Two teams with opposite reputations are ready to square off at Hawkins Field in the Nashville Super Regional as part of the NCAA Baseball Championship this weekend. The favorites, Vanderbilt, the No. 6 national seed, have been in this position before.
Under head coach Tim Corbin, the Commodores have built one of the better programs in the country with players like David Price and Pedro Alvarez putting on the black and gold before moving onto the big leagues. Their success started with a Super Regional berth in 2004 and grew from there. They've been ranked number one before, won conference titles and they have hosted postseason games, but since 2004, they had not qualified for a Super Regional.
As good as those teams that Vanderbilt put together, they couldn't turn it into postseason success. In 2007, it reached a low point of disappointment for the 'Dores. They were No. 1 in the country for most of the season and won both the SEC regular season and conference titles. They had Price and Casey Weathers on the mound, who would be drafted No. 1 and No. 8 overall that year, respectively. A year later, Alvarez was drafted second overall. Despite that talent though, Vanderbilt was upset by Michigan in the Regionals.
This season was supposed to be different for the Commodores and to this point, it has been. They grabbed a share of the SEC regular season crown and went to the SEC Tournament title game. They earned the number six national seed and won their Regional with a perfect 3-0 record, outscoring opponents 26-3. Now they are back in the Super Regionals and seeking the first trip to the College World Series in school history.
On the flip side is Oregon State. Located in remote Corvallis, the Beavers have to deal with the cold and rain of the Pacific Northwest. They didn't have much of a history and were afterthoughts on the national stage. Then Pat Casey came around and started building a top program.
By 2005, Oregon St. were Pac-10 champions and went to their first College World Series since 1952. They went 0-2 in Omaha and were eliminated, dismissed by some as out of their depth. They didn't recruit a lot of guys that all the big schools were after, but they proved they weren't some fluke by making it back to Omaha the next year and winning the national title.
The overachieving Beavers had one national title and the next year, despite being one of the last couple teams to get into the postseason, won a second national title. They became the first team to win back-to-back national titles in the Super Regional era.
So while the Commodores and Beavers may be similar in that they are relative newcomers to the college baseball elite, they are very dissimilar in their postseason success. Vanderbilt are the underachievers still looking for their first trip to Omaha, while Oregon St. has two national titles to their name.
One again, Vanderbilt takes the role of favorite into this weekend's Super Regional. They led the country with 12 players selected in the MLB Draft. Jason Esposito, with his .362 batting average and 55 RBI, and Aaron Westlake, who hit .249 with 14 homers, lead a powerful offense. Having a first-round pick like Sonny Gray anchoring the rotation doesn't hurt either.
The Beavers just don't have what it takes to match the Commodores player for player. Sam Gaviglio can match Gray on Friday, but the rest of the pitching isn't up with the Vanderbilt pitching. Andrew Susac is one of the better catchers in the country, but he's battled injuries this season and there isn't much power in the offense. What the Beavers do have is Casey, one of the top coaches in the country who has proven to be as good as anyone in getting his players up to play in the postseason.
Friday, 8 pm ET (ESPNU): Sonny Gray (11-3, 2.01 ERA) vs. Sam Gaviglio (12-2, 1.87 ERA)- This might be the elite pitching match-up of the weekend. Gray is a smaller guy, but he still pumps in a good fastball and backs it up with a good curveball, while Gaviglio has really developed into a complete pitcher this year to get the results matching the hype he entered Oregon St. with.
Saturday, 9 pm ET (ESPN2): Garvin Grayson (13-1, 2.37 ERA) vs. James Nygren (8-3, 3.47 ERA)- This should be Josh Osich's start for Oregon St., but he's out with a shoulder injury so they'll have to go with Nygren. That gives the Dores a distinct advantage with Grayson on the mound, who has been sensational this season.
Sunday, TBD (ESPN/ESPN2): Taylor Hill (5-1, 2.84 ERA) vs. Ben Wetzler (6-3, 4.66 ERA)- With Nygren having to move up to Saturday in Osich's absence, the Beavers are left with a less than desirable situation where they must start Wetzler. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt gets to go with an experience and strong Hill, who should give the Commodores a huge advantage if this series goes to a third game.
What To Watch For
Game 1 will tell the story of this series. It's almost impossible to imagine the Beavers losing the opener and getting the series so they will need a great start from Gaviglio on Friday. If they can get that win then the Commodores will be facing another disappointing season and the Beavers might be able to jump on them for win number two to advance to Omaha.