The College World Series is one of the great events in all of sports -- amateur or professional. It's been the source of countless memories, even for those baseball fans without a rooting interest in the tournament. Here are our rankings of the 25 most notable moments in College World Series history.
Like every other spring NCAA championship, the 2020 College World Series was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time since the tournament began in 1947, the event was not played. As was the case with the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournament, the cancellation of one of the most popular events on the sports calendar, was a sad moment. However, as we look forward to resuming play in 2021, Vanderbilt remains the reigning national champion and the celebration in Omaha once again goes on while inching closer to normalcy.
After the College World Series played the finals in Kalamazoo, Mich., the first two years of its existence and landed in Wichita, Kan., for the 1949 installment, the event found the place it still calls home -- Omaha, Neb., for the 1950 tournament. The venerable Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium was the site of the event for six decades. Though the Series was moved to the state-of-the-art TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in 2011, the event is slated to stay in Omaha through 2035.
Only USC has won more NCAA Division I baseball national championships (12) than the Texas Longhorns, whose six are tied for second with LSU. Texas won its first national title in 1949 with a 10-3 rout of Wake Forest in the final contest. During the College World Series' first season in Omaha, the Longhorns became the first program to repeat as champions -- beating Washington State 3-0 in the final. Along the way, Texas' Jim Ehrler made a little history (More about that in a bit).
In 2001, and two more seasons (2002, '05), the Nebraska Cornhuskers enjoyed being part of the College World Series in their home state. However, it was Omaha-based Creighton that truly enjoyed a home-field advantage when it reached the CWS in 1991. It's still the only time in the history of the event that a hometown school was part of the action. Coached by Jim Hendry, who would later serve as Chicago Cubs' general manager, the Bluejays reached the semifinals, where they lost to Wichita State.
From the College World Series' inception up until 1998, the even featured a double-elimination format. Then from 1989 to 2002, it moved to two double-elimination pools, with the winners from each meeting in the one-game final. It was in 2003, however, that the final two schools standing determined the national champion with a best-of-3 series. Rice won the first final series of its kind, two games to one over Stanford, taking the decisive contest 14-2.
The underdog has certainly had its moment in Omaha. One of the more notable was Louisiana-Lafayette in 2000. In the Ragin Cajuns' first College World Series appearance, they lost their opener to Stanford. Yet, bounced back to beat fellow upstart San Jose State and stun No. 4 Clemson, courtesy of a walk-off throwing error, before losing to the Cardinal again in the semifinals. The event seems a little sweeter when the underdog rises to the challenge.
The 1992 College World Series is known as the last in which a school from the Southeastern Conference did not have a spot in the field. It was also the only time Pepperdine won a national championship. The Waves did so by taking down national power Cal-State Fullerton, which won the title in 1979 and '84. And, was among the favorites to add to its trophy case in 1992. However, Pepperdine had other ideas and showed its mettle by beating Texas 5-4 in the semifinals and earned a 3-2 victory over the Titans in the championship game.
The Florida Gators won their only national championship in 2017, and right-hander Alex Faedo was a big reason. The Gators faced TCU three times during the event, with Faedo starting two of those contests, and allowing just five hits while striking out 22 over 14 1-3-scoreless innings. The last to pitch Florida in the finals, where it swept SEC rival LSU in two games. Faedo was named Most Outstanding Player.
After beating Oregon State in Game 1 of the 2018 finals, Arkansas lead 3-2 in Game 2 and was one out away, with a Beavers runner on third, from securing the program's first title. However, three Razorbacks in the vicinity of Cadyn Grenier's pop-up in foul territory down the right-field line were unable to catch it. Grenier then singled home the tying run and Trevor Larnach followed with a two-run homer that ultimately gave Oregon State a 5-3 victory. The Beavers won their third national championship with a 5-0 triumph one day later.
It was fitting that the final CWS at Rosenblatt was quite entertaining. After beating UCLA 7-1 in Game 1 of the final series, South Carolina trailed the Bruins 1-0 in Game 2. The Gamecocks tied it in the eighth inning and the contest eventually went to the 11th. That's when current Kansas City Royals star Whit Merrifield delivered a walk-off RBI single to give them a 2-1 victory and the first of back-to-back national championships.
After winning the last College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010, South Carolina became the first program to win a national title at the event's new home of TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in 2011. The Gamecocks, who swept Florida in the 2011 best-of-3 final, became the sixth school in CWS history to repeat as champions. They are also the last program to accomplish such a feat.
Playing in its first College World Series, Coastal Carolina needed to win six elimination games during the 2016 postseason to claim its only national title to date. The Chanticleers faced Arizona, which also ended up winning six elimination contests, in the final series. It went the full three games. The Wildcats took Game 1 by a 3-0 score, but Coastal rallied for back-to-back one-run triumphs to claim the championship.
John Norwood entered the 2014 College World Series having hit just two home runs all season. However, he delivered the long ball when Vanderbilt needed it must, in the top of the eighth inning of a 2-2 contest in the decisive Game 3 final against No. 3 seed Virginia. Norwood's shot cleared the left-field wall and eventually sent the Commodores to a 3-2 win and first national title
There have been two no-hitters thrown at the College World Series. The second came courtesy of Oklahoma State's Jim Wixson. He did so during a 7-0 victory over North Carolina in an elimination game during the 1960 event. It seems somewhat hard to believe that there has not been a no-hitter recorded at the CWS since Wixson's accomplishment. There have been five one-hitters pitched since 1960, however.
Major League Baseball fans of a certain age group know Dave Winfield as one of the great sluggers of the game. In college, however, he was one of the best pitchers in the country. In the '73 College World Series, Winfield was the Most Outstanding player while striking out 29 batters over two starts for Minnesota. He recorded 14 of those punchouts, during a six-hit performance in a 1-0 Series-opening victory over Oklahoma. His second start came against national power USC in the semifinals. More on that later.
Back to that underdog theme. It doesn't get much better than a group of "dogs" actually pulling out the unthinkable. That was the case in 2008, with the Fresno State Bulldogs. As the No. 4 seed in its regional, Fresno State became the lowest seed ever to win the College World Series. After stunning perennial power Arizona State in the Super Regionals, the Bulldogs, led by Tommy Mendonca (four homers, 11 RBIs in the CWS), twice beat No. 2 North Carolina in Omaha and won the best-of-3 final against Georgia to cap their Cinderella run.
The stars tend to shine bright in Omaha during the College World Series. In the sky, too. One of the greats of the event is Ohio State hurler Steve Arlin. During a 1965 semifinal contest against Washington State, Arlin recorded 20 strikeouts while pitching all 15 innings of the Buckeyes' 1-0 victory. Ohio State lost to Arizona State in the finals that season, but with Arlin back for more in '66, the Buckeyes won the title with an 8-2 triumph over Oklahoma State.
We've touched on the 1950 College World Series a couple of times. Notably that Texas became the first school to repeat as national champion. The Longhorns were put in position to achieve that feat thanks to Jim Ehrler, who became the first pitcher in CWS history to toss a no-hitter. He did so while striking out 14 batters during a 7-0 rout of Tufts University in the ninth game of the tournament.
The 1998 College World Series was memorable for its media-dubbed "Gorilla Ball." Due to the prominence of offense, specifically the home run, during the event. In the first round, alone, there were four games in which each team scored double-digit runs. However, it was the championship game between USC and Arizona State that stands out as one of the wildest and offensive-laden contests in the history of the CWS. Wes Rachels went 5-for-7 with seven RBI and Jason Lane's grand slam highlighted a five-run ninth for the Trojans during their 21-14 victory.
There are many CWS fans and media folk who feel USC's 2-1, title-game victory over Florida State in 15 innings is the greatest contest in the history of the event. However, the 1970 tournament, overall, for the Trojans was pretty impressive. In the semifinals, USC needed 14 innings to beat Texas 8-7. The Trojans' triumph in Omaha began a stretch of five consecutive national championships for legendary coach Rod Dedeaux's program. Florida State, meanwhile, is still searching for its first college baseball national championship.
Wild games always make the College World Series enjoyable to watch -- whether live or in person. In terms of the entertainment factor, it might be hard to top the decisive semifinal contest between perennial powers Florida State and Stanford in '99. The Seminoles opened a 7-2 advantage, but the Cardinal scored seven times in the seventh to go up by two. Florida State sent the game to extras with two runs in the ninth. Stanford then went ahead by scoring twice in the 10th. Two more FSU homers tied the contest in the bottom of that frame, and Karl Jernigan eventually won it, 14-11, with a three-run shot in the 13th. The Seminoles, however, lost 6-5 to Miami, Fla. in the title game.
Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura is one of the great hitters in the history of college baseball. He took a then-NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak into a third-round CWS contest versus Stanford. Ventura went 0-for-4 against fellow collegiate star and future teammate with the Chicago White Sox Jack McDowell. In Ventura's final at-bat of the game against Al Osuna, Ventura reached base on an error that some thought could have been ruled a hit. Ventura's streak might have ended, but the Cowboys won the game. Eventually, however, Stanford would top Oklahoma State for the 1987 national title.
Who would have thought some playground antics could actually work in an official baseball game at the highest level of college sports? During a second-round game between Miami, Fla., and Wichita State, Hurricanes pitcher Mike Kasprzak stepped off the rubber and motioned as if he made a pick-off throw that went wild to first base. Miami players chased the phantom ball and its own bench reacted. Shockers runner Phil Stephenson broke for second, but was easily tagged out by shortstop Bill Wrona, who took the throw from Kasprzak, who had the ball the whole time. Wow!
We mentioned Dave Winfield's dominance for Minnesota in the '73 CWS. When he faced three-time defending champion USC in the semifinals, Winfield fanned 15 and allowed only an infield hit over eight innings while his Gophers built an 8-0 lead. In the ninth, however, the Trojans finally got to Winfield, scoring three times -- and aided by an apparent blown call on a potential double play. The Trojans then added five more runs against the Minnesota bullpen to pull out a stunning 8-7 victory.
An All-American for LSU in 1995, infielder Warren Morris dealt with a wrist injury for almost the entire 1996 campaign. However, when the Tigers needed him most, he came through. Facing Miami reliever Robbie Morrison with the Tigers trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth in the '96 title game, Morris clubbed his only homer of the season -- a two-run, walk-off shot for a 9-8 victory and the program's third national title. It still remains one of the great, most inspiring moments in the history of collegiate athletics.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.