After TCU and Vanderbilt both took down LSU and Cal State Fullerton, respectively, in their College World Series openers, the two up-and-coming programs will meet in Tuesday’s winner’s bracket game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The matchup between the Horned Frogs (50-13) and the Commodores (48-19) will be their second meeting of the year at a neutral site. TCU toppled the defending national champions 4-2 in the Dodgertown Classic in Los Angeles on March 8.
When the two teams met at Dodger Stadium, the Frogs beat the Commodores when Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler was taken out of the game in fourth inning after allowing just one run because he was still recovering from elbow soreness he began experiencing in the offseason.
Buehler was replaced by fellow LA Dodgers draftee Phil Pfeifer, who has been a member of Vanderbilt’s weekend rotation for most of the 2015 season. The Dodgers third round pick gave up three runs in the remaining five innings against the Frogs and was credited with the loss as TCU’s starter Preston Morrison picked up the win.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said a lot has changed since the Commodores and the Horned Frogs last played at Dodger Stadium.
“Yeah, I realize we played them first game,” Corbin said. “But there’s a lot that’s happened between then and now and a lot of it is that game probably doesn’t have much significance anymore.”
Corbin did not say whether the right-handed Buehler or Pfeifer, the southpaw, will get the start against the Horned Frogs. But TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle did not seem to be concerned if his left-hand heavy batting order had to face a lefty or a righty in their next game.
“When you see it all year long, then eventually you get used to it,” Schlossnagle said. “So I think some of that is a little overblown, especially when you look at our numbers, a lot of the left-handed hitters hit lefties better than righties.”
Though some lefties, such as Brian Brown of NC State and Texas A&M’s Matt Kent haven given TCU hitter trouble, the Horned Frogs were able to get to LSU’s left-handed starter, Jared Poché, in their lopsided 10-3 victory over the Tigers on Sunday. Poché allowed six runs, three earned, against the Frogs after he made two errant throws to first base.
Vanderbilt’s first win in the College World Series didn’t come as easy. The Commodores trailed their opponent, Cal State Fullerton, for most of the game. That game was played over two days as it was suspended in the sixth inning due to inclement weather.
But when the game resumed, the Commodores came back from a 3-0 deficit with a RBI double from first baseman Zander Wiel on a 3-2 pitch with two out and a runner on third.
Then after an RBI single from center fielder Bryan Reynolds and another double from Wiel, freshman Jeren Kendall crushed a two-run walk-off homer into the Cal State Fullerton bullpen to send the Commodores into the winners bracket.
The last three teams the Horned Frogs have faced in the NCAA Tournament: NC State, Texas A&M and LSU, have all hit 50 or more home runs. Vanderbilt has hit 66 home runs this year as there are three Commodores who have hit 14 or more so far this season.
Vanderbilt’s leading home run hitter, Dansby Swanson, who was drafted first overall in last weekend’s MLB Draft, has gone deep 15 times this season. Six of Swanson’s 15 homers have come in the postseason.
But Swanson is not the only Commodore who has been seeing the ball well at the plate as outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Rhett Wiseman are both batting over .500 during the postseason.
The Frogs also have their share of hot hitters this postseason, the most notable being Derek Odell who is batting .500 in his last seven games.
Odell, who has raised his batting average from .276 to .305 in those seven games, said he’s been more patient at the plate.
“I think I’m just getting my pitch to hit,” Odell said. “Being patient up there and it sounds pretty simple. But I’m letting the bad ones go and I’m waiting on the one that I want to hit, and I’m ready for a fastball. And when I get it, I’m not missing it. So I guess it’s just as simple as that.”
As hot as Odell has been at the plate, TCU’s pitching has been just as effective but no starter has been announced for Tuesday night.
Since Morrison went seven innings on Saturday, either Tyler Alexander, Alex Young or Mitchell Traver will take the mound for the Frogs.
All three starters have had success this season.
Alexander threw six perfect innings in the Horned Frogs’ second regional game against the Wolfpack, but struggled a bit in Game 1 of the Super Regional against Texas A&M. He has also given up seven home runs this season, and with the Commodores seeing the ball as well as they are, could be seen as a reason to save the sophomore for later in the week.
Young has actually given up two more homers than Alexander, but in his last outing, he struck out a career-high 10 batters against Texas A&M.
Traver, who has a team low 1.60 ERA, has just given up two home runs all season and shined when he came in to pitch four scoreless innings in Game 3 of the Super Regional.
First pitch for Tuesday’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPN, is scheduled for 7 p.m.