After Vanderbilt’s impressive 2-1 series win over in-state rival Tennessee and a midweek victory over Austin Peay, Vanderbilt baseball head coach Tim Corbin started yesterday’s press conference by praising some members of the squad. First, he noted the role that Enrique Bradfield has played for the team thus far.
“When you’re finding a player [to] come into your program, you’re looking for someone that gives it either something that you want, [are] missing or need to have, and I think he [Bradfield] filled [all] three of those buckets,” Corbin said.
As a true freshman, Bradfield leads the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in stolen bases with 26 successful steals on 28 attempts. On top of that, he’s scored the most runs on the team (33), all while maintaining a stellar batting average (.336 on 122 at-bats). Bradfield, 19, has been a model of consistency and excellence, starting all 35 games this year and making just one fielding error.
“Leadoff hitting is part of his skillset, and he’s still learning,” Corbin said. “He’s a kid that is going to gain strength, he’s going to gain additional skills in areas that he needs to, but he certainly filled those three buckets.”
Bradfield has clearly earned respect from his coaches. But from hearing junior Dominic Keegan sing his praise, it seems as if he has gained the appreciation and admiration of his teammates, too.
“I think when Enrique gets on base, it kind of turns the inning. He gets into the heads of pitchers, he’s always a threat to steal and it puts hitters behind him in a good position to succeed because we usually get a good count [with] a couple pitch outs,” Keegan said. “He’s a difficult player to play against—he’s someone you want on your team.”
Corbin also spoke about star sophomore pitcher Jack Leiter. He mentioned the clear talent that Leiter had in high school, but also recognized the passion and proficiency that the pitcher has for the game.
“In today’s amateur baseball world, you typically have kids that are throwers that are gifted with arm strength [or] that are gifted with a high-spin breaking ball or what have you. He [Leiter] was armed with the ability to know how to pitch,” Corbin said. “There’s a passion for pitching that exists in this kid that is not very common among amateur players.”
Leiter’s praise is well-deserved. He has been stellar on the mound, a perfect 7-0 on the season with a sub-one ERA (0.98) that is good for first in the SEC and fourth in all of college baseball. Leiter’s résumé continues with a 0.70 WHIP that is third in the nation and 94 strikeouts, good for first in the country. The VandyBoys will count on Leiter to keep it up this weekend, as the highly-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs prepare to make the trip to Hawkins Field.
Both perennial powerhouses, Vanderbilt currently sits atop the SEC East at 29-6 while Mississippi State occupies second in the SEC West with a record of 28-8. This series will inevitably have significant implications for both the SEC standings and college baseball rankings.
Furthermore, the two teams have had a rivalry for years, and while the crowd will be limited, the Commodores home field advantage will mean an absence of cowbells and the possibility of some whistling. When asked about tensions between the two sides, Corbin shook off outside distractions and made it clear where his priorities lie.
“The focus has to be playing good baseball regardless of who you play and what the temperature of the game may seem. The reality is [that] you just have to put yourself in the right mindspace in order to compete,” Corbin said. “If you can stay present and prepare yourself in a way that gives you the confidence that you need to get on the field, then you’ve got an opportunity to be consistent within the game.”
Corbin doubled down on his team’s focus and stated that the rivalry isn’t affecting the Commodores’ approach to the series.
“The team that’s coming in is very good, they’re a known product. We’ve played them before, but that’s all past history, that has nothing to do with what’s going to happen on Friday night, so it’s just a matter of playing good baseball,” Corbin said.
Corbin played down the rivalry between the two sides more than Keegan, who recognized the history but kept the same overall message as his head coach.
“It’s a pretty big rivalry, but our focus is just getting better every single day,” Keegan said. “We’re just focused on today and getting better today, and then on Friday, we’re focused on Friday.”
Both clubs will have the chance to assert their dominance in this special rivalry come Friday at 7 p.m. ET. The series will surely give fans more insight into how these teams will fair come postseason play as both sides have their eyes set on some major hardware.