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College : : Story
College Weekend Preview
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012

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Reaching the College World Series for the first time in program history last season was like a dream come true for Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. Just reaching the NCAA postseason this spring would be such a sigh of relief. 

It would be an understatement to say Corbin and the Commodores have gone through a lot this season. The Commodores have had such a see-saw season on the diamond. But off the field, Corbin also has been dealing with other emotional challenges.

While trying to guide the Commodores back to the postseason despite a horrific start, Corbin also is playing a key part in his fatherly role for his daughter, 27-year-old Molly, who remains in a Nashville hospital following serious complications from a surgery aimed at preventing breast cancer.

Molly continues to slowly but surely make progress, and Corbin is hopeful she’ll soon make a full recovery. But that hasn’t kept him from thinking about it, as in all the time. After splitting the first two games of the LSU series last weekend, Corbin received a phone call Sunday morning at 4 a.m., from his wife, Maggie. It wasn’t good.

“She’s a pretty strong woman and she called me saying things weren’t good with Molly,” Corbin said. “I asked her if she needed me there … there was silence. At that point, I just knew I had to get back to Nashville, so I boarded a flight back home and listened to the game in the hospital next to my daughter.”

That game ended with the Commodores earning a 5-4 triumph in 10 innings. It signified a complete turnaround for this squad, who had taken a series from LSU and suddenly had won three-straight SEC series against the Tigers and other opponents such as Kentucky and Tennessee.

The series win over LSU also gave Corbin a reason to smile.

“Sometimes these things are tough from a mind standpoint. I know Tony Kemp and a few other guys have told me they know there are a lot of things on my mind. The players notice,” he said. “Sometimes your mind kind of wanders off, but it really helps me to be out there practicing and playing with this team.”

On the baseball diamond, it has been impressive to see how Corbin has kept this team together through thick and thin. The Commodores, despite losing some dynamic personalities in the offseason, still entered the season expected to compete for another trip to the College World Series.

Instead, the ‘Dores found themselves in a gaping hole after the first four weeks of the season, losing three of their four series to start the year to teams such as Stanford, Oregon and San Diego, and entering Southeastern Conference play with a 7-10 record.

“The first part of the season, we got hit in the chest pretty good. I wouldn’t say we were young, but we were unproven and had lost a lot of personalities from last year’s Omaha team,” he said. “Having those personalities binds you and really helps you compete at a high level. We had a tough time regaining confidence after the start we had. 

In addition to some offensive struggles the Commodores had earlier in the season, the most surprising downfall of this club in the early going was the pitching staff. Prized freshman right-handed pitcher Tyler Beede had a tough time transitioning to Division I Baseball, while even premier arms like Kevin Ziomek had trouble finding their way.

“The leaders on this team, the older guys in general, let us all know that we had the talent to compete at a high level,” Beede said. “We showed signs of doing so against South Carolina. After that series, we kind of thought we had it in us. 

The Commodores escaped that series and proceeded to split a pair of series against Mississippi State and Auburn. The ‘Dores then hit the road to face struggling Alabama, dropping that series and putting the team in a situation where reaching the NCAA postseason seemed like a pipe dream with a 7-11 league record, 18-22 overall mark.

“I think that Alabama series was a growing moment for this team,” Corbin said. “We were able to gain some momentum after that and somehow found a way to make some progressions with a tough hill to climb. 

Some things have changed since the Alabama series. Talented left-handed pitcher Sam Selman, who was excelling as a midweek starter, gravitated to the starting rotation. Meanwhile, Beede finally found his groove and showed signs of being the dominant pitcher everyone expected from the start. The offense also started clicking.

The Commodores are 8-3 since the Alabama series and now are in position to reach the NCAA postseason if they can take the Ole Miss series this weekend and rattle off a couple of wins in next week’s SEC tournament.

“It sure was a struggle to get back to where we are now. But honestly, it has been a pleasure and a lot of fun being with this team,” Corbin said. “There are a lot of things this team has had to bear throughout the season that have made them much stronger.

“We’ve always been a program that is playing better at the end of the year. We didn’t ever think we’d be out of the postseason mix. We’re just trying to win the next game on our schedule and go from there.”

From a horrendous start that would’ve doomed most teams, to dealing with the death of a future teammate and star in-state recruit, to now, having Corbin be emotionally invested in a still-tense situation with daughter Molly, these Commodores already have shown they can experience success through even the most adverse conditions.

No matter the finish, this team will always be special to Corbin.

WHO’S HOT

Kent State (34-17) -- Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised Scott Stricklin’s club is playing a very good brand of baseball as the postseason nears. The Flashes have won 10-straight contests and already have clinched the MAC regular season title. Keep an eye on Kent as the postseason nears.

