Neither Vanderbilt nor Virginia wound up with national seeds in the 2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament. That didn't matter, as last year's College World Series finalists have combined to go 16-1 since then to set up a championship rematch that begins Monday night.
Virginia dispatched SEC Tournament winners Florida in a de facto three-game series to return to baseball's biggest stage this weekend. The Cavaliers needed a pair of one-run wins to end the Gators' season and prevent an all SEC tournament finale. Vanderbilt didn't have as much trouble; they survived a pair of skinny jean-tight games against Cal State Fullerton (4-3) and TCU (1-0) before running past the Horned Frogs in a Friday rematch 7-1 to continue their quest to defend the 2014 title.
The Commodores will need the man who propelled them to a national championship in 2014, Dansby Swanson, to come alive against the Hoos. Swanson has just one hit in three College World Series games so far after being the tournament's Most Outstanding Player last year. Though he's made solid contact at the plate, he's still looking for the kind of breakout performance that made him the #1 overall pick this summer.
Vanderbilt is currently a -250 favorite to win tonight's game thanks to the presence of Carson Fulmer on the mound. Fulmer, the 2015 SEC Pitcher of the Year, led the conference in wins, strikeouts, and ERA this season. He'll square off against Connor Jones, a sophomore who stepped into the void that Nathan Kirby left behind when an injury cost him two months of mound time this season. Jones is certainly capable of shutting the Commodores down, but he doesn't have the makeup that Fulmer, the #8 overall pick in this year's MLB Draft, will bring to TD Ameritrade Stadium this evening.
Tonight's game starts at 7pm CST and will be broadcast on ESPN. You can listen along to the dulcet tones of Joe Fisher on 95.9 FM in Nashville and via VUCommodores.com online. And, as always, you can join us in the comments to discuss just how much we still dislike Mike Papi and his (possibly apocryphally) ejected-from-the-grounds father.
Vanderbilt: Carson Fulmer (13-2, 1.95 ERA, 159 Ks in 120 innings)
Virginia: Connor Jones (7-2, 3.05 ERA, 107 Ks in 109.1 innings)