2021 NCAA Tournament Nashville Regional Preview
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No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. No. 4 Presbyterian (7 p.m. ET, SECN)
No. 2 Georgia Tech vs. No. 3 Indiana State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 1 Vanderbilt (40-15)
Season in a Sentence: Led by an elite one-two punch of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter in the rotation, Vanderbilt proved to be extremely difficult to beat on the weekends, lifting it to a 40-15 overall record, 19-10 mark in the SEC and a spot in the postseason for the 15th straight season.
Best Pitcher: Kumar Rocker, RHP—Based on the results this season, you could go with Rocker or Leiter in this spot, but given his full body of work, Rocker gets the nod. This season, the righthander is 11-3 with a 2.86 ERA, 135 strikeouts and a .165 opponent batting average in 91.1 innings. With the run he made in the 2019 postseason, you could also argue that there’s no pitcher in college baseball as big-game tested as Rocker, and those types of intangibles matter at this time of year.
Best Hitter: Enrique Bradfield, Jr., OF—Bradfield won’t hit for power. Instead, that task falls to the likes of Dominic Keegan, Isaiah Thomas and Carter Young in the Vanderbilt lineup, but Bradfield does everything else. He hits for average and gets on base, as evidenced by a .365 batting average and .477 on-base percentage. He also shows uncommon plate discipline for a freshman, as he walked (38) more often than he struck out (31). And he steals bases as well as just about anyone in college baseball, going 42-for-48 this season.
Outlook: The presence of Rocker and Leiter makes beating Vanderbilt a tall task for any team, and that’s where the focus typically is when examining the Commodores, but this could be a regional where the lineup carries the load given the other teams in the field. Georgia Tech is a little bit light on the mound and Vandy will miss Indiana State lefthander Geremy Guerrero, the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year, who will presumably throw in the opener against the Yellow Jackets.
No. 2 Georgia Tech (29-23)
Season in a Sentence: It wasn’t always easy, and Georgia Tech seemed to collect confounding losses and impressive wins in just about equal measure, but in the end, the Yellow Jackets had one of the best seasons of any ACC club, topping the Coastal Division with a 21-15 conference record on the way to earning an at-large bid.
Best Pitcher: Brant Hurter, LHP—There is an argument to be made that no starting pitcher is more important to his team’s pitching staff than Hurter is to Georgia Tech’s given the depth issues it has. If Hurter goes deep into games on Fridays, it sets up the staff fairly well for the rest of the weekend. If he doesn’t, it puts the Yellow Jackets behind the eight ball. For the most part this season, he did a pretty good job of getting deep into games. He’s 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA In 79.1 innings.
Best Hitter: Luke Waddell, SS—Freshman catcher Kevin Parada, who has 20 doubles on the season, deserves mention, but Waddell, the steady veteran and Team USA alum, has done everything for the Yellow Jackets this season. He’s hitting .313/.410/.460 with 11 doubles, six home runs and 29 walks compared to just 16 strikeouts.
Outlook: Georgia Tech’s offense is good enough to get the team through this regional, even if it comes up against one of Rocker or Leiter in a winner’s bracket game on Saturday night. The key will be what the Yellow Jackets get on the mound throughout the weekend, especially after Hurter’s start. If it’s a good weekend on the mound, Georgia Tech will be dangerous.
No. 3 Indiana State (30-19)
Season in a Sentence: A fast start for the Sycamores, which pushed them into the Top 25 at one point, gave way to some speed bumps as the season wound down, but they still did enough to get in comfortably as an at-large team, securing the program’s first back-to-back regional appearances since 1986-1987.
Best Pitcher: Geremy Guerrero, LHP—A swingman with average at best numbers through his first four seasons on campus, Guerrero transformed into the best pitcher in the MVC as he transitioned into the weekend rotation as a fifth-year senior. He’s 10-1 with a 1.93 ERA, a .174 opponent batting average and a 97-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93.1 innings. A matchup with a powerful Georgia Tech offense on Friday will be a tough challenge for the lefthander.
Best Hitter: Jordan Schaffer, SS—One of the few holdovers from the 2019 regional team, Schaffer really came into his own this season, which was his first as a full-time player. He’s hitting .360/.424/.512 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs, and on a team that doesn’t run a ton, a team-leading 11 stolen bases. He’s also getting hot at the right time, as he went 13-for-22 in the MVC Tournament.
Outlook: You know what you’re going to get with Indiana State under Mitch Hannahs. It’s going to be a team that plays hard and refuses to beat itself. Vanderbilt learned that in the 2019 Nashville Regional, when the Sycamores advanced to the final and played tough. This season, you can also set your watch to the team getting an outstanding start from Guerrero. What the Sycamores get on the mound beyond Guerrero is the question they will have to answer this weekend and the key to making a run.
No. 4 Presbyterian (22-21)
All-Conference Team Honorees: UT Eric Toth (2nd), C Jake Wyandt (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: Presbyterian was the fourth team into the four-team field at the Big South Tournament, but it caught fire once it arrived, sweeping through the tournament with a 3-0 record, including two wins over regular-season champion Campbell, to secure its first-ever regional appearance.
Best Pitcher: Eric Toth, RHP—The strength of Presbyterian’s pitching staff is its bullpen, with the three best ERAs on the staff coming from relievers, and Toth has been the best of the bunch this season as a guy who can close out games and throw multiple innings in an outing. In 33.1 innings this season, he has a 3.24 ERA, a .238 opponent batting average and eight saves.
Best Hitter: Zacchaeus Rasberry, OF—A productive player over his three years at Presbyterian after arriving from Louisburg (N.C.) College, Rasberry is in the process of capping his career in style, hitting .314/.368/.577 with 10 homers, 38 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Outlook: For Presbyterian, just getting to this point is an accomplishment, and that shouldn’t be overlooked, even if it ends up being overmatched this weekend. A key for the Blue Hose will be getting some semblance of quality starting pitching after a regular season where their starters didn’t miss many bats. It won’t hesitate to lean on its bullpen, but for the team to be competitive this weekend, the relievers can’t do it alone.