North Carolina (39-13) -- The Tar Heels, strange as it sounds, have quietly put together a very good campaign this spring. The Heels have won 10-straight contests and should experience more success this weekend with Virginia Tech at home. UNC recently got a boost with the return of third baseman Colin Moran. 

Oregon (38-14) -- There might not be a college baseball coach who has done a more impressive job than coach George Horton. Expected to finish in the middle of the Pac-12 this spring, the Ducks lead the conference with two series remaining. UO is 9-1 in its last 10 games and has captured five-straight contests. 

UCLA (36-13) -- Speaking of sizzling hot, how about those Bruins? John Savage’s club is playing an excellent brand of baseball at exactly the right time. The Bruins are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have won five-straight contests entering this weekend’s road series against California.

Texas Christian (33-16) -- The Horned Frogs had major issues being inconsistent earlier in the season, but have really turned on the jets as they’ve gotten healthier. TCU is coming off a series win over New Mexico and has won nine of its last 10 games. Additionally, the Frogs are winners of five-straight games entering this weekend’s home series against San Diego State.
 

WHO’S NOT

New Mexico State (31-21) -- The Aggies appeared to be in great shape for an NCAA postseason appearance just a couple of weeks ago. However, they’ve really taken a step back the past two weeks, losing nine of their last 11. NMSU must finish the regular season on a high note, and likely now needs to win the WAC tournament. 

Gonzaga (29-20) -- Just like NMSU, the Bulldogs are another team that were in good shape a few weeks ago. However, they now need something special to happen to reach the NCAA postseason. The Bulldogs have dropped seven of their last 10 games and are losers of three-straight contests. 

Tennessee (24-28) -- In a season that began with much promise, the Volunteers are right back where they were last season to end this campaign. They’re losers of eight of their last 10 games and have dropped four-straight contests. Perhaps coach Dave Serrano can find a way to work his magic next season.

Southern California (22-25) -- The Trojans began the season with a lot of potential, but they’ve progressively gotten worse as the season has continued. USC has dropped eight of its last 10 games and is losers of eight-straight contests. The Trojans don’t appear to be in shape to turn things around anytime soon.

Charlotte (20-30) -- Here’s one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Forty Niners usually are very good in the Atlantic 10, but this season has been an exception. The Niners have dropped seven of their last 10 contests and have dropped seven-straight games. Tough season for coach Loren Hibbs and company. 


PITCHING MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Texas A&M RHP Michael Wacha vs. Oklahoma State LHP Andrew Heaney -- This is absolutely a classic case of saving the best for last. Wacha and Heaney both will be high draft picks in the first round of the upcoming MLB draft. Wacha can touch 95 with his fastball, while Heaney consistently is 91-93 with his fastball. Wacha is 8-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 92 1/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 95 and walked 16, while teams are hitting him at a .226 clip. Meanwhile, Heaney has taken a huge step forward and has a 1.59 ERA in 102 innings. He has struck out 120 and walked 19, while teams are hitting him at a .182 clip.

LSU RHP Kevin Gausman vs. South Carolina LHP Michael Roth -- There are several outstanding pitching matchups to follow this weekend, but this one is near the top. Gausman has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft with a fastball that sometimes can touch as high as 97 mph. Meanwhile, Roth tops out at 89, but has a nasty arsenal of pitches. Gausman is 8-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 91 2/3 innings. He has struck out 112 and walked 21, while teams are hitting him at a .235 clip. Meanwhile, Roth is 5-0 with a 2.60 ERA in 86 2/3 innings. He has struck out 66 and walked 27, while teams are hitting him at a .194 clip.

Washington RHP Aaron West vs. Arizona State RHP Brady Rodgers -- The Huskies desperately need a series win over the Sun Devils to help their NCAA postseason case, and West hopes to begin the weekend on a positive note. The talented right-hander can get up to 94 with his fastball and has electric stuff, while Rodgers is a very consistent low 90s type of pitcher with excellent command. West is 7-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 85 innings. He has struck out 55 and walked 13, while teams are hitting him at a .231 clip. Meanwhile, Rodgers is 9-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 99 2/3 innings. He has struck out 74 and walked 14, while teams are hitting him at a .224 clip.

