The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

VandyBoys Series Preview: Battling the Big Ten at the Cambria College Classic

With two straight series wins under their belt, the Commodores will head to Minneapolis this weekend to face off against a trio of teams from the Big 10 at the Cambria College Classic.
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Barrie Barto
Enrique Bradfield Jr. steals second base, as photographed on Feb. 22, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

The VandyBoys have enjoyed a strong start to their 2023 campaign, winning six of their first nine games while taking down two ranked opponents.This weekend, the Commodores will take on Nebraska, Maryland and Minnesota at the Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

The driving factor behind Vanderbilt’s hot start has been the starting pitching, which held No. 17 UCLA to four runs in three games last weekend. Head coach Tim Corbin’s decision to roll with an all-lefty rotation has looked like a stroke of genius up to this point, as Carter Holton, Hunter Owen and Devin Futrell have combined to allow just 15 hits and 16 walks while striking out 33 batters in 28 combined innings. 

The hitting, on the other hand, has been somewhat suspect in the early going. While Jonathan Vastine, Matthew Polk and RJ Austin have emerged as consistent contributors, the rest of the lineup has been adequate at best. This weekend should be the perfect chance for guys like Enrique Bradfield Jr. and RJ Schreck to get going at the plate, as two of Vanderbilt’s three opponents have lackluster pitching. 

The Big 10 is not known for its baseball prowess, but taking down three teams from a Power Five conference will be no easy task nonetheless. With a chance at a third straight series win on the horizon, The Hustler has you covered with a preview of each of the VandyBoys opponents for this weekend. 

Game 1: Nebraska on Friday, March 3

The start of Nebraska’s season has been a tail of two very different series. After losing three out of four to San Diego ― who Vanderbilt faced at the Corvallis Regional last summer ― the Cornhuskers bounced back with a sweep over South Alabama this past weekend. Winning two out of three games in Minneapolis would go a long way toward building momentum for the regular season, but Will Bolt’s group will have to take down either Vanderbilt or No. 4 Ole Miss to do so.

Friday starter Emmett Olson will likely get the nod on the mound against the Commodores. The junior left-hander is coming off of a fantastic 2022 campaign in which he earned Second-Team All-Big 10 honors while pitching to a 2.86 earned-run average (ERA) over 66 innings of work. While Vanderbilt should be able to find ways on base against him, scoring a crooked number will be a difficult task given that Olson has allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his 31 appearances at the collegiate level. 

Fortunately, once Olson leaves the mound, the Cornhuskers will have very few solid options left. Graduate transfer Michael Garza is likely to be the first name called out of the bullpen given that he has held opponents to a .185 batting average, but, beyond him, there is not a single reliever on the roster who has pitched three or more innings while posting a sub-10 ERA. 

At the plate, Nebraska’s run-scoring ability runs primarily through junior infielders Max Anderson and Brice Matthews. The former is batting .448 with a 1.150 on-base plus slugging (OPS) on the year, while the latter has recorded multiple hits in four of the team’s seven games. They are backed by freshman Dylan Carey, redshirt sophomore Garret Anglam and sophomore Josh Caron, all of whom are hitting above .300 with multiple home runs.   

If Holton can put on a performance reminiscent of last Friday night, the VandyBoys should have no trouble pulling out a victory in this one. However, Corbin and Co. have shown an affinity for playing down to their competition over the last few weeks. If Olson keeps them off the board early, the Commodores could find themselves in a precarious situation late in the ballgame. 

Game 2: Maryland on Saturday, March 4

No. 18 Maryland is not just the best team in the Big 10; it is one of the best teams in the country. Rob Vaughn and his crew are coming off a historic season in which they won 48 games and hosted a Regional for the first time in program history. Their 4-4 start to this season has been somewhat less impressive, but, given the level of competition they have faced, the Terrapins should not be taken lightly this weekend. 

The VandyBoys are fortunate not to have to face Friday starter Jason Savacool, who was named to this year’s Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list. That being said, projected starter Nick Dean is no slouch. The senior has looked solid in each of his first two starts, throwing six shutout innings against UCF in his season debut and holding the powerful Ole Miss offense to four runs in five innings last weekend. 

Even if he’s not at his best, Maryland could still cause problems for the Commodores, thanks to its offensive prowess. As a unit, the Terrapins are batting .275 with 16 home runs through their first eight games. For reference, Vanderbilt is hitting just .253 with eight home runs despite playing an extra game. 

Those offensive statistics are even more impressive when you consider that Maryland’s other Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list member, Matt Shaw, is hitting below the team average and has contributed just one home run. Fellow returners Luke Shlinger, Ian Petrutz and Nick Lorusso have helped to pick up his slack, while South Carolina transfer Elijah Lambros has emerged as a key contributor at the bottom of the lineup.

Still, Owen has had no trouble facing tough hitters in his last two starts, and I don’t see that changing against Maryland. This matchup will likely turn into a pitchers’ duel with clutch hitting being the difference maker. The VandyBoys can’t afford to strand 12 runners on base as they did on Tuesday night if they hope to walk away with their fourth win over a ranked opponent. 

Game 3: Minnesota on Sunday, March 5

To close out the weekend, Vanderbilt will face the weakest team of the bunch in Minnesota. Just a year removed from a 16-36 season in which they finished last in the Big 10 standings, the Gophers have come out of the gates ice cold in 2023, going winless through their first eight games. 

The primary cause for Minnesota’s struggles has been an inability to put runs on the board. Despite hitting .270 as a team, the group has barely managed to score over four runs per game. Juniors Brett Bateman and Ike Mezzenga have done their jobs at the top of the lineup, reaching base at a combined rate of .507. However, the failure to get hits with runners in scoring position in addition to a complete lack of power has kept them from coming around to score. 

Meanwhile, head coach John Anderson has yet to get any quality starts from his weekend starters. Tucker Novotny, George Klassen and Sam Malec have combined to allow 23 hits, 17 walks, and 20 earned runs in just over 22 innings. 

Who Vanderbilt will face is on the mound largely up in the air. Novotny seems locked in to the Friday slot after shining in the Northwoods League this summer, but Malec and Klassen have swapped roles in each of the first two weekends. If Malec gets the nod, look for him to pound the strike zone early and often with a decent, though hittable, pitch mix. On the other hand, a Klassen appearance would make hits harder to come by but would also likely result in lots of free passes for the Commodores, as he is averaging two walks per inning.

Another possible candidate is redshirt senior Richie Holetz. The right-hander has yet to appear as a weekend starter this year but has been one of Minnesota’s most reliable options, surrendering just three runs on six hits in nine and a third innings of work. 

While the Gophers may not be at the same level of competition Vanderbilt has faced the past few weeks, they have shown an ability to play close games against tough competition. On opening weekend, they played back-to-back one-run games against UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State, both of whom have looked solid throughout the early portion of the season. Devin Futrell and the VandyBoys lineup certainly have the upperhand, but, as we have seen during basketball season, a team that is playing with nothing to lose can be extremely dangerous.

The Commodores will need to be at their best if they are going to leave Minneapolis with three wins and their first weekend sweep of the year. 

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About the Contributors
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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