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.

Baseball: Battle of the what, now?

The history of the annual Battle of the Barrel between Vanderbilt and Louisville baseball, plus a preview of this year’s matchup.
The Battle of the Barrel trophy sits on Hawkins Field, as photographed on May 10, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Vanderbilt (32-16, 11-13 SEC) will host Louisville (29-18, 13-11 ACC) for a midweek matchup on May 7. However, the occasion invites a special guest: a barrel. While it may be upsetting for some human spectators to learn that a barrel gains admission free of charge, their minds may be swayed once they learn the history behind it.

Vanderbilt and Louisville are two of the premier programs in college baseball, and have been for some time now. Since head coach Tim Corbin arrived in 2003, Vanderbilt has appeared in the College World Series five times and won it twice. As for Louisville, head coach Dan McDonnell has led his team to Ohama five times as well through the course of his 18-season tenure.

Since 2008, the teams have regularly met once a year in May for a midweek matchup. However, tough regular season battles and fateful postseason meetings fanned the flames of what is now one of college baseball’s most exciting rivalries.

In 2009, Louisville hosted Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tournament Regional. Despite losing a 10-inning nail- biter to the Commodores earlier in the year, Louisville had the last laugh, beating Vanderbilt 5-3 to end its season. Notably, McDonnell said that Corbin was the coach he respected most in the country after the game.

The teams met in a nearly identical situation the following year — an all-or-nothing game in the regional round hosted by Louisville. Vanderbilt flipped the script the second time around, eliminating Louisville in extra innings.

Beyond mutual respect as coaches, Corbin and McDonnell share a friendship off the diamond. After years of tough battles between the two programs, including a 17-inning slug fest in 2010, the pair decided to formalize the rivalry in 2012.

While less common in baseball, college football rivalries have long exchanged trophies or items to celebrate the victors, such as the golden egg passed between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, or “Floyd of Rosedale,” the bronze pig shared by Iowa and Minnesota.

To find inspiration for their rivalry’s trophy, the coaches looked to another historic rivalry between Louisville and Nashville — bourbon vs. whiskey. While the two liquors are practically identical in many respects, each has made distinct names for itself. As such, bourbon, first commercially distilled in Louisville, has long been pitted against Tennessee whiskey.

The coaches decided to commemorate the rival spirits of the two cities with an oak barrel. Each year, the winner keeps the barrel until the next May matchup, as postseason meetings between the two teams are not considered.

Since 1971, Vanderbilt has held a 28-12 lead in the series against Louisville, but since the official naming of the “Battle of the Barrel,” Louisville holds a 6-5 advantage. For the first time since the Battle’s inception, both teams find themselves unranked nationally, so claiming the barrel could be a huge confidence boost for the winner.

Vanderbilt enters the game fresh off of back-to-back series losses to Mississippi State and Georgia, the latter of which it was swept in. Louisville, on the other hand, is coming off of a series sweep over Boston College.

All season long, Vanderbilt has struggled to get players on base and put runs on the board, as the team ranks No.136 in the nation in OBP (.386) and No. 109 in runs per game (7.1). However, Vanderbilt’s struggling offense may catch a break against Louisville. This season, Louisville checks in at No. 235 nationally in fielding percentage (.963) and No. 191 in ERA (6.50).

While Vanderbilt’s perennially first-class defense has been struggling compared to previous seasons, it has still managed a 4.40 ERA, good enough for No. 24 in the nation, to go with a .977 fielding percentage, which ranks at No. 39 in NCAA Baseball. But the Commodores may have their hands full, as Louisville ranks seventh nationally in batting average (.323) and 23rd in runs per game (8.8).

Vanderbilt’s defense may also face some internal struggles as it will once again be without starting second baseman Jayden Davis. Davis has been sidelined since the second leg of the Mississippi State series, when he suffered an orbital fracture from a pitch to the face. As of now, there is no timeline for his return.

Freshman Camden Kozeal was one of the very few bright spots in Davis’ absence through the last two games against Georgia, notching four hits and two RBIs on seven at-bats while committing no errors on the defensive side.

Another consideration for Vanderbilt is pitching. Traditional mid-week starter JD Thompson was given the nod on Sunday against Georgia in lieu of Devin Futrell, who continues to deal with shoulder problems. Excluding Futrell and those who started against Georgia, Greysen Carter has the most starts this season with four. While Carter did throw 39 pitches against Georgia on Sunday, NCAA rules only require him to rest one day, which means he will be available against Louisville. Carter would be able to provide a high-octane, but likely low pitch count, start for the Commodores. Other options for Vanderbilt would be freshmen Ethan McElvain and Brennan Seiber.

The difference-maker might ultimately be the venue, as Vanderbilt boasts a 25-6 record at home but a miserable 3-10 record on the road.

The Battle of the Barrel will be decided May 7 at 7 p.m. CDT at Hawkins Field.

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About the Contributor
Vincent Xu
Vincent Xu, Sports Copy Editor
Vincent Xu (‘27) is planning on majoring in economics with a minor in data science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of The Hustler, Vincent enjoys playing sports, watching sports, talking sports and a couple of other things that are sadly unrelated to sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
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