Vanderbilt becomes the first defending National Champion since 2011 to return to the NCAA Tournament after Arizona missed out after winning the 2012 title, and UCLA missed last year’s postseason after taking the 2013 crown.
The Commodores get to start their title defense against an unappealing regional field consisting of the Radford Highlanders, Indiana Hoosiers, and Lipscomb Bison.
Vanderbilt’s pitching staff is overpowering, striking out a nation-high 9.7 batters per nine innings. That’s led by Golden Spikes semifinalist Carson Fulmer, who fans 12.16/9 innings, which is just one of the reasons he’s expected to go very early in the MLB Draft.
Fulmer has won 11 of his 15 starts for Vanderbilt while posting an ERA of 1.97. His 136 strikeouts are the second-most in the nation, only trailing Missouri State’s Matt Hall (152).
2-seed Radford is 43-14 this year, including going 20-4 in the Big South. The Highlanders have won their last 15 games, and 18 of their last 19. So they’re hot, but those games have been against the Big South. This is SEC territory, and Radford has been swept by Auburn this year, and also lost two-of-three to another tournament 2-seed in College of Charleston.
3-seed Indiana was taken out of last year’s tournament on a walk-off home run by Stanford, and then their head coach bolted for Arizona State. The fact that the Hoosiers are even in the NCAA Tournament this year is surprising, especially given their 12-10 record in Big Ten play. They did win nine of their final ten regular season games to make this late run into an at-large bid.
Lipscomb has won their last seven games, four of those games being the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Bison did beat Vanderbilt in Nashville on April 7th by a score of 3-1, so they’re not strangers to the situation they’ll find themselves in on Friday.
But this is the postseason and not a midweek game in April, so Vanderbilt will get through Lipscomb, and likely through Radford to advance to the Super Regional, where they’ll face the winner of the Champaign Regional.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports