Are y'all ready for the biggest series in the history of Illinois baseball? The defending national champion Vanderbilt Commodores are in town to fight for their second-straight trip to the College World Series. To preview this Super Regional matchup, we did a Q&A with Anchor of Gold.
1. Can you give us a brief overview of how Vanderbilt’s program has fared these last few years? I think it’s safe to say that a lot of Illinois fans are unfamiliar with the national picture as we’re pretty new to this whole 'College Baseball’ thing.
Sure thing. Well, we might as well start with the obvious: we are the defending National Champions, so as Larry David says, we’re "Pretty, pretty, pretty good." Before Tim Corbin came to Nashville in ‘03, we were a bottom third to bottom half of the SEC team and hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1980. Since ’04, we’ve made the tourney in every year but one (’05), been ranked #1 overall in ’07, ’11, ’13, ’14, and ’15, had a pitcher go #1 overall and win a Cy Young (David Price), made it to Omaha twice, have had a slew of #1 ranked recruiting classes and 1st round draft picks, have been at or near the top of the SEC (baseball’s best conference) perennially, and currently have 3 top of the 1st round MLB talents in our Junior class (Dansby Swanson, Carson Fulmer, and Walker Buehler). In other words, the polar opposite of the dumpster fire that is our football team.
2. The Commodores defeated Radford 21-0 to advance to the Super Regional. Was that a fluke? Or could Tyler Jay and Co. be in for a long series?
It’s no fluke, but I wouldn’t expect us to beat anyone left in the tourney by 3 TDs again. We plated 15 runs in our other two games of the Regional, though. We can hit, but we’re also a streaky team. It they’re all peaking at the same time, 21 runs is not out of the question, but when a few of them are cold (this year, the occasional slumping hitters have been Zander Wiel, Bryan Reynolds, Karl Ellison, and Tyler Campbell), the whole lineup can go dormant and force our pitchers to win 1-0 or 2-1 duels.
3. SS Dansby Swanson headlines a Vanderbilt group that’s full of MLB talent. Are there any areas of weakness that Illinois can target?
Football. We are terrible at football. Target Derek Mason. With our baseball team, other than occasionally being prone to slumps at the plate and perfectly placed swinging bunts, our biggest weakness has been facing crafty, soft-tossing lefties in the Tom Glavine or Jaime Moyer mold. If you’ve got a lefty who throws around 80mph, put him in. If he throws higher than 85mph, we’ll be all over him.
4. What do you expect the Vanderbilt rotation to look like this weekend?
This is a tough one, as it’s likely to change depending on Saturday’s result. On Saturday, we’ll throw our ace, Carson Fulmer. If we win, we’re likely to throw Phillip Pfeifer Sunday night, as he’s been our Day 2 starter of late. Walker Buehler is our 2nd best starter, so you should expect to face him in either game 2 or game 3. Of course, Corbin might just go with the 1-2 punch of Fulmer and Buehler regardless, as they will both have a full week’s rest (Fulmer pitched last Friday, and Buehler had the easiest outing in the world last Sunday, when he went 60 pitches in 5 innings and left up by 20 runs).
5. What’s your prediction for the series? Do you agree with Vegas tabbing Vanderbilt as the favorite to advance?
I do agree with Vegas on this one, but I expect it to be a hard-fought series. These things tend to favor the more experienced teams, and even though you guys have a pitching staff that is a force to be reckoned with, I suspect your team is a bit more nervous to face the Defending National Champs than we are to travel to Champaign. I’m not sure if I expect it to go three games, but I definitely do not expect to see any more 21-0 bludgeonings.
Thank you to Anchor of Gold for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out their site for more Super Regional coverage.