After a grueling Regional battle with #10 Louisville, the Commodores face another elite team when they head to Tallahassee to take on #12 Florida State in a best-of-three showdown to determine who advances to the College World Series. FSU has been on a tear recently, going 6-1 in the postseason and winning six straight games to take the ACC Tournament title and the Norwich Regional to get here. Vanderbilt, conversely, has been just 5-3 in postseason play, though that mark includes three straight wins.
The Seminoles will be the definitive favorite in the series based on their superior ranking, strong tournament resume, and home field advantage. This won't be the first time Vandy will have faced similar long odds, as the team had its back against the wall in Louisville but was able to take two straight games against a very strong Cardinal team last weekend. However, one advantage that the Commodores had in that series was a familiarity with Louisville - they had face UL three times prior to their Regional showdown. With Florida State, Coach Tim Corbin won't have that same benefit.
Florida State put together a strong regular season, losing only three series all season - and all three to ranked opponents (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson). They were especially potent against the SEC, going 6-1 and including a 3-1 record against SEC regular season champions Florida. Against NCAA Tournament teams, the Seminoles posted a 16-12 record against 2010 NCAA Tournament teams; in comparison, the Commodores were 15-14 against qualifying squads.
FSU used a combination of above-average pitching and torrid run production (8.2 runs per game) to overwhelm opponents in wins. 34 of the team's wins came by more than two runs, but the team also put together a solid record (11-7) in games decided by two runs or less. Throughout the course of the season, this team proved that it can win in a pitchers' showdown or in a slugfest, and that makes them a dangerous threat for the Commodores.
Several different batters can come through with big hits in this lineup, as six batters have 38 RBI or more on the season. Speedsters Stephen Holt and Tyler Cardullo are threats on the basepaths as well, as the pair have combined for 49 stolen bases (in 51 attempts) and 146 runs. Power-wise, the Seminoles are similar to the Commodores in that they have no sure-thing home run threat, but instead a core of players that can go deep in any given at-bat; seven players have six home runs or more.
On the mound, Florida State's starters have been average, but the team's strength is in its depth. Eight different pitchers can be called on to get a quick strikeout, and after Louisville's pitching was able to control many of Vandy's scoring threats, this could be a bad sign. However, it is important to note that FSU's pitching does not have the quality at the top of the rotation that the Cardinals possessed.
Batter to watch: Sherman Johnson, 3B. Johnson has been on a tear through the start of the NCAA Baseball Tournament, going 5-12 with 2 home runs, 4 RBI, and 5 runs scored in three games. The number two hitter in the Seminole lineup, Johnson is a sophomore who is really making a name for himself after joining the team last year as a walk-on. He sits amongst the team leaders in batting average (.335), home runs (8), RBI (58), and on-base percentage (.449).
Though Johnson isn't an elite athlete and prone to some mistakes in the field, his presence at the plate has been invaluable for FSU in the tournament so far. He's been the team's most consistent hitter and won battles against a very talented Oregon pitching staff in order to lead his team a step closer to the College World Series. It seems as though he'll be ready to handle flame throwers like Sonny Gray and Jack Armstrong (though Gray is in a class of his own on the mound), but whether he can handle junk-ball magicians like Taylor Hill, Richie Goodenow, and Drew Hayes has yet to be seen.
Pitcher to watch: Mike McGee. McGee, the Seminoles' closer, has been almost untouchable this season. With 11 saves, a 0.38 ERA, and a .103 average against, he's been basically automatic when it comes to closing out FSU wins. In the Regional, he closed out a pair of games (6-4 and 5-3) against Oregon to clinch a Super Regional birth, striking out three and allowing just one hit in two innings of work.
If the Commodores are trailing late in the game, McGee's presence should make Commodore fans plenty uneasy. While he is liable to give up walks (something the patient VU offense can exploit), he also strikes out batters at a high rate and is notoriously stingy about giving up base hits. His presence essentially ensures that Vanderbilt needs to be leading late in the game or else be facing terrible odds on the path towards victory.