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College World Series Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt

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Meet the Commodores... The favorites to win this year’s CWS

College World Series - Vanderbilt v Michigan - Game Two Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Vanderbilt

Mascot: Yacht Club Presidents | School Location: Country Music HQ, TN | Conference: SEC

2021 Record: 46-15 (19-10, 2nd East) | 2021 RPI Rank: 2

2020 Record: 13-5 (0-0, T-1st East) | 2020 RPI Rank: 58

2019 Record: 59*-12 (23-7, 1st East) | 2019 RPI Rank: 1

*2019 SEC Regular Season and Tournament Champions; 2019 National Champions


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, NE)

Game Time(s): Mon, Jun 21 @ 7:00pm

TV: ESPN

Radio: TuneIn

Live Stats: NCAA Scoreboard | Stat Broadcast


Tell me about this team

It really is amazing what Tim Corbin has done at Vanderbilt. I mean, look at all the things he has working against him:

  • Ugliest stadium in D1 Baseball
  • Ugliest uniforms in D1 Baseball
  • A guy who freaking shows up at every single game and whistles the whole time
  • A student body that’s basically these people

And yet despite all this, despite being tucked in the shadows of the stadium of a subpar football program and having to look up the ass of those always empty football bleachers where fans theoretically sit to watch a team with four winning seasons since 1975, Corbin has turned this program into the best in college baseball.

This is Corbin’s 19th season at the helm of the Vandy program, and this will be the 7th time the team finishes in the top five nationally in RPI. Corbin has six SEC titles to his credit (four regular season, two tournament), he already has two national titles to his credit (2014, 2019), and this is his fifth College World Series appearance with the Commodores in the last ten years.

But to fully understand just how impressive this program is that Corbin has built, you have to understand the history of the program. Vanderbilt baseball was a program that not only accepted mediocrity, it welcomed it with open arms. Corbin’s predecessor, Roy Mewbourne, made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in his 24 years at the helm. Mewbourne turned in just 13 winning seasons in that span, hit 30+ wins only six times, and never topped 35 wins in a season. Yet Mewbourne coached until he decided to retire after the 2002 season.

In stepped Corbin, a nine-year assistant at Clemson under Jack Leggett, and a man whose only prior head coaching experience was reviving a previously disbanded Presbyterian College program, coaching the Blue Hose at the D-II level.

So given all the above, you can understand just how impressive of a job he’s done in Nashville.

This 2021 team may not be his best (what a statement that is), but they’re still the favorites to win the College World Series. They boast the best 1-2 combo of starting pitchers in the country in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, with both players projected to be Top 10 picks in this summer’s MLB Draft. They have a seemingly endless supply of high-end bullpen arms, and their offense knocks the cover off the ball. You probably don’t hear much about their offensive prowess thanks to their unreal pitching, but the team actually has a better slash line (.297/.388/.503) than NC State (.289/371/.501).

If there’s a potential weak spot for Vandy, it’s the lack of left-handed pitching options. Only three lefty arms have pitched this year for the Commodores, and those three arms have combined to throw just 2.1 IP this postseason.

Vandy is the favorite to win the CWS for a reason. This is going to be a tough one.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Monday: RHP Jack Leiter (SO)


Key Players:

Offense

1B Dominic Keegan (JR) - .360/.438/.664, 16 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 52 R, 55 RBI, 26 BB, 65 K, 0-1 SB. Cleanup hitter and fan of awful facial hair. After doing a bunch of nothing of his first two years on campus, absolutely blew up this year turning into a well-rounded hitter and huge threat with the bat. Hard to believe this kid didn’t earn any All-SEC honors.

CF Enrique Bradfield Jr (FR) - .355/.474/.432, 8 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 58 R, 37 RBI, 44 BB, 37 K, 46-52 SB. Hauled in a boat load of honors this year: SEC Freshman-of-the-Year, 1st Team All-SEC, SEC All-Freshman Team, SEC All-Defensive Team, Freshman All-American. Lefty leadoff hitter with a very advanced approach for his age. As he adds muscle and power to his slight frame, he’s going to be a monster.

3B Jayson Gonzalez (SR) - .299/.408/.520, 9 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 34 R, 38 RBI, 29 BB, 60 K, 2-3 SB. Went 3-for-5 in the opener, including a 2-run homer. Strikeouts are his weakness. 6-for-15 with 5 RBI in his last four games.

RF Isaiah Thomas (JR) - .325/.383/.621, 12 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 9 BB, 59 K, 12-12 SB. If this kid had a bit more patience at the plate, he’d be unreal. Can crush it when he makes contact, which is often. Has hits in 19 of his last 21 games.

Pitching

RHP Jack Leiter (SO) - 10-3, 2.16 ERA, 96.0 IP, 41 H, 41 BB, 156 K. It’s either an incredibly good thing or an incredibly bad thing when, as a pitcher, you issue as many walks as you allow hits. I’ll let you guess which case that is here. It is interesting that almost 30% of the hits he allows clear the fences, but that’s livable when you’re giving up less than a hit every other inning. 1st Team All-SEC, 1st Team All-American, 1st Team Everything. The kid can pitch.

RHP Nick Maldonado (SO) - 1-2, 8 SV, 2.42 ERA, 44.2 IP, 26 H, 6 BB, 52 K. Another example of why all-conference baseball teams should have more than one reliever spot, because he deserves it yet got shut out. Late in the season has been functioning more as the stopper than the closer, but has the ability to do both.

RHP Luke Murphy (JR) - 3-1, 8 SV, 2.75 ERA, 36.0 IP, 21 H, 13 BB, 56 K. Lanky 6’5 righty who is in his first full season after missing all of 2019 due to Tommy John Surgery. If he doesn’t go pro after this year, is a candidate to move into the starting rotation next year for Vandy. Electric stuff that starts with his mid-to-upper 90’s fastball.

RHP Chris McElvain (SO) - 5-1, 2 SV, 3.92 ERA, 41.1 IP, 32 H, 22 BB, 51 K. Has pitched just three times in the last month, but appears to be the most likely arm not named Maldonado or Murphy to be called on in a crunch situation.


Quick! Fun Facts!

The all-time record between Vanderbilt and NC State sits tied at 2-2, with all four meetings taking place in the postseason. Vanderbilt topped the Wolfpack 4-2 in a 13 inning game in the 1973 District 3 Championship. The two squads then faced off three times in the 2012 Raleigh Regional, with Vandy taking the first game, 9-8, before NC State slugged their way out of the loser’s bracket by beating the Commodores twice, 6-5 and 9-7, to advance to the Gainesville Super Regional.

Relief pitcher Nick Maldonado comes from an athletic family with a lot of ACC ties. His older brother Frank played baseball at Pittsburgh, his younger brother Chris is committed to play baseball at Clemson, and his sister Alexa played softball at Notre Dame.

Vanderbilt recruits all over the place. Their roster consists of players from 16 states plus one Canadian province.


Prediction

If Kevin Kopps is the SEC’s best pitcher, then I want to know what Leiter is. It’ll be the third straight game for State facing off with the opponent’s top arm. Vandy’s offense has been hot-and-cold lately, but always resilient, and especially good at pushing across late-inning runs this postseason. It also doesn’t hurt them to have one of the best coaches in the game pulling the strings.

NC State will send Sam Highfill to the mound to go toe-to-toe with Vandy’s ace.

Outcome: One of the best teams in all of college baseball versus one of the hottest. Let’s see it!