Nashville Regional Capsule

Nashville Regional Capsule
Hawkins Field, Nashville

No. 1 Vanderbilt (51-11)
Sixth appearance, automatic, won Southeastern regular season and tournament, No. 1 national seed

No. 2 Michigan (39-16)
20th appearance, at-large, won Big Ten regular season

No. 3 Memphis (36-25)
Fourth appearance, at-large, Conference USA

No. 4 Austin Peay (39-20)
Third appearance, automatic, won Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament

Vanderbilt enters the NCAA tournament as the favorite to win the national title, though it has never been to Omaha. The Commodores boast the nation’s best pitcher in junior lefthander David Price (11-0, 2.71, 175 strikeouts and 29 walks in 123 innings) and one of the most dangerous hitters in sophomore third baseman Pedro Alvarez (.397/.467/.706 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs). Alvarez and multi-tooled junior outfielder Dominic de la Osa caught fire in the SEC tournament, combining to hit .458 with four homers, five doubles and 15 RBIs. The pitching staff behind Price is deep, and senior righthander Casey Weathers (11-2, 2.64, seven saves, 67 strikeouts in 44 innings) is a huge security blanket at the back of the bullpen.

Michigan rose into the top 20 in the rankings before fading a bit down the stretch, when it split a four-game home series with Illinois and lost three of four to Penn State, then went two-and-out in the Big Ten tournament two weeks later. The Wolverines are led by one of the nation’s best two-way players in sophomore righthander/DH Zach Putnam (7-4, 3.58; .355 with eight homers and 58 RBIs), who became the first player in Big Ten history to earn first-team all-conference honors at two different positions in the same season. The Wolverines are an athletic, balanced club–they led the Big Ten in batting (.337) and fielding percentage (.958) and ranked second in ERA (4.31). And playing in a hostile environment won’t wilt Michigan, whose 19-5 road record this season is the best in the nation.

In coach Daron Schoenrock’s third year at the helm, he has guided Memphis to its first regional appearance since 1994. Memphis has a chance to slug its way to the regional championship game. Led by senior sluggers Bill Moss (.332/.419/.597 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs) and Adam Amar (.351/.408/.598 with six homers and 46 RBIs) on the infield corners, the Tigers ranked second in CUSA in scoring (6.8 runs per game). Five-foot-six outfielder K.K. Chalmers adds a speed dimension (33 stolen bases in 38 attempts) as well as some more pop (seven homers). But Memphis’ pitching staff doesn’t compare to the other three staffs in this regional–the Tigers’ 5.43 ERA ranks 176th in the nation.

Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the year Shawn Kelley (11-3, 2.52) gives Austin Peay State a fighting chance against Vanderbilt, though he surrendered four runs (three earned) in 2 1/3 innings in his last start against the Commodores on Feb. 27. Though the Governors went a combined 0-4 against Vandy and Memphis in the regular season, they proved they can hang with quality competition by beating Evansville and Mississippi State twice apiece. Pitching and defense is the key–Austin Peay led the OVC in ERA (3.61, 20th in the nation) and fielding percentage (.973, 17th in the nation). Closer Ben Wilshire (nine saves, 2.97 ERA) gives the Governors a weapon in the late innings if they can keep things close.