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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

What to watch for this weekend as the VandyBoys face No. 1 Tennessee

The three biggest questions ahead of the No. 9 VandyBoys’ pivotal weekend series against the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers.
Josh Rehders
Vanderbilt beat Lipscomb in their matchup with the Bisons on Tuesday. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

This weekend, the eyes of college baseball will center on Hawkins Field as the No. 9 Vanderbilt Commodores (20-4, 4-2) face their toughest test of the season against their archrivals, the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers (24-1, 6-0). 

The two teams go into this series with opposite momentum from last weekend. The VandyBoys lost their 18-game winning streak and a series to South Carolina, costing them four spots in the national rankings. Meanwhile, Tennessee swept the then-No. 1 Ole Miss Rebels, leaving Oxford with the nation’s top spot. 

Both teams also won during the midweek, with the VandyBoys beating Lipscomb 7-1 on Tuesday at First Horizon Park and Tennessee taking down Western Carolina 11-1 on Wednesday in Knoxville. 

With what we’ve seen so far from these two teams, here are the three biggest questions that will decide the weekend’s series.

What will the VandyBoys’ starting rotation look like?

The clearest spot in the Commodores rotation is junior right-hander Chris McElvain, who had another impressive start last Friday against South Carolina. He held the Gamecocks to just five hits and two walks in seven innings of scoreless baseball and has emerged as the ace of this year’s staff at 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA. 

Freshman Carter Holton will start the second game, although he was chased from his last start after recording just four outs and allowing seven earned runs in Saturday’s 8-2 loss. Head coach Tim Corbin said he hopes that last Saturday was an outlier and not a sign of a larger issue for Holton.

“When a freshman is faced with that [South Carolina’s lineup], the execution has to be better than what it was,” Corbin told reporters on Monday. “He’ll be fine. He’s a pretty resilient kid.” 

Sunday’s start is more up for grabs. Junior Nick Maldonado is still nursing an oblique injury with no timetable for a return, so his starts have been split. Junior lefty Hunter Owen pitched just one inning over the weekend and gave up four runs in relief, but he’ll probably stay in the mix. Freshman Bryce Cunningham made the first start of his college career on Sunday, making him a possible option as well. 

However, it seems like the favorite to get the nod on Sunday will be sophomore righty Patrick Reilly. Reilly may have been in line to start last weekend, but, instead, he was brought in on Saturday to bail out Holton. Corbin has used Reilly frequently in that long-reliever role, often piggy-backing him and Owen together. 

“The thing that Pat’s done well is he’s come out of the bullpen and pitched very well,” Corbin said regarding a potential Reilly start. “But, like any other player, when you get those opportunities and you do well with them, then you have to reconsider and potentially readjust where you want to position him to help your team, and that’s certainly a thought going forward.”

How will the VandyBoys handle Tennessee’s stacked lineup?

The Volunteers being No. 1 in this week’s rankings is no fluke. Their only loss this season came against then-No. 1 Texas at Minute Maid Park in Houston. 

The key to Tennessee’s success so far has been a lineup that leads the SEC in essentially every offensive category. The Volunteers are averaging 11.08 runs per game, well ahead of second-place Ole Miss at 9.29 runs per game. Tennessee also leads the SEC in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, batting average and OPS, just to name a few. Some of these numbers are weighted by Tennessee’s three-game series against Iona in which they scored 68 runs (yes, 68). But still, the consistency at which the Volunteers are putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard is a real threat to the VandyBoys this weekend.

“Offensively, they’re just good. They’re well-rounded, they compete as a team,” Corbin said of Tennessee. “From an at-bats standpoint, they put a lot of team at-bats together.”

Everywhere you look in the Volunteers’ lineup, you see danger. A lot of their power comes from third baseman Trey Lipscomb, who leads the team with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. The Commodores will also have to deal with outfielder Jared Dickey, who’s hitting .403 with a 1.351 OPS.

Will the VandyBoys be able to hit against Tennessee’s revamped starting rotation?

As good as Tennessee may be, the VandyBoys have shown some power of their own this year. Senior Dominic Keegan has been hitting well, batting .422 with a 1.240 OPS splitting his time between catcher, first base and designated hitter. However, the Commodore lineup isn’t quite set in stone yet. 

Sophomore Calvin Hewett, while spending most of the beginning of the season on the bench, is competing for a corner outfield spot with senior Javier Vaz. Hewett and junior Spencer Jones played most of the South Carolina series together, but Vaz returned to the lineup Tuesday night against Lipscomb. 

At the plate, the VandyBoys will have to deal with a Tennessee pitching staff that’s just as menacing as their lineup. The Volunteers lead the SEC with a 1.86 ERA, highlighted by freshmen Chase Burns and Drew Beam, who are 10-0 in their 12 combined starts.

“Those two young kids that bookend their rotation have jumped right in and have not acted and performed like younger guys,” Corbin said of the duo. “They’ve pitched as well as any freshmen coming into the league up to this point.”

The Commodores will also need to watch out for junior reliever Ben Joyce, who has not allowed an earned run in his 12 outings and has a fastball that can reach 104 miles per hour.

In all facets of the game, the VandyBoys and the Volunteers are two of the most talented teams in all of college baseball right now. Even larger than the games themselves and the classic rivalry, this weekend’s series should give plenty of insight as to how far these teams can play into June this season. The series will begin on Friday, April 1 at 6 p.m. CDT at Hawkins Field.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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