Indiana State RHP Dakota Bacus vs. Missouri State RHP Nick Petree -- With the Missouri Valley regular season title on the line, two of the nation’s premier arms will do battle this weekend. Sycamores starting pitcher Dakota Bacus has been extremely consistent this season and has good stuff, while Petree is the better prospect, sometimes sitting 87-90 with a strong four-pitch mix. Petree has thrown 72 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. Bakus is 6-3 with a 2.09 ERA in 99 innings. He has struck out 81 and walked 25, while teams are hitting him at a .221 clip. Meanwhile, Petree is 10-2 with a 0.58 ERA in 93 1/3 innings. He has struck out 97 and walked 29, while teams are hitting him at a .181 clip.

Georgia Tech RHP Buck Farmer vs. Miami LHP Eric Erickson -- This series is very important for both the Yellow Jackets and Hurricanes. Farmer has big-time stuff with a fastball in the low to mid 90s. He’ll be a high draft pick in June, while Erickson hopes to get drafted somewhere after returning strong from an injury that sidelined him last season. Farmer is 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 87 2/3 innings. He has struck out 96 and walked 26, while teams are hitting him at a .259 clip. Meanwhile, Erickson is 8-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 82 innings. He has struck out 61 and walked 11, while teams are hitting him at a .257 clip entering the weekend.
 

SERIES TO WATCH

No. 7 Louisiana State at No. 2 South Carolina -- It doesn’t get much more important than this series between two of the SEC’s elite programs. The Tigers and Gamecocks are both eyeing a national seed, and this series could determine which one earns a top-eight national seed in a couple of weeks. As if that wasn’t strong enough motivation, both teams are still in the hunt for the SEC regular season title. PG PICK: South Carolina

No. 3 Florida at No. 45 Auburn -- The Gators are in very good shape for a national seed at this point, but AU is in a completely different situation. The Tigers are on the outside looking in for a spot in the NCAA postseason and really need a home series win over UF this weekend to help their case. PG PICK: Florida

No. 14 North Carolina State at No. 1 Florida State -- The Seminoles are in pretty good shape for a national seed, but could N.C. State also get in the mix? The Wolfpack has quietly put together an outstanding resume and should win the series opener with stud freshman left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon leading the way. The rest of the series is up for grabs, as FSU hopes to leave no doubt. PG PICK: Florida State. 

No. 5 Rice at No. 17 Central Florida -- The Owls and Knights square off this weekend for the Conference USA regular season title. Rice still has an outside shot to earn a national seed in two weeks, while the Knights hope to get back into the hosting mix with a home series win over the Owls. It doesn’t get better than this in Conference USA. PG PICK: Rice

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 32 Texas -- The Bears took a step back last weekend with a poor trip to Oklahoma, but would solidify a national seed this weekend with a series win over the Longhorns. Meanwhile, the ‘Horns are still clearly in the NCAA postseason, but they could be playing with some fire if they somehow got swept by the Bears this weekend. This series is very important for both clubs. PG PICK: Baylor 

 No. 9 Texas A&M at No. 39 Oklahoma State -- This series is a big one for both squads. A&M still has an outside shot of earning a national seed, and could take a big step forward by sweeping this road series. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are behind rival Oklahoma in the pecking order now, and must capture an impressive marquee series win. Both teams need to impress this weekend. PG PICK: Texas A&M

No. 25 Miami at No. 38 Georgia Tech -- The Hurricanes clearly are in the postseason field, but hope to somehow find a way to get back into the hosting mix with a strong showing this weekend combined with an outstanding performance in the ACC tournament. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets are on the good side of the bubble now, but desperately need a series win over the ‘Canes after dropping a midweek bout to Mercer on Tuesday. PG PICK: Georgia Tech

No. 10 Kentucky at No. 27 Mississippi State -- It’s a big weekend for the Wildcats. They enter the series against State a half-game ahead of South Carolina in the SEC standings. Meaning, should the Wildcats win two of three from the Bulldogs this weekend, there’s a good chance they’d be the outright conference champions. While UK hopes to solidify a national seed, the Bulldogs hope to respond from a bad midweek loss to Central Arkansas. PG PICK: Kentucky

No. 22 Mississippi at No. 44 Vanderbilt -- What an amazing turnaround the Commodores have made since the Alabama series a few weeks ago. Vandy is just one game above .500 overall, and desperately needs to take this series from Rebels to feel good about its chances entering the SEC tournament. Meanwhile, the Rebels have a chance to get back into the hosting mix with a strong showing this weekend and in the conference tournament next week. PG PICK: Vanderbilt

No. 42 Missouri State at No. 34 Indiana State -- What an outstanding weekend series this should be between a pair of clubs that pitch extremely well. The Bears and Sycamores both are in good shape to reach the NCAA postseason, but one of the two could seemingly punch their ticket with a strong showing this weekend. Don’t look for a lot of runs in this important three-game set. PG PICK: Indiana State



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