Super Regional Preview: Vanderbilt-Illinois

The defending National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores travel to Champaign, Ill., for a 3-game series with the Big Ten Champion Illinois Fighting Illini. The winner of this Super Regional will head to Omaha for the College Baseball World Series. Look inside for a preview of both teams.

Vanderbilt at Illinois

Saturday 7:00 p.m., ESPNU)
RHP Carson Fulmer (12-2, 1.92 ERA) vs. LHP Kevin Duchene (11-1, 1.46 ERA)

Sunday (8:00 p.m., ESPNU)
TBA vs. TBA

Monday (TV, Time TBA)
TBA vs. TBA


ABOUT VANDERBILT

Defending National Champion Vanderbilt stormed through the Nashville Regional over the weekend, beating local rival Lipscomb 8-1 and then defeating Indiana 6-4. On Monday the Commodores thrashed No. 2 seed Radford 21-0. Vandy will now head north to Illinois to take on the Big Ten Champions in a best-of-3 Super Regional that will determine which team advances to the College World Series.

Vanderbilt is a strong batting team but has had lapses. The Commodores rank 46th nationally in batting average (.293) and are 20th in the nation in home runs per game (0.97). Vandy is also in the top 20 nationally in doubles per game (19th), triples per game (12th), slugging percentage (14th) and scoring (19th).

All-America short stop Dansby Swanson (.348, 61 RBI) leads Vanderbilt in home runs with 15. First baseman Zander Wiel (.318, 64 RBIs) is tops for the Commodores in RBIs with 64. Outfielder Rhett Wiseman (.310, 45 RBIs) made the No. 7 ESPN Play of the Day during the Commodore's Sunday win over Indiana. Freshmen Will Toffey (.309, 45 RBIs) and Jeren Kendall (.291, 34 RBI) have contributed strong play for the Commodores in fielding and at plate.

Vanderbilt's pitching staff, which is projected to have two first round picks in the upcoming MLB Draft, has pitched the most shutouts (12) of any staff in division I college baseball. The Commodores also rank 20th in the nation in ERA (3.02) and third in hits allowed per nine innings (7.03). Carson Fulmer will start on Saturday but Sunday and Monday's (if necessary) starters are to be announced. Here's a look at Fulmer and VU's likely starters.

Righty Carson Fulmer (12-2, 1.92 ERA) will likely be the first pitcher selected in the upcoming MLB Draft. In his most recent outing against Lipscomb on Friday, Fulmer went seven innings striking out 11 while allowing three walks and four hits for one earned run. Two weekends ago against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament Fulmer had one of the worst starts of his career when he lasted just five innings in giving up six hits and six earned runs in a 6-1 loss to the Aggies. Fulmer is second in the nation in strikeouts with 146.

Lefty Philip Pfeifer (4-4, 4.21 ERA) sat out the 2014 season and returned to the lineup this season. He began the campaign as a reliever but was later moved back into the weekend starting rotation. On Saturday against a tough Indiana team, Fulmer struck out 10 while allowing five hits, one walk and four earned runs. Pfeifer is ranked seventh nationally in batters struck out per nine innings (11.81).

Right handed Walker Buehler (4-2, 2.97 ERA) is projected to be drafted in the first round of the next week's MLB Draft. In his most recent starting assignment Buehler received top notch run support. Commodore batters piled up 20 hits and 21 runs as the Kentucky native struck out seven and walked just one in five innings of work. Vanderbilt went on to shutout a 45 win Radford team 21-0.

The Vandy bullpen is led by freshman Kyle Wright (5-1, 1.09 ERA) who has emerged late in the season as one of the top Vandy relievers. The Huntsville, Ala., native has allowed just six earned runs in almost 50 innings pitched this season. Sophomore lefty Ben Bowden (6-1, 3.12 ERA), who has a strong arm and 45 strikeouts against just 13 walks, is another key VU reliever. Sophomore left-handed John Kilichowski (3-3, 2.97 ERA) pitched well in the 2014 College World series. Kilichowski has the most strike outs of the Vandy relievers with 61. Righty Jordan Sheffield has a fastball that runs into the high 90s. He's struck out 53 but allowed far too many walks (43).

ABOUT ILLINOIS

Illinois (50-8-1), playing the No. 128 ranked strength of schedule, is the winningest team in Division I college baseball. The Illini won the Big Ten regular season championship easily with only a 5-2 loss at Michigan State blemishing the 21-1 league record. Some common opponents with Vanderbilt include Indiana and Missouri. Vanderbilt defeated Indiana 6-4 in the recent Nashville Regional. The Illini swept a 2-game weather shortened series with the Hoosiers (5-1, 6-3) back in mid-April. Illinois beat Missouri 4-3 in Sauget, Ill., in late March while Vandy swept a 3-game series from the Tigers and then narrowly beat Mizzou in their SEC Tournament opening game.

Illinois, as you would expect with a team that has 50 wins, has a strong all round game. The Illini can pitch, hit and field as good as any team in the country. Hitting wise the Illinois ranks No. 36 nationally in batting average (.295). Illinois, like Vandy, has been successful this season hitting the long ball with 54 home runs.

First baseman David Kerian (.376, 52 RBI) was named Most Outstanding Player of the Champaign Regional, hitting .625 with two home runs, two doubles and five RBI to go along with four walks. Left fielder Ryan Nagle (.329, 34 RBI) has a .415 average over the past 12 games. First-team All-Big Ten right fielder Casey Fletcