Last updated on June 23rd, 2015 at 02:52 pm
Vanderbilt Baseball returns to the Super Regional round for the third straight season, and look for Omaha trip #three as they travel to take on #six Illinois in a best-of-three series starting Saturday night. Game one can be seen at 7 pm on ESPNU with ‘game 2’ at 8 pm Sunday, also on ESPNU. Game three, if necessary, will be Monday at a time to be determined, either on espn2 or ESPN.
Both Vanderbilt and Illinois rolled through their regionals, each going 3-0. Illinois opened with a 10-3 win over Ohio. David Kerian had a homer and three RBI, while Ryne Roper drove in a pair to support Kevin Duchene who went the distance on the mound. Illinois advanced to the regional final with a 3-0 win over Notre Dame in a game that got pushed back to Sunday due to incessant rain in the area on Saturday. Drasen Johnson tossed another complete game in the regional for Illinois with the five-hit shutout. Illinois finished the job with an 8-4 win over Wright State on Monday behind another Kerian home run.
Vanderbilt was even more impressive in winning their bracket. Carson Fulmer bounced back from his poor outing in the SEC Tournament pitching seven strong innings with 11 strikeouts as Vandy beat Lipscomb 9-1, with Jeren Kendall going deep. Saturday was beset with rain as Vandy did not begin against Indiana until late—in more ways than one. In a 3-0 hole, Vanderbilt scored four in the third to take the lead. But Dansby Swanson saved the best for last, crushing a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth to give the Commodores the 6-4 win, advancing them to the regional final. After being rained out Sunday, Vanderbilt struck early and often on Monday in destroying Radford 21-0. Twenty runs in the first five innings; 10 in the fifth alone; three home runs; six RBI from Zander Wiel—and Vandy had made their statement.
Knowing the Illinois result, and that it meant going on the road for the Supers, Coach Tim Corbin placed Fulmer in left field in the seventh—but only as a show so he could pull all his stars out of the game at once, thrilling the crowd at Hawkins Field and allowing players and fans alike to say a Nashville goodbye to the greatest collection of baseball players in Vanderbilt history, a group that has brought one national championship and is a favorite to repeat. It was a classy and unforgettable gesture by Corbin.
Vanderbilt travels to Champaign with a 45-19 record. Illinois is an impressive 50-8-1 as they participate in their first Super Regional. These schools last met in the 2013 Nashville Regional with Vandy winning. David Kerian is the crusher, .376 with 16 HR and 52 RBI, leading the team in all three categories. Illinois hit .295 with 54 HR as a team this season with eight players driving in 30 or more runs. On the mound, the star is closer Tyler Jay. The all-American went 5-1, with a 0.60 ERA, 14 saves, with 30 hits and four runs allowed in 60 innings—and no home runs. Duchene and Johnson lead a staff with a 2.42 team ERA.
Vanderbilt has more experience and more depth, but this is a formidable foe, the best team the Big Ten has had in years. It will be a raucous environment, but Vanderbilt is used to this stage. Vandy is the favorite and should advance, even on the road, but it will be a fight.