NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Just a season ago the Vanderbilt Commodores were widely regarded as one of the premier teams to beat along with Cal State Fullerton, but after facing a two-game sweep at the hands of Louisville in Super Regional play, the Commodores’ bid for a trip to Omaha was erased (as was that of the Titans, who were upset by eventual national champion UCLA in the Fullerton Super Regional). Fast-forward a year and the Commodores have advanced to their 13th NCAA Tournament and fifth Super Regional (their fourth in five years) after starting a season marked with questions due to key departures, wherein they have displayed throughout the season both at the plate and on the mound why they are one of just two SEC teams left in the tournament.
Coming into regional play, the Commodores turned in some suspect performances following their weekend series win at Florida, as they proceeded to drop their series against South Carolina and dropped a pair of games against Louisiana State and Mississippi in the SEC Tournament – an all too costly slide that may have cost them a shot at becoming a national seed. However, looking to regain full composure and tuck away the previous two weeks’ struggles, the Commodores entered as hosts of their own regional and commenced the tournament on quite the high note.
Vanderbilt set the tone early in Friday’s regional opener against Xavier, as staff ace Tyler Beede turned in arguably one of his more dominant outings this season, eight scoreless innings of four-hit ball and an impressive 14 punch-outs. The Commodores followed with yet another strong performance on Saturday against an Oregon team that upended Clemson 18-1 the previous evening, as Carson Fulmer held the Ducks to two runs over eight innings of work. In Sunday’s regional final, the Commodores had some catching up to do late in the game, grabbing the walkoff 3-2 victory on a Ro Coleman single to left.
While the Commodores swept through their regional in three games, Stanford would play through five to get past Indiana and out of the Bloomington Regional. The Cardinal opened regional play with an 8-1 victory against Indiana State behind Cal Quantrill’s complete-game gem, as the Stanford starter kept the Sycamores off balance all afternoon. Stanford found a roadblock against Indiana’s Joey DeNato, dropping Saturday’s contest 4-2, but rebounded with a 12-4 victory over Youngstown State. Facing elimination Sunday evening, the Cardinal scored six late runs in a 10-7 triumph over the Hoosiers, forcing a Monday final that resulted in a 5-4 walkoff victory for Stanford, coming on a two-run blast off the bat of Tommy Edman.
Both schools have as their primary objective to turn in a successful, winning performance in Super Regional play, and for good reason, as Vanderbilt will look to avenge last year’s Super Regional defeat, while Stanford will make an attempt at their first trip to Omaha since 2008. In chronicling the journey that each team has experienced up to this point in the NCAA Tournament, we should have a feel of what to expect from each team, which is detailed in the below brief assessments of what both teams bring to the table at this point in the postseason.
NCAA Super Regional Preview – Nashville
The name of the game for Vanderbilt this season has been their stellar pitching staff, arguably one of the stronger core of arms in the country. At the helm of the rotation is Tyler Beede, who after an inconsistent season that saw the talented right-hander fail to find a legitimate groove at times, has been able to right the ship as of late and bounce back into the effective, three-pitch staff ace that the Commodores have relied on heavily over the past three seasons. Behind Beede is former closer Carson Fulmer, who has absolutely flourished in the rotation since moving from the bullpen in late-April, winning each of his six starts, including an impressive eight-inning effort against Oregon in regional play. Fulmer works a great fastball-slider combo, along with a change that serves as an equalizer and in short, does all the right things right. Walker Buehler has been strong in the rotation as well, pacing the staff with 11 wins and turning in a complete-game performance to lock down the regional final victory on Monday. Tyler Ferguson brings an aggressive approach to the mound and has started 14 games this season, despite not appearing in regional play. Adam Ravenelle and TJ Pecoraro were stout in relief, while former-starter Jared Miller and Brian Miller can match up with anyone and pound the zone with strikes out of the bullpen.
On offense, the Commodores are solid from top to bottom. Up the middle, Dansby Swanson and Vince Conde know how to get on base and consistently turn in well-disciplined at-bats, as does much of the lineup – Swanson paces the club in runs (51), hits (80), stolen bases (17), doubles (24), and a batting slash of .335/.412/.490. As the premier bat on offense, Swanson leads by example and is the definitive model of what defines this offense, that of having the ability to succeed in all facets on the game, whether it be at the plate, in the field, along the base paths, and even in the dugout. Freshman Bryan Reynolds has served as one of the leaders on offense this season and plays a seasoned game for a first-year player. Xavier Turner and John Norwood bring a balanced flair to the lineup, while Zander Wiel displays solid pop and can work a count well. The biggest take away with this offense? They are all well-rounded and will find a way to score.
Stanford is rather young on the mound, but solid nonetheless, as freshman staff ace Cal Quantrill has taken over for Mark Appel rather nicely in leading the rotation towards success this season. Quantrill has a strong arm and is a true workhorse, leading the way with 103.2 innings of work over 16 starts, while fanning 93 and holding batters to a .220 average. The Cardinal will need another outing out of Quantrill like his complete-game performance in the regional opener against Indiana State, as the Commodores offense has weapons up and down the lineup and will attack early and often. Brett Hanewich has started 14 contests this year and is a reliable option behind Quantrill, as both freshmen have led this rotation all season long. Hanewich is a key arm and will need to pitch to the same effect as his seven strong frames against Youngstown State on Saturday. John Hochstatter paces the staff with 10 victories and works in well, but in terms of stuff, Logan James has more upside, despite a pair of mediocre starts in regional play. Senior AJ Vanegas anchors the bullpen and brings a powerful arm, giving the Cardinal both a long-reliever and closer in one package.
At the plate, Stanford employs an athletic, yet aggressively physical approach and they certainly know how to make pitchers pay when fall behind in the count. The west coast is not often known for their aggressive play, but Stanford has set the tone and adapted to the difficulty of their nonconference schedule this season, playing the likes of Rice, Texas, Vanderbilt (a sweep by the Commodores), and Arizona State, and developing a physical demeanor. Alex Blandino, one of the better hitters in the country, has led the way on offense, as he brings patience and a powerful bat (pacing the team with 12 long balls and 42 RBI). Danny Diekroeger is another seasoned bat who brings a balanced approach, while both Austin Slater and Zach Hoffpauir are physical players who know how to hit and display solid pop, wherein they currently lead the team in hitting. Like Vanderbilt, Stanford knows how to stick it to you on offense and as such, this Cardinal team should definitely give the Commodores a challenge this weekend.
Nashville Super Regional Schedule
Game 1: 1:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 2: 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 3: 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)