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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.

Baseball: VandyBoys earn a No. 2 seed at the Clemson Regional

Vanderbilt extended its NCAA postseason streak to 18 in a row as it earned an at-large bid as the No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional.
Braden+Holcomb+celebrates+with+Matthew+Polk+after+hitting+a+home+run+against+Tennessee+in+the+SEC+Tournament.+As+photographed+on+May+25%2C+2024.+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29
Vanderbilt Athletics
Braden Holcomb celebrates with Matthew Polk after hitting a home run against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. As photographed on May 25, 2024. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

On May 27, the NCAA Baseball Committee announced the regional seedings of the 2024 NCAA Division I Baseball Championships. Each year, 64 teams move onto the regional rounds, which are hosted by the top 16 seeds in the tournament. Vanderbilt earned a No. 2 seed and will travel to Clemson, S.C., for its regional, hosted by No. 6 overall seed Clemson. Coastal Carolina and High Point will also compete in the regional as the No. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively. 

While Vanderbilt completed its regular season with a 38-20 overall record, a losing conference record (13-17) and notable series sweeps at the hands of South Carolina, Texas A&M and Georgia, left it squarely on the bubble. While most predictions did have the Black and Gold in the tournament as a three-seed, winning at least one game in the SEC Tournament would build the team’s resume. The Commodores did just that, going 3-1 in Hoover with wins over Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi State before being eliminated in the semifinals by Tennessee. Going into selection Monday, Vanderbilt’s RPI and KPI jumped to 20 and 17, respectively, which undoubtedly helped improve its seeding in the regional round. With Monday’s selection, Vanderbilt will appear in its 18th straight postseason, the longest active streak in the NCAA, and seek to win its first regional since 2021.

How Vanderbilt stacks up in the Clemson Regional

No. 1 seed Clemson

Clemson had a great season, finishing with a 41-14 (21-11 ACC) and holding as high as a No. 3 national ranking. The Tigers and the Commodores have met eight times previously, with five of those coming across two prior regional appearances in 2017 and 2018. 

The Tigers are a well-rounded team on both sides of the ball. Their offense holds a team batting average of .297 (59th nationally), with 101 home runs and a slugging percentage of .516. Clemson’s big three, all in the top half of its lineup, are Blake Wright, Jimmy Obertop and Jacob Hinderleider.  Each member of the trio has double-digit home run totals on the season and they account for 178 RBIs put together. While defensively, the Tiger pitching staff also boasts commendable statistics on the season: a 23.5% strike rate, a 4.58 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP rate. The starters are led by All-ACC First Team Selection freshman Aidan Knaak, who holds a 5-1 record across 13 starts.

Clemson and Vanderbilt stack up very closely to one another, with the biggest difference being that the Tigers outrank the Commodores on offense. Vanderbilt only possesses two players with double-digit home runs — Alan Espinal (12) and Jonathan Vastine (10) — while as a team has hit 70 home runs, ranked 111th nationally. The VandyBoys, on average, score two less runs per game (6.78) than Clemson (8.13), and the team slugging percentage of .467 is ranked outside the top 100 as well. The good news about this situation is that the Commodore defense is used to competing against highly prolific offenses and Clemson is not the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the regional round.

Pitching will be key in Vanderbilt’s matchup against Clemson, especially the Commodores’ starters. Vanderbilt’s arms must ensure that they are pounding the strike zone and preventing free bases between walks and hitting runners. Clemson — having the advantage of playing at home — will be more adjusted to the ballpark offensively. The Commodores get into trouble when they let too many extra-base hits or home runs occur, often struggling to match that same power in their lineup. Although Clemson is the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Vanderbilt, as it showed at the SEC Tournament, is certainly talented enough to surpass the Tigers and win the region. 

No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina

The Commodores’ matchup against Coastal Carolina will be a first, as the two teams have never played each other. Besides Vanderbilt, Coastal Carolina is the most recent team in the Clemson regional to have won a National Championship; The Black and Gold won in 2019, and the Chanticleers won in 2016. This year, Coastal Carolina finished the regular season with a 34-23 record (16-14 Sun Belt Conference) while holding a 36 RPI ranking and the 20th toughest strength of schedule.

 Coastal Carolina is most potent on the offensive side of the ball, and because of this, it is one of the most dangerous three seeds in the entire tournament. Coastal Carolina boasts top-20 national rankings in both runs scored per game (8.79, 14th) and on-base percentage (.420, 16th). Vanderbilt’s stats pale in comparison across these same categories at 6.78 (153rd) and .377 (177th). The SBC All-Conference First Team duo of second baseman Blake Barthol and third-baseman Sam Antonacci hold batting averages of .310 and .368, accounting for a combined 19 home runs, 103 RBI and 33 extra-base hits. 

However, Coastal Carolina’s pitching falls short of the numbers that Vanderbilt has put up. The Chanticleer’s pitching staff has a 5.95 ERA, which ranks 141st nationally, and 6.4 runs allowed per nine innings, which ranks 110th. Yet, the offensive powerhouse has notably defeated other tournament teams, including a series sweep over Michigan. Overall, Vanderbilt will have to work to ensure the ball is taken care of defensively to prevent the potent Coastal Carolina offense while creating some offense of their own to put themselves in the regional winner’s bracket early on. 

No. 4 seed High Point 

High Point will be making its first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament after gaining an automatic bid by winning the Big South Conference Championship. High Point lies far from its regional competitors in RPI and strength of schedule, holding ranks of 124th and 170th, respectively. In comparison, Vanderbilt carries a RPI of 20 and a SOS of 12. However, High Point is not an opponent to be taken lightly, as it is arguably the team with the most to prove in the entire field of 64. High Point has only lost by small margins to other teams that will be seen competing in the NCAA regional round, including Wake Forest and Tennessee. In the Panther’s matchup against the Deacons, they scored an impressive 12 runs. High Point has hit 90 home runs on the season and scored an average of 7.34 runs per game. 

Vanderbilt’s pitching numbers are a step ahead of High Point’s. The Commodores allow 5.7 runs per nine innings, as opposed to the Panthers’s 6.8, and have the 16th best strike percentage in the nation (25.8%), whereas High Point ranks 178th in the same category (18.7%). Against High Point, the Commodores must take patient at-bats and ensure they see the strike zone while capitalizing on the offensive opportunities they get while staying steadfast on defense.

Vanderbilt will face off against No. 3 Coastal Carolina in the first game of the Clemson Regional on May 30 at 11 a.m. CDT. The game will be aired on ESPN2.

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About the Contributor
Grace Hall
Grace Hall, Deputy Sports Editor
Grace Hall (‘26) is from Belfast, Maine, and is majoring in public policy studies in the College of Arts and Science. Grace is also the vice-president of the Vanderbilt Club Field Hockey Team. When not writing for The Hustler you can find her watching the Boston Red Sox or Celtics, reading or at a concert. You can reach her at [email protected].
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