Thrill of Victory

Belmont, Vandy heading to postseason again

For Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, playing in the NCAA Tournament is an annual rite of passage. For Belmont’s Dave Jarvis, it’s getting to be as well. On Monday, both teams were included in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 teams when bids were announced on Monday. For Corbin, it’s his seventh-straight trip to the tournament; for Jarvis, his second. Both men are breaking new ground at their respective programs. Vanderbilt has now been eight times in Corbin’s 10 seasons after going just three times in program history before his arrival, while Belmont had never made the tournament before last year. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for both schools:

Belmont heads to Baton Rouge
For the second-straight year, Belmont will be playing its NCAA Tournament games at a Southeastern Conference school’s site. A year ago, it was a mile or two away at Vanderbilt. This year, the Bruins travel a bit further south to LSU, one of the nation’s foremost baseball powers. The Tigers have won six national titles between 1991 and 2009.

“I know the team is very excited,” Head Coach Dave Jarvis said after the Belmont learned its destination for the 2012 NCAA Regional. “We get to draw on our experience from last year’s Regional with all of our returning lettermen. I think traveling to LSU this year, a place these guys have not been before, is a big reason for the excitement,” Jarvis said on Monday.

BU’s first opponent, Oregon State, is one that knows a thing or two about winning national titles. The Beavers did it back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Unfortunately, Belmont may be catching OSU at the wrong time. The Beavers finished 18-12 in the PAC-12, one of the nation’s three-toughest leagues. Oregon State won its last four conference series, including a weekend sweep of national seed Oregon by a combined 15-5 score.

Belmont finished second in the Nashville Regional, but got bombed twice by a potent Vandy lineup that sent the Bruins packing back to their side of the neighborhood. This year, Belmont may have a better shot: it has a 3.11 team ERA, including four proven starting pitchers with ERAs under 4, as well as a trio of excellent relievers in Scott Moses, Austin Coley and Josh Davis (each has thrown at least 38 innings with an ERA of 2.50 or under).

That’s the kind of pitching you need to win Regionals. The bad news is that so do some of the other teams. OSU has three good starters, and BU will likely see Ben Wetzler (7-2, 3.39) on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. Central.

If the Bruins can get by OSU, it gets tougher. Host LSU shouldn’t have a lot of trouble getting by 31-28 Louisiana-Monroe, one of the weaker teams in the field, Friday night.

Should BU and LSU square off on Saturday, Belmont would face the challenge of hitting LSU’s Kevin Gausman (10-1, 2.84), who might be the first pick of this summer’s Major League Baseball Draft. The Bruins will also have to contend with Raph Rhymes, whose .459 average led the country and earned him SEC Player of the Year honors.

Vandy hopes to ride hot streak into Raleigh
The last week, we heard a lot about how some unlucky team would have to face red-hot Vandy in its Regional. That unlucky foe is North Carolina State, which finished third in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference this year, though the Wolfpack did lose four of their final five games.

Of course, both teams have to get past their Friday opponents first. For NC State, it won’t be tough: 25-30 Sacred Heart is perhaps the weakest team among the 64 in the field. Vandy’s opponent, North Carolina-Wilmington, is substantially tougher. The Seahawks went 24-6 in the Colonial Athletic Conference, and won the conference tournament as well.

Friday’s game will likely feature resurgent right-hander T.J. Pecoraro (1-4, 3.57) against Tyler McSwain (9-3, 3.12), the Seahawks’ all-time leader in victories. The UNC-W lineup features five .300 hitters as well as double-digit home run hitters Andrew Cain and Tyler Molinaro.

If Vandy and NC State both advance, you’ll see one of the tournament’s best first-round pitching match-up: ACC Pitcher of the Year Carlos Rodon (9-0, 1.46) and the red-hot Sam Selman (9-3, 3.33), whose ERA has been about as good as Rodon’s in his last nine starts.

If VU wins its first two, you can just about pencil in the Commodores to win the Regional. Even if VU wins Friday and loses Saturday, its pitching depth – the best in Raleigh – gives it a shot to advance through the loser’s bracket.