Vanderbilt's rally to the postseason reached a fruitful conclusion on Monday, as the Commodores qualified for their seventh straight NCAA Tournament. Vandy earned the #2 slot in the Raleigh Regional, where they'll face off with UNC-Wilmington, Sacred Heart, and top seed North Carolina State.
That seed was the payoff of one of the most remarkable stretches of Vanderbilt baseball in team history. The Commodores looked dead to rights just a month earlier, when a series loss to Alabama (21-34) essentially meant that the team had to play lights out ball through the rest of their regular season. However, with showdowns against Kentucky (then a top-five team), LSU (ditto), and Ole Miss (a top 25 team) painted a grim scenario. Vandy had been handled by highly ranked teams like Stanford, Oregon, and Florida earlier in the season. Could they do enough to turn things around?
The answer to that question was a resounding yes. Vanderbilt went 16-4 over their final 20 games and tallied 11 wins over ranked teams in that span. That brought the young squad from 17-22 to 33-26 and made them eligible for the NCAA Tournament. With mounds of momentum behind them, the Diamond 'Dores are the team that no one in the country wants to face in a double-elimination series.
Vanderbilt will open their tournament with a matchup against UNC-Wilmington on Friday. If they can escape Raleigh and advance to the Super Regionals, they'll face whoever wins the Gainesville Regional. That pod includes national #1 seed Florida, who Vandy recently took two games from in the SEC Tournament. And, since we'll take any excuse we can to play this video, here we go:
It was a big Monday for Tim Corbin's team. The Commodores also reentered the national rankings for the first time since the third week of the regular season. Vandy clocked in at 22nd in the country in BaseballAmerica's rankings.
Vanderbilt has another tough task ahead of them, but they proved over the past month that they are up to the challenge. The 'Dores are a young team that has adjusted to the college game so quickly that it was destroyed the grading curve for future Vandy squads. Now, they'll have to prove that they can apply that quick learning to college baseball's biggest stage. The team got a favorable draw and has a navigable path to a Super Regional showdown with Florida. If they can keep their momentum moving forward, a return trip to Omaha is within their grasp.
*Sorry for the lateness of these baseball posts. Jay and I had various commitments this weekend that kept us from watching the Vandy games from anywhere but some cell phone screens. More importantly, KingJamesIV was out getting married this Saturday, putting us in line for a KingJamesV sometimes in the near future. Congratulations are in order for our fearless leader. I'd like to think that Anthony Gomez's steal of home was really just a wedding tribute to AoG.