Tuesday’s midweek matchup at Hawkins Field will feature the best college baseball team in the state of Tennessee…and the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Yes, the 23rd-ranked Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles are one of college baseball’s best stories, and they’ll try to win their 32nd game out of their last 33 when they take on Vanderbilt on Tuesday at 6:30 PM.
After having their nation-best 28-game win streak snapped on April 29, TTU swept the Belmont Bruins over the weekend to get back to their winning ways. Prior to that loss, the team hadn’t lost a single game since March 10.
The pride of Cookeville, Tennessee, the Eagles are not unfamiliar with the big stage. They made the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2009 and gave the Florida State Seminoles a scare when they beat them in their first regional game before losing their next two. Florida State would go on to Omaha.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is in quite the opposite situation. The Commodores are stuck in a five-game losing streak dating back to the final game of their three-game series against South Carolina on April 29. They just got swept by the Auburn Tigers and got dropped from the D1Baseball.com Top 25 rankings. Vanderbilt will be looking to salvage their NCAA Tournament resume and start their final eight games of the regular season with a win.
Here’s the lowdown on the big in-state showdown tonight:
Vanderbilt: Reid Schaller (second start, 15th appearance, 1-0 record, 19 IP, 4.26 ERA, 26 K)
Tennessee Tech: Devin Lancaster (fifth start, 10th appearance, 1-0 record, 28.1 IP, 5.72 ERA, 17 K)
Analysis: The redshirt sophomore Schaller has primarily been a reliever, but has recently gotten looks as a starter. This will be the second start of his young career after he earned his first career win with a three-inning, four-strikeout start against Evansville on April 17th. This will be a big rebound opportunity for Schaller after he gave up three earned runs in just one inning of work on April 29th against South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Lancaster is the fifth starter on this Golden Eagle team and last appeared in a game on April 29th, conceding one run in TTU’s streak-snapping loss. As it might be for Vanderbilt, this could very well be a bullpen-heavy game for TTU, as Lancaster has conceded a run in all but one of this appearances this season and given up an earned run in all but two of his appearances. This could be a chance for Vanderbilt to wake up some of its bats.
Win the Bullpen Battle
The Vanderbilt bullpen has not been great this year, and while Schaller should be able to provide 4-5 solid innings, Vanderbilt will need to find a way to finish it off late. The team as a whole has given up 4+ runs in each of the last five games, so they will need to find a way to limit the Golden Eagles’ production. They will also likely face a lot of the TTU bullpen as Lancaster has only gone past four innings of work once this season. Vanderbilt has the capability to score runs, but will need to stop Tennessee Tech’s hot bats.
Steal, Pillage, Shoplift
The Commodores have been particularly good at stealing bases this year. They’re the 12th-best team in the country at it, in fact. This will allow the team to turn some small ball singles into runners in scoring position, a key to winning high-scoring games. Now, driving in those runners in scoring position is a different story…
What’s in Your Head
Losing streaks can weigh on the mind, especially with such a young team like the Commodores. They had six-game losing streak about a month ago and responded with two series wins against big SEC foes. With the SEC Tournament closing in, coach Tim Corbin needs to make sure his team has its mind right. If they have a belief in themselves and can shake their losing ways, perhaps they can climb back into the regional hosting conversation.
That’s a long shot at this point.