After a 10-0 blowout of Presbyterian on Friday night, Vanderbilt baseball advanced to the winners bracket of the Nashville Regional of the NCAA Tournament, where it will face Georgia Tech on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPNU).
The Yellow Jackets (30-23) won a thriller against Indiana State in the early game Friday, scoring five runs into the seventh for a 7-6 victory.
Georgia Tech, which finished atop the ACC Coastal division and fell in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, performed well in conference play this year with a 21-15 record that was second-best in the ACC. However, the Yellow Jackets were just 7-6 in non-conference play. Against SEC teams this year, Georgia Tech lost a one-off game with Auburn and won both matchups with Georgia.
Here are the keys for No. 4 overall seed Vanderbilt (41-15) to win and advance to the championship game on Sunday:
Jack Leiter must go deep in the game
Jack Leiter, the presumed starter Saturday, doesn’t necessarily need to be world-beating to beat Georgia Tech, but he does need to give Vanderbilt several good innings. The Yellow Jackets got to the Sycamores after Indiana State went to its bullpen. The Commodores shouldn’t risk the same fate. If Leiter can go deep into the game and not make the bullpen do too much, Vanderbilt will be in a good spot.
This game has the potential to be a mismatch on the mound. Both teams decided to start their aces Friday, with Georgia Tech throwing its best starter, Brant Hurter, and Vanderbilt going with Kumar Rocker. But the difference is that the Commodores have two aces; none of the Yellow Jackets’ other starters have ERAs below five. However, Leiter can’t take a win as a given and needs to execute against a dangerous offense.
The offense must build up a lead
Georgia Tech is notorious for being able to win close games. In one-run games this year, the Yellow Jackets are 8-3. They can also score, having scored six or more runs in 32 of their 53 games this year. (For Vanderbilt, that number is 27 of 56.) Because Georgia Tech has such a potent lineup — and because it’s used to seeing better pitching in the ACC than the mid-major teams in this regional — it’s vital for the Commodores to get out to an early lead and make it difficult for the Yellow Jackets to come back.
“They can really hit,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said after Friday’s game. “They’ve got a lot of sluggers throughout that lineup, and they’re strong kids, I’ve seen that. And I did watch that game today, so they’re a team that comes back well, several times I’ve seen them on TV where they’ve had deficits but they worked through them and hit their way back so it’s gonna be an offensive team that we’re gonna have to stop.”
In the Commodores’ SEC Tournament losses, the pitching suffered from a lack of run support. That can’t happen against Georgia Tech.
The pitching staff must shut down Justyn-Henry Malloy
Georgia Tech has a familiar face in its infield: Justyn-Henry Malloy, who played for Vanderbilt in 2020 before transferring. Malloy is familiar with the Commodores’ pitching staff, including Leiter. That increases the importance of execution on the mound for a staff that can’t be thrown off by that familiarity.
Relief pitcher Chance Huff, also on Vanderbilt’s roster in 2020, could also make an appearance. Huff has struggled this year with a 10.29 ERA but could be extra motivated against his former team.