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Vanderbilt’s long road leads back to home field

Vanderbilt’s long road leads back to home field

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2013 7:00 pm

By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores finally have what they worked so hard all season for hosting an NCAA regional on their own field, and they are eager to take full advantage of being at home.
“They were investing all year, they were investing to purchase a home, and the home they wanted to purchase was this one right here,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said Thursday. “I think they put themselves in a good position, but we still have to play well.”
His Commodores have turned in quite the season even by their standards.
They are 51-9 and had been been the consensus No. 1 team in the country. They set the Southeastern Conference record with 26 wins before losing two games in the league tournament, including a 5-4 loss in 11 innings to LSU in the championship in a possible national title game preview.
Those losses dropped Vandy to the No. 2 seed nationally. But the Commodores are hosting an NCAA regional for the second time in three years, starting tonight against an East Tennessee State pitcher leading the country in both complete games and innings pitched in Kerry Duane.
“It’s nice to be here, and it’s nice to be together,” Vanderbilt senior centerfielder Connor Harrell said. “It’s kind of cool because there’s no one else on campus except for us. We just get to hang out and eat a lot of meals together. It’s nice to be in Nashville. You don’t want to travel if you don’t have to, so having these teams here is really beneficial for us.”
No. 2 seed Georgia Tech plays third-seeded Illinois today, and the winner of this regional will play the Louisville regional champ.
Getting past Vanderbilt with the SEC player of the year in second baseman Tony Kemp and Corbin, the SEC’s coach of the year, won’t be easy.
Illinois coach Dan Hartley said Vanderbilt’s obviously one of the country’s best teams.
“You would consider it an upset, but people all week have asked us about our region,” Hartley said. “I think it’s a very good region. I think it’s a strong region. I think whoever wins is going to have to earn it, and hopefully we get that opportunity to play Vanderbilt.”
The ETSU Bucs (36-22) are in a regional for the first time since 1981 winners of the Atlantic Sun tournament after winning three games in their last at-bat. Duane pitched complete games on three days’ rest, the second in the title game after waking up ill with strep.
ETSU coach Tony Sole is confident his pitcher will be ready, barring a relapse. A shortstop his first three seasons, Duane is 13-1 with a 1.99 ERA over 140 innings pitched, 12 complete games and tied for the nation’s lead with four shutouts.
“We know it’s sort of a David versus Goliath matchup,” Sole said. “We’ve got tough kids in our program, and I expect them to play well.”
The Commodores are focused on playing ETSU, even calling this the “East Tennessee State regional.” Corbin is starting junior lefthander Kevin Zoomed, his usual Friday starter. Sophomore right-hander Tyler Bede, undefeated at 14-0, will go Saturday.
Sole said Vanderbilt’s offensive production almost looks like pinball baseball.
Kemp is hitting .402 after leading the SEC with 58 runs, 27 stolen bases and a .490 on-base percentage.
Senior Mike Yastrzemski led the SEC in league games hitting .407. Harrell has career-highs himself with 11 home runs and 64 RBI.
Georgia Tech (34-25) is making its sixth straight appearance and 27th overall.
This will be the first game against Illinois since 1930, forcing both coaches to study the few common opponents between the teams.
Coach Danny Hall has set up his rotation with junior right-hander Dusty Isaacs starting against Illinois, keeping his senior righty Buck Farmer (8-4) for Saturday’s game.
Hartley is going with his best pitcher in freshman Kevin Duchene for Illinois (34-18) and a team in its second regional in three years.
“The most important game is the one you’re playing,” Hartley said. “You think ahead and maybe it works for you and maybe it doesn’t.”
That’s exactly the philosophy Corbin and his Commodores are using trying to reach the College World Series for the first time since 2011 and only the second time in the program’s history.
“It’s the game of the year for us, too,” Corbin said.

Published in The Messenger 5.31.13

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