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College World Series set to begin, abundant with talent

Fifty-one players competing in Omaha selected in last week's First-Year Player Draft

OMAHA, Neb. -- Sixty-four college baseball teams have been whittled down to eight. And now, those remaining squads are on college baseball's biggest stage with the goal of being crowned champion.

The College World Series begins Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, with Bracket 1 competing.

UC Irvine (40-23) will face Texas (43-19) at 4 p.m. ET, while Louisville (50-15) and Vanderbilt (46-19) clash at 9 p.m.

Bracket 2 action starts Sunday with Texas Tech (45-19) facing TCU (47-16) at 4 p.m. and Virginia (49-14) and Ole Miss (46-19) playing at 9 p.m.

All four games will be televised on ESPN 2.

"It's a tremendous challenge to get to Omaha," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "There's a lot of teams that their seasons are over, and we all understand how difficult of a journey it is throughout the season. But then when you get into postseason play, to do what it takes to get here, not only do you have to have a good baseball team, you also have to have a little bit of good fortune. We're certainly very honored to be back here."

Virginia and TCU are the lone national seeds to advance to Omaha, with the Cavaliers the preemptive favorite thanks to their overall balance. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, sport a ridiculous starting staff led by left-handers Brandon Finnegan (selected No. 17 overall by the Royals in last week's 2014 First-Year Player Draft) and Tyler Alexander, as well as righty Preston Morrison.

Ole Miss is battled tested, with perhaps the best offense remaining of the eight teams, while Texas recovered from a late-season swoon to find itself in Omaha. Vanderbilt and Texas Tech are led by their pitching staffs.

Louisville is the only team to return to Omaha from last season and is undefeated in postseason play, while UC Irvine is the underdog of the tournament, advancing out of the Corvallis Region as a No. 3 seed.

"I feel like we're the party crashers, but we're glad to do it," UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said. "We've had an interesting road to get here. It's been exciting."

Right-hander Nathan Thornhill (13th round, Phillies) will start for the Longhorns on Saturday against UC Irvine righty Andrew Morales (No. 71, Cardinals), while Vanderbilt right-hander Carson Fulmer will face Louisville righty Kyle Funkhouser in the nightcap.

While right-hander Chris Ellis (third round, Angels) will start for Ole Miss on Sunday against Virginia lefty Nathan Kirby, TCU is going with Morrison over Finnegan against Texas Tech's Chris Sadberry (sixth round, Marlins).

"For us, it's more about where we think guys match up with the teams that are in our bracket and how guys are pitching lately," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said of starting Sadberry. "Again, really at this level, they're really interchangeable, and we just feel like right now that's the way we're going to go, with Preston."

Fifty-one players competing in Omaha were selected in last week's Draft, highlighted by three first-rounders: Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede (No. 14, Giants), Virginia closer Nick Howard (No. 19, Reds) and Finnegan.

Other high Draft picks to keep an eye on include UC Irvine third baseman Taylor Sparks (second round, Reds), Louisville right-hander Nick Burdi (second round, Twins), Vanderbilt right-hander Adam Ravenelle (fourth round, Tigers) and Virginia outfielders Derek Fisher (No. 37, Astros) and Mike Papi (No. 38, Indians).

This year's College World Series also has a Texas feel, as three teams from the Lone Star State advanced to Omaha. Interestingly, none of the Texas teams won the Big 12; TCU finished second, Texas Tech fourth and Texas fifth.

"Really to get three here is quite an accomplishment," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "It's something that's neat for the state of Texas. There's some really good teams in the state of Texas that aren't here, and [Schlossnagle] and I know that, and these guys know that."

Saturday's games
UC Irvine vs. Texas, 4 p.m.
Louisville vs. Vanderbilt, 9 p.m.

Sunday's games
Texas Tech vs. TCU, 4 p.m.
Virginia vs. Ole Miss, 9 p.m.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth.