2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Nashville Regional Preview
No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. No. 4 Ohio State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
No. 2 Indiana State vs. No. 3 McNeese State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 1 Vanderbilt (49-10)
Season In A Sentence: The preseason No. 1 team in the nation, led by national player of the year candidate J.J. Bleday, Vanderbilt looked the part all season long, going 49-10 and winning both the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament championships.
Best Pitcher: RHP Drake Fellows, Jr. — Vanderbilt’s Friday starter, Fellows is 11-0, 4.05 and has held opponents to a .241 batting average in 91 innings this season. With 108 strikeouts, Fellows’ maturity and consistency has made him the Commodores’ most reliable starter.
Best Hitter: OF J.J. Bleday, Jr. — The 2019 SEC player of the year and ranked No. 6 on BA’s Top 500 Draft Prospects list, Bleday is hitting .357/.467/.752 and leads the nation with 26 home runs. The lefthanded hitter is considered one of the best hitters in the country.
Outlook: The Commodores swept through the SEC Tournament last weekend and enter regionals on a nine-game winning streak and having won 22 of their last 23 games. Vanderbilt is a battleship right now and slowing it down is going to be a tall task, especially at Hawkins Field, where it is 28-5 this season. If the Commodores keep doing what they’ve been doing all season long, this weekend should be more smooth sailing.
No. 2 Indiana State (41-16)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: One of the hottest teams in college baseball right out of the gate, the Sycamores jumped out to a 20-2 start and then got hot again late in the season to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Best Pitcher: LHP Triston Polley, Sr. — A reliable weekend starter for the Sycamores, Polley is 7-1, 2.53 with 84 strikeouts in 99.2 innings. The 6-foot, 190-pound lefthander is holding opponents to a .218 average and has a 1.17 WHIP in 15 appearances, all starts, in 2019.
Best Hitter: INF Clay Dungan, Sr. — A .298/.404/.489 hitter this spring, Dungan leads the Sycamores in OPS (.893), runs (53), home runs (nine), total bases (110) and walks (35). The 6-foot-1 infielder is also a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen bases this season, leading Indiana State in yet another offensive category.
Outlook: The Sycamores won 41 games, their most since 2012, and came out of the losers’ bracket to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Their reward is a spot in Nashville, where they have to deal with Vanderbilt. But Indiana State can make some noise thanks to the one-two punch atop its rotation in Triston Polley (7-1, 2.53) and Collin Liberatore (10-1, 2.78).
No. 3 McNeese State (35-24)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: After posting its fifth 30-win season in six years under head coach Justin Hill, McNeese State won the Southland Conference Tournament, pushing the program into regionals for the first time since 2003.
Best Pitcher: RHP Rhett Deaton, Jr. — After missing 2018 due to injury, Deaton is 8-4, 3.83 with 53 strikeouts in 91.2 innings this season. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound righthander has limited opponents to a .233 batting average and gives the Cowboys an experienced presence atop their rotation.
Best Hitter: 2B Nate Fisbeck, Jr. — Fisbeck leads the Cowboys with 12 home runs and a .534 slugging percentage. A second-team all-Southland Conference selection, he is hitting .304 with a .919 OPS while driving in 48 runs and recording 34 extra-base hits.
Outlook: The Cowboys have had consistent success under Hill, but no part of the draw is easy in their first regional appearance under the sixth-year head coach. McNeese State is aggressive on the basepaths and will look to cause havoc offensively, It is also strong at the back of the bullpen with freshman lefthander Will Dion (5-0, 2.12, 6 SV) anchoring the relief corps. They will have their work cut out for them, but the Cowboys own a win at Louisiana State this year and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the environment.
No. 4 Ohio State (35-25)
Season In A Sentence: The Buckeyes needed a sweep of Purdue in the final weekend of the regular season just to get into the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 7 seed, and then they had to make a Cinderella run through Omaha to advance to regionals in back-to-back years for the first time since 2002-03.
Best Pitcher: LHP Seth Lonsway, R-Fr. — Lonsway was named third-team all-Big Ten, selected to the conference’s all-freshman team and earned Big Ten all-tournament honors this season. In 88.2 innings, Lonsway is 8-4, 3.65 with 122 strikeouts and a .217 opponent average. He’s allowed only three home runs this season.
Best Hitter: OF Dominic Canzone, Jr. — A first-team all-Big Ten selection, Canzone leads the Buckeyes in nearly every offensive category. Through 60 games and 239 at-bats, the lefthanded hitter is batting .350/.445/.621 with 15 home runs, nine stolen bases and 62 runs scored in 2019.
Outlook: The Buckeyes have been playing must-win games all month and have won 11 of their last 13 games after getting swept at Minnesota in early May. Ohio State just beat Nebraska in front of more than 17,000 fans to win the Big Ten Tournament and advance to regionals, so going on the road to Vanderbilt shouldn’t be overwhelming. The Commodores’ talent will be a tough task in the opener, but Ohio State has the pitching to make things interesting, led by starters Garrett Burnhenn (6-3, 3.53) and Seth Lonsway (8-4, 3.65) and relief workhorse Andrew Magno (4-3, 2.20, 14 SV), the MVP of the Big Ten Tournament.