Previewing Vanderbilt baseball’s schedule

After an 11-month hiatus, the VandyBoys are back. Here’s what their schedule has in store.

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Mattigan Kelly

Cooper Davis (3) slides home.

Bowman Talbot and Frankie Sheehy

It’s been a long time coming, but the VandyBoys are back. And of course, it’s only fitting that the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team returns from an 11-month hiatus only to find a snowstorm postponing its opening day matchup. 

The VandyBoys will return to Hawkins Field—on Saturday, rather than Friday—as defending national champions after an early-season cancellation last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The preseason NCAA Division-I rankings place the Commodores fourth in the nation behind Florida, UCLA and Texas Tech, respectively. Tim Corbin is in pursuit of his third national title in his 18th season as head coach with high expectations as the Commodores hope to begin their road to Omaha. 

Before the season begins, let’s dive into the Commodores’ schedule. 

Notable non-conference games 

The Commodores open the 2021 season with a home series against the Wright State Raiders, who won the 2018 Horizon League Tournament. Later series include home tests against Georgia State and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Vanderbilt’s strongest out-of-conference challenge this season will be in Stillwater as the VandyBoys travel to 20th-ranked Oklahoma State in March. Oklahoma State will be seeking to upset the Commodores, with the winner of the series boosting their chances of hosting a regional in June. 

Cross-town matchups versus Belmont and Lipscomb will take place on March 16 and March 23, respectively.

In addition, the Commodores will visit the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals on May 4 for a one-off game. The ninth installment of the Battle of the Barrel will decide which team claims bragging rights this year. With the rivalry tied 4-4 in the regular season, these teams could easily see each other again in the postseason. 

Notable Conference games 

The VandyBoys open SEC play on March 19 against the 18ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks return all but one starter from last season and have a great trio of starters on the mound. This series will be crucial for Vanderbilt establishing themselves in the conference. 

The Commodores travel to Baton Rouge for an away series versus No. 12 LSU starting April 1. LSU has a young but hungry roster, as they also return the majority of last season’s roster. This series will be a pitching duel, with star right hander Jaden Hill Jr. looking to give Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker a run for his money in the battle for SEC’s pitching title. 

Vanderbilt travels to No.19 Tennessee on April 16 for another ranked battle on the road. Tennessee made its first NCAA tournament in over a decade in 2019 and obliterated fifth ranked Texas Tech 14-0 on national TV in 2020. The Commodores will have to watch out for the Volunteers this season, especially since UTK had the most productive offense last season while only playing 17 games. 

The VandyBoys return home to face the Mississippi Bulldogs, the seventh-ranked team in the nation on April 23. Mississippi State lost many of the playmakers that led them to one of the best seasons in program history in 2019 and a strong 2020 start. Despite this, the Bulldogs are well-coached, and the Commodores need to be ready against a team capable of upsets. 

The schedule does not ease up, as May brings bouts with the top-ranked Florida Gators and the sixth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.

Vanderbilt travels to Gainesville at the beginning of the month for a series comparable to the College World Series Final. Each team is loaded with MLB caliber talent and has the coaching to utilize it well. It is possible that both teams could host regionals and super regionals this year, so expect this series to be watched around the country. 

The biggest home series of the year against Ole Miss begins May 15. The Rebels enter Hawkins Field after playing in a super regional in 2019 and going 16-1 in 2020. The Commodores will have battle to protect their home turf, and may need to get comfortable with playing from behind. 

Key Takeaways

Vanderbilt is going to be forced to run the gauntlet this season in order to return to the College World Series. The VandyBoys play eight preseason ranked opponents, including six in the SEC. While the non-conference games should not pose much difficulty, series like Oklahoma State will test the Commodores.

The SEC will be a battle royale this season, with nearly every team having a decent shot at both the regular season and tournament title. Conference away games will not be a vacation, as series against LSU and Florida will be challenging. At home, both highly ranked Mississippi teams will prove to be a tough test.

The Commodores will need to establish themselves in the hostile environments and take care of business in Nashville if they want to repeat as National Champions.