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Vanderbilt goes to Knoxville needing a series win in the worst way

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Vanderbilt is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

2005.

That was the last time that the NCAA Baseball Tournament was played without Vanderbilt in it. That was Tim Corbin’s third year, and it was a year after Corbin guided the Commodores to the tournament for the first time since 1980. And it was David Price’s freshman year in college. Yeah, it’s been a while.

With a 25-23 overall record and an 11-13 record in SEC play, though, that streak is in jeopardy as the Commodores go to Knoxville tonight to open a three-game series against the hated Vols. Tonight’s first pitch is at 5:30 PM CT (blame the time difference on the early start) with Drake Fellows (4-4, 3.82) on the mound for Vanderbilt. Saturday’s game will start at 5:00 PM, with Patrick Raby (3-5, 3.48) on the hill. Mason Hickman (7-2, 4.13) is the scheduled starter for Sunday’s finale, which will start at 11:00 AM. All three games will be televised on the SEC Network+.

Speaking of 2005, that’s also the last time Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament or finished with a winning record in the SEC. The latter isn’t happening this year — the Vols would need sweeps both this weekend and next at Missouri to make it happen -- and the former isn’t terribly likely, but the Vols can feel better now under first-year coach Tony Vitello.

Tennessee has freshman Sean Hunley (6-2, 2.76) set to go on Saturday followed by Will Neely (4-1, 3.56) on Sunday, though the Vols apparently don’t know who their Friday starter is going to be. Last Friday it was Will Heflin (4-2, 5.30), who’s started four games this season and lasted just 2.1 innings last time out. Sophomore Garrett Stallings (4-5, 4.69) apparently got demoted to the bullpen after giving up eight or more runs in three consecutive starts. Freshman lefty Garrett Crochet (5-5, 5.84) started six games earlier in the season but has mostly seen bullpen duty in SEC play.

The Vols’ bullpen is pretty thin. Heflin, Stallings, and Crochet, along with sophomore Zach Linginfelter, are about it. Freshman Chase Wallace — the younger brother of Vanderbilt backup QB Deuce Wallace — has a solid 2.45 ERA in spite of more walks (19) than strikeouts (14.)

Offensively, Tennessee has a good bat in sophomore SS Andre Lipcius (.304/.384/.436), a couple of sparkplugs at the top of the lineup in 2B Jay Charleston (.281/.360/.365, 19 SB) and RF Justin Ammons (.289/.386/.405), and a couple of guys with some pop who strike out a lot — Benito Santiago (.279/.348/.475) and Nico Mascia (.277/.447/.489), but overall this isn’t really a good hitting team, as the Vols bat .258 as a team and have few home run threats.

On paper, this matchup should favor Vanderbilt — but if games were played on paper, our record would be a lot better than it actually is.