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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.

VandyBoys Series Preview: A Chance for Revenge in Starkville

Fresh off a series sweep over Ole Miss, the VandyBoys will take a trip down to Starkville to take on Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt Athletics
RJ Austin and Jonathan Vastine on March 18, 2023 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

The last matchup between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State took place on June 30th, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. That day will forever be remembered by Commodore fans across the nation, who could only sit and watch as the Bulldogs cruised to a 9-0 victory to capture the national championship. A lot has happened since then and with the two programs headed in seemingly opposite directions, this weekend is the perfect opportunity for the VandyBoys to exact their revenge. 

2022 was a historically bad year for Mississippi State. After the departures of the majority of players who led them to win the College World Series the year before, the Bulldogs limped to a 26-30 record, winning a conference-low nine games in SEC play.

After the arrival of a top-five recruiting class (Perfect Game) and a strong group of transfers headlined by second baseman Amani Larry, head coach Chris Lemonis and his crew looked poised to rebound this year. However, early season losses to VMI, ULM, Arizona State, and Ohio State highlighted some flaws in the roster. These flaws were exploited last weekend, when the Bulldogs were outscored 35-11 while getting swept by Kentucky in their SEC series opener. 

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is coming off of their best weekend performance to date in which they swept the reigning champion Ole Miss Rebels behind dominant pitching and some much improved hitting. The Commodores seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time, and given the vulnerable condition of Mississippi State, a 6-0 start in the SEC is well within the realm of possibility. 

To get there, however, the VandyBoys pitchers must keep up their strong performances. The Bulldogs lineup may lack star power, but it is still filled with solid contributors who can find ways on base as evidenced by their .427 team on base percentage.

Among those contributors are outfielders Colton Ledbetter and Bryce Chance, who are both batting above .330 with multiple home runs on the young season. A member of Mississippi State’s highly-touted transfer class, Ledbetter has enjoyed a seamless transition from Samford, where he started all 57 games while hitting 16 long balls last year. On the other hand, Chance is not new to the Bulldogs program but is an equally fresh face in the lineup, as he redshirted in 2022.

Larry is another new addition who has made his mark on the Mississippi State team. After transferring from New Orleans during the offseason, the second baseman has become a staple at the top of the order, slashing .329/.495/.521 out of the leadoff spot. 

If those three batters can find ways on base, the Vanderbilt rotation could find itself in trouble, as first baseman Hunter Himes is one of the best cleanup hitters in the SEC. After earning freshman All-American honors last season, the six-foot-three slugger is off to a blazing start in 2023, batting .321 with six doubles, ten home runs, and 28 RBIs. The fact that he bats from the left side could put Commodore starters Carter Holton, Hunter Owen, and Devin Futrell at a slight advantage.

Fortunately, the Bulldogs do not possess prowess on the mound the way they do at the plate. As a staff, Mississippi State has pitched to a 5.28 earned run average (ERA) while walking an average of over six batters per game, which places them among the bottom 50 teams in Division 1 baseball. 

Friday starter Jurrangelo Cijntje has been one of the lone bright spots in the weekend rotation, posting a 2.25 ERA with 26 strikeouts over 20 innings of work. The true freshman is the rare switch-pitcher who throws left-handed against left-handed hitters and right-handed against right-handed hitters, making him a nightmare to prepare for. Look for him to keep the Commodores off-balance early in what could turn into a pitcher’s duel between him and Holton. 

Landon Gartman and Graham Yntema, who are likely to start on Saturday and Sunday respectively, have found significantly less success than their teammate Cijntje. Gartman, a senior transfer from Memphis, has limited baserunners but has been prone to give up too many long balls as evidenced by his team-leading four home runs allowed. Alternatively, Yntema, another transfer, has allowed just two extra base hits but has failed to limit singles and walks, surrendering nearly two baserunners per inning. 

Furthermore, the Mississippi State bullpen offers little support for their starting pitchers. Left-hander Brock Tapper and right-hander Nate Dohm have been consistently solid options in relief, but every other Bulldog reliever who has thrown at least five innings has posted an ERA above 4.95. 

One area where Mississippi State has found success on the mound is in recording strikeouts. The Bulldogs are currently striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings, good for tenth best in the nation. Fortunately, the Commodores have done an excellent job limiting strikeouts over the past few weeks and should be well equipped to avoid too many unproductive outs this weekend. If Enrique Bradfield Jr., RJ Schreck, and the rest of the offense can get to the starters early, the VandyBoys should have no trouble scoring runs all weekend long. 

The difficult schedule Vanderbilt endured over the first month of the season has prepared them for a potential run at the top spot in the SEC East. Still, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Missouri have shown significant improvement and Florida and Tennessee look dominant as usual. The Commodores simply cannot afford to drop games against inferior opponents, as it could come back to bite them in May and June. Securing a series win over Mississippi State is a must for Tim Corbin and his group. 

The first game of this vital three-game set will take place at 6:00 p.m. CST on Friday, March 24.

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About the Contributor
Luke Rollfinke
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].
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