mississippi State has been to the NCAA tournament each of the past five years and has made it 20 times since 1995. The Bulldogs have been to the College World Series seven times since then.
The closest they have come to winning a title, however, is a trip to the 2013 finals, where they lost to UCLA.
The coaching staff has changed multiple times over the past several seasons, with four different coaches in the past six years. Chris Lemonis has held the position since 2019. That year, he became only the third coach to guide the team to a 50-win season. This year, he joined John Cohen as the only coaches to take the Bulldogs to the College World Series finals.
As fellow SEC schools, these two foes have met on plenty of occasions. The Bulldogs hold the all-time edge by a considerable margin, 71-51-2. Vanderbilt won the season series this year, however, taking two of three in Nashville in late April.
In the first game of the series, Vandy right-hander Kumar Rocker went the distance, allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits with eight strikeouts in a 6-2 Commodores win. MSU starter Christian MacLeod lasted just 3 2/3 innings and gave up four runs — all earned — on four hits and four walks with seven strikeouts.
The next game, Mississippi State beat up Jack Leiter in what was the worst start of his career to that point. The Bulldogs scored four runs on six hits and three walks over five innings. Fellow MLB Draft prospect Will Bednar held the Commodores to one run on three hits and three walks over five innings while striking out eight.
Vanderbilt won the rubber match even after starting pitcher Patrick Reilly couldn’t escape the first inning. Relievers Chris McElvain and Nick Maldonado held the Bulldogs to one run while the Commodores rattled off seven in the middle innings to win 7-4.
Top MLB Draft prospects
Vanderbilt has the most exciting prospect duo in the sport in Leiter and Rocker.
The Commodores’ top two pitchers have already worked a lot in this year’s College World Series. Rocker has started twice: last Sunday in Vandy’s opener against Arizona and Friday vs. N.C. State to force what should have been a deciding game in the semifinals. He allowed one run and struck out 11 over six innings in the 3-1 win over the Wolfpack.
Leiter struck out 15 over eight innings in a 1-0 complete-game loss to the Wolfpack on Monday. He is expected to start Game 1 of the finals.
Both pitchers are consensus top-10 draft prospects and are likely to go early in the first round of July’s MLB Draft.
The Commodores’ lineup features outfielder Isaiah Thomas, first baseman Dominic Keegan and catcher CJ Rodriguez, who are listed among MLB Pipeline’s Top 250 draft prospects. Maldonado and reliever Luke Murphy are on that list as well.
Bednar is MLB Pipeline’s No. 36-ranked prospect. The Bulldogs’ ace pitched Saturday against the Longhorns to help his team reach the finals. McLeod, the Bulldogs’ No. 2 arm, is MLB Pipeline’s 82nd-best prospect. He had a rough outing against Virginia on Tuesday but wound up with a no-decision as the Bulldogs sent the Cavaliers to the elimination bracket.
Outfielder Tanner Allen has had an explosive year at the plate with a .382 average, 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He is MLB Pipeline’s No. 138 draft prospect.
Right-hander Eric Cerantola is listed at No. 248, but early-season struggles limited his usage down the stretch. He has a 5.71 ERA in 17 1/3 innings.