Vanderbilt fell agonizingly short at the SEC Tournament this weekend, falling in extra innings to LSU in the title game. Could that heartbreaking loss provide the motivation this team needs to bring home their first NCAA Championship?
Tim Corbin's team cruised through the regular season, going undefeated in series play and overcoming an opening game loss to Texas A&M to reach the SEC Championship Game on Sunday. That's when this team tasted their first real adversity of the season, losing to the #2 Tigers in a tightly contested game that left fans on both sides clamoring for more. Fortunately, the stage is set for the two teams to meet again, but this time in Omaha at the College World Series.
Vanderbilt's scorching regular season record has culminated in the #2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they'll host each of their tournament games as long as they stay alive. If the 'Dores can avoid two losses in either weekend over the next two weeks, Hawkins Field will be the home of Regional and Super Regional baseball. They'll welcome Georgia Tech, Illinois, and East Tennessee State this Friday. Should they win, the Commodores could be facing a familiar postseason foe - Louisville is favored to win their Regional and make the short trip down I-65 for the third NCAAT matchup between these teams in five years.
Vandy will have to get past their Regional bracket first, and that will start with a potential matchup against ETSU All-American starting pitcher Kerry Doane. Doane is 13-1 this season and threw 12 complete games on his way to a 1.99 ERA. While he doesn't have the strikeout numbers that Kevin Ziomek or Tyler Beede do, he'll be a major test in Nashville's 1-4 matchup on Friday night.
If the 'Dores get past the Buccaneers, they'll face the winner of Georgia Tech and Illinois. Tech had been a staple of the top 25 before a tumultuous 7-15 finish made them a low 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois won 14 games in the Big Ten, but failed to lock down any truly impressive wins this season. Both teams are dangerous, but ETSU's combination of scrappy bats and high-level pitching (on Friday) could make the Bucs the biggest threat to Vandy's home-field advantage.
Games will get underway at 2PM on Friday, with the Commodores facing ETSU at 7PM. Despite a 51-win season, Vanderbilt still has plenty to prove. Anything less than the school's second trip to Omaha will be a disappointment. Fortunately, Tim Corbin's team has put themselves in an excellent position to succeed.