This week, the 2015 NCAA College Baseball Tournament is in its second week of play, the Super Regionals Round. The Super Sixteen will feature eight best-of-three game series to determine the eight teams that will play in Omaha for the College World Series. While all eight match-ups have their share of intrigue, the Champaign, IL Super Regional just may be the one to watch between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Illinois Fighting Illini. With the MLB First Year Player Draft just a few weeks away, many of the top names that could be called will be on the field during this series. Here is a preview of the Champaign Super Regional.
For Illinois, it is their first ever trip to the Super Regional round. During the season, a 27-game winning streak propelled the Illini to a consensus top-5 ranking across the polls which is the highest such mark in school history. They entered the tournament as the number 6 National Seed allowing them to not only be a Regional host, but also a Super Regional host as well. Illinois will head into the match-up against Vanderbilt with a 50-8-1 record, with the 50 wins marking a school record for most wins in a season.
The Commodores of Vanderbilt are the defending NCAA Baseball champions. One of the SEC’s powerhouse programs will travel to Big-10 territory with a 45-19 record. Like the Illini, Vanderbilt also played host in the Regional round and went undefeated last weekend. In the Regional-clinching game, Vandy plated 21 runs in a 21-0 victory.
However, in this series runs may be hard to come by as both teams sport a dominant pitching staff. The likely starters for game one of the series will feature two of the best arms in the nation, and also two semi-finalists for the Pitcher of the Year Award. Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer and Illinois’ Kevin Duchene are also both a part of the All-Glasses wearing team. Fulmer in his regional start went seven innings, giving up one run with 11 strikeouts. On the season, he has a 1.92 ERA. To perhaps one-up his spectacles counterpart, Duchene threw a complete game in his regional start. On the season, he has an ERA of 1.59 with some of the best command in the country.
After the two aces, quality arms also figure to dual in the remainder of the series as well. For Vandy, Philip Pfeifer threw six innings while striking out 10 in his regional start, and Walker Buehler was the beneficiary of the 21-run output tossing five innings and striking out seven. The Illini will counter with Drasen Johnson who also threw a complete game in the regionals in shutout fashion with six strikeouts. John Kravetz could be the third starter if needed for Illinois, but the Illini also have in their back pocket one of the premier closers in the country in Tyler Jay. His regional only consisted of four shutout innings with five strikeouts.
Both teams do have capable lineups to put up some runs, and against these pitching staffs, every scoring chance will be at a premium. Vanderbilt is led by Dansby Swanson while Illinois is led by David Kerian who hit .625 during the regional round of play.
Come draft time, four players in this series may very well hear their name called within the first ten picks. Swanson, Fulmer, Buehler, and Jay are all projected to go quickly come draft day. Tyler Jay, Dansby Swanson, and Carson Fulmer were also semi-finalists for the Golden Spikes Award given to the top collegiate player, with Swanson and Fulmer being named as two of the four finalists. If the Commodores do hear their names called with the first two picks in the draft, it will be the first time ever where teammates will have been drafted with the first two picks.
While Vanderbilt has the experience and the prestige of MLB pedigree, do not count out the Illini this weekend. The Commodores may be receiving all of the pre-draft hype with their top talent, but this season has been by far the best in school history for Illinois. With the home-field advantage, the Illini just may be poised for an upset and their first trip ever to the College World Series. If Vanderbilt is able to come out on top, they will certainly have their sights set on back-to-back championships. Either way, it figures to be a great weekend of baseball with some of the top talent on one field, with a trip to Omaha on the line.
Game Times: Game 1 – Saturday 7 pm CST, Game 2 – Sunday 8 pm CST, Game 3 – if necessary TBD.