Series Preview: Vols Head To Vanderbilt For Top 10 Tilt

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Tennessee is carrying a program-best 16-game win streak into this weekend’s highly anticipated series at Vanderbilt. The cheapest ticket to get into Hawkins Field is $140 as the nation’s No. 1 team is looking to stay unbeaten in SEC play.

Vanderbilt doesn’t have the top end talent they had on the mound last season, but Tim Corbin’s program reloads and doesn’t rebuild.

Let’s take a look at the ninth-ranked Commodores entering the weekend series.

How The Commodores Got Here

Vanderbilt entered the 2022 season coming off back-to-back trips to the College World Series Final including a win in 2019. Gone are highly-touted pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter but there’s no shortage of talent on West End.

The Commodores enter the weekend 20-4 (4-2 SEC) with all four of their losses coming in a pair of weekend series. Vanderbilt opened the season dropping two-out-of-three at home to then-No. 7 Oklahoma State and then reeled off 18 straight wins before dropping the final two games of last weekend’s series at South Carolina.

After a disappointing opening weekend, Vanderbilt has looked like a top five team and that made the series loss in Columbia befuddling. South Carolina has been one of the most confusing teams in the country. In the last three weeks, the Gamecock have won a series over Texas, got swept in Knoxville, won a series over Vanderbilt and lost midweek games against the Citadel and Presbyterian.

Vanderbilt’s other main test was a walk-off midweek win over Michigan.

If Tennessee takes two-out-of-three in the state’s capital they’ll have a healthy three-game lead over the Commodores as they look to defend its SEC East crown.

Pitching Matchups

The last few seasons Vanderbilt has boasted the pitching rotation that’s left professional scouts drooling. This season the highly-touted pitching staff is in the orange-and-white. The Vols’ trio of Chase Burns, Chase Dollander and Drew Beam have a combined 0.90 ERA in 40 innings pitched in SEC play.

The right-handed Burns (5-0, 0.80 ERA) will get the ball on Friday night just 30 miles from his hometown of Gallatin. He’ll face off with Vanderbilt ace Chris McElvain (4-0, 1.95 ERA). The junior right-hander has had a breakout season and has been dominant in two SEC starts allowing just two earned runs in 13 innings pitched.

Coming off the best start of his short Tennessee career, Chase Dollander (4-0, 2.67 ERA) gets the ball for the Vols on Saturday night. The Georgia Southern transfer will duel with Vanderbilt’s own freshman starter Carter Holton.

The left-handed pitcher has had a boom-or-bust year to date. Holton has dominated in four starts against Missouri and smaller opponents, posting a 1.04 ERA. However, both Oklahoma State and South Carolina shelled the Savannah native for a combined 11 runs in 5.1 innings.

Murfreesboro native Drew Beam (5-0, 1.12 ERA) is getting the ball for Tennessee in the series finale. Vanderbilt has yet to announce a projected starter on Sunday as the Commodores have struggled to find a consistent third starter this season.

Top bullpen arm from last season Nick Maldonado (1-1, 1.50 ERA) has been solid in three weekend starts, but hasn’t pitched more than four innings in an outing and has been out with injury in the last few weeks.

Hunter Owen (2-1, 4.91 ERA) earned the Sunday start against Missouri but struggled while Bryce Cunningham (0-0, 1.74 ERA) was solid against South Carolina but couldn’t get out of the fourth innings.

Freshman Devin Futrell (5-0, 2.08 ERA) has been fantastic as Vanderbilt’s midweek starter, but threw nine innings in the Commodores Tuesday win over Lipscomb.

Patrick Reilly (2-0, 1.09 ERA) has been Vanderbilt’s best bullpen arm to date serving as a long reliever. The Commodores could stretch him out into a starter role for Sunday’s series finale.

Commodore Bats To Know

Vanderbilt has a contact hitting lineup that ranks second in the SEC and fourth nationally in batting average (.319). This hasn’t been one of the Commodores best power hitting lineups — fifth in SEC in slugging and sixth in home runs — despite returning strong power hitting Dominic Keegan and Carter Young.

Keegan has been fantastic for Vanderbilt this season posting absurd numbers. The senior is hitting .419 with 15 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs. Keegan is posting a wildly impressive 1.221 OPS through 24 games.

Shortstop Carter Young has upped his batting average from .252 to .289 this season while hitting four home runs to date.

Spencer Young and Tate Kolwyck also have the ability to send the ball out of the year with Kolwyck tallying six home runs and Jones tallying four home runs to date. Jones is also hitting an impressive .375.

I’d be remiss not to mention sophomore outfielder Enrique Bradifled Jr. who is the straw that stirs the drink for Vanderbilt. The nation’s best base stealer has a .438 on-base percentage and is 16-of-16 on stolen base attempts this season.

In total, Vanderbilt’s lineup includes five players hitting over .300.

Game Times/How To Watch

Friday — 7 p.m. ET first pitch on ESPN2.
Saturday — 8 p.m. ET first pitch on SEC Network.
Sunday — 2 p.m. ET first pitch can be streamed on SEC Network+.

Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.