The Vanderbilt Commodores’ impressive record of NCAA baseball appearances continued Monday, with the announcement that the school would host a regional for the fourth straight year. Teams from the Midwest and West Coast are joining SEC representative Vanderbilt in the tournament that gets underway Friday. The Commodores, despite being bounced out of the SEC tournament by a 10-run margin last week, is still seeded number one in the Nashville region with a 43-17 record, the bulk of those regular season losses in SEC league play. They face fourth seeded Xavier (30-28) in the night game Friday at Hawkins field, which begins at 7 p.m. UC-Santa Barbara (37-18) is the second seeded team.
They face number three seed Washington (32-21) in the day game Friday at 2 p.m. The ultimate winner of the Nashville regional then faces off against the Louisville Region champion in a best-of-three series that gets underway next weekend. The winner of that field will get a berth in the College World Series in Omaha. This marks 11 straight NCAA appearances for the Commodores, and 15 in the school’s history. Current head coach Tim Corbin has led them to 12 of them, and a title two seasons ago.
Last year they were defeated in the championship series by Virginia. The SEC’s high caliber as a baseball conference was evident in the choice of seven teams to host regionals. Between the SEC and ACC, 13 of the teams from either conference are hosting regionals out of 16. The additional SEC teams chosen were Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Virginia, the defending World Series champion, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State were the ACC host selections. Big 12 teams Texas Christian and Texas Tech, and Louisiana-Lafayette from the Sun Belt Conference completed the field. Corbin tried to put the Commodores’ early elimination from the SEC Tournament in perspective, telling the Associated Press that the league’s tough regular season and even tougher tournament slate could make a team underestimate its prowess. “You’ve got to take a deep breath when you get out of this conference,” Corbin said. “It can make you feel small about who you are when, in all actuality, you’ve got a pretty good team. You may not think it at the time because of the scoreboard. We’ll get out of our head really quick and we’ll get to work on what we’ve got to get better at for the games ahead,” outfielder Brian Reynolds added. “We’ll be all right.”
Pitching problems plagued Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament, with both normally reliable starters and previously consistent relievers encountering troubles. The Commodores were also outscored 17-3 in early innings during their losses. They also had some defensive troubles, particularly in left field. Corbin was still unsure as to who would start there for the regional opener. But he’s fully aware that his team must improve in pretty much every area from last week if they hope to have another long stint in the NCAA’s.
Area schools Austin Peay and Belmont both advanced into the title round during the OVC tournament, but neither was able to reach the championship game. That honor was claimed by Southeast Missouri, who had to defeat Jacksonville State twice to win the title. Garrett Gandolfo doubled home the go ahead run in the sixth inning and Southeast Missouri put things out of reach with a four run seventh, winning the second game 14-8 and claiming their first OVC championship in 14 years. Southeast Missouri is now 39-19. That is also a school record for wins in a season. After posting an earlier 10-7 victory, Southeast Missouri once again got out front early with a four run outburst in the bottom of the first inning. Jacksonville State, which finished 34-24, scored seven runs over the next two innings to go back in front,then the teams were tied at eight in the sixth before Southeast Missouri clinched the game and the championship.
The winners got a strong relief effort from Joey Lucchesi, already named OVC Pitcher of the Year. He was inserted in the seventh inning and allowed only one hit over the final three innings. Lucchesi allowed only eight hits and no runs over 12 total innings, with seven strikeouts, one win and a save in the deciding game. That performance earned him Tournament MVP honors. Gandolfo had three hits and knocked in three runs. Hunter Leeper also had three runs batted in, and both Gandolfo and Leeper were named to the All-Tournament team. Jared Carkuff and Garrett Copeland were Austin Peay’s representatives, while Chas Hadden and Dylan King were chosen from Belmont. Southeast Missouri will face Mississippi State Friday in the Starkville Regional.