In a last second move, Vanderbilt skipper Tim Corbin has opted to start pitcher Taylor Hill, and not ace Sonny Gray, in this afternoon's regional opener against Illinois State. Corbin had previously stated that he would not alter his rotation for the tournament.
A Commodore victory coupled with a Louisville win later in the evening could set the stage for a Saturday duel between Gray and Big East Pitcher of the Year Thomas Royse.
In case you missed it earlier (or directly below this post), you can catch all the action from the Louisville regional live on your computer thanks to the fine folks at CBS College Sports. Fine at least until their feed cuts out and we start threatening the lives of their family members (The Mountain, Versus).
Vandy blog Anchor of Gold has done as solid a job of previewing the teams (sans their Commodores) in this regional an anyone on the Internet (or in print, I would guess).
Overall Summary: Louisville's dense lineup should be able to make short work of the shaky pitching presented by #3 and #4 seeds Illinois State and Saint Louis - but Vanderbilt will present a much tougher match-up. However, the Cardinals have proven that they excel in close games, and they'll be looking to show that May's game at Vanderbilt (in which they blew two save opportunities whilst up by two runs) was an aberration. Backed by their hometown crowd, they're the hands-down favorite to win it all - but they still must have winced a bit to see that Vandy would be making the trip up I-65 to see them again.
Look for the Cardinals to match up with the Commodores at least twice after winning some high scoring games. Though their Big East schedule left some question marks, this is an extremely talented team that has done well in pressure-filled situations. With a hosting shot at a Super Regional looming, this is going to be a charged up and emotional team that will be tough for anyone to beat twice.
On U of L's opponent this evening, Saint Louis:
Overall Summary: Saint Louis will have to rely on some unheralded players if they're going to upset Louisville. Though the pressure will be on the trio of Myers, Brock, and Cotton to produce, someone is going to have to come out of the woodwork to play a big play or two to lead this team to a win. Three players alone can't win a NCAA Regional game, and unfortunately that's what the Billikens will be mostly relying on.
The team that gets to play Saint Louis in Game Two, whether in the winner or loser's bracket, will have a much easier road by avoiding Cotton and instead facing Alex Alemann, who was just average in the regular season and had a rough start in the league tournament. SLU isn't a great team, but they're built to produce some surprise upsets in any tournament format. However, whether they can produce any magic against a national seed and one of the strongest #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen.
And on Illinois State:
Overall Summary: ISU has gotten very good at winning games, and their formula has been to stick around long enough for their batters to dig them out of holes. However, against elite teams, this strategy won't work - and this is evidenced in their overall record. Against top 25 teams, the Redbirds were just 0-3, and their best wins of the season came against Wichita State. If Vanderbilt can silence their bats using superior pitching, then ISU can't win this game - their starting pitching is simply too porous, even against a struggling VU batting lineup. However, if the Redbirds can jump on Vanderbilt mistakes and hold a lead through five innings, things are going to get dicey for the Commodores very quickly.
AOG also has an in-depth breakdown of why not saving ace Sonny Gray for a potential Saturday meeting with Louisville is the right move. Well, I guess now here's to hoping they were right.
Kendall Rogers of Rivals breaks down the regional and lists Illinois State's Kevin Tokarski as the best hitter among the four teams, and Vandy's Gray as the top pitcher.
Illinois State has already faced Vandy's Hill once this year, and didn't fare particularly well. The Redbirds wre held to two runs on seven hits over 7 1/ 3 in a 9-2 loss to the Commodores on March 6 (National Kyle Kuric Day).
What makes the NCAA baseball tournament so competitive is that half of the teams involved are extremely talented and capable of beating just about anyone in the country, and the other half are entering regional play red hot and extremely confident after winning their conference tournament. After sweeping the A-10 in impressive fashion, St. Louis falls into the latter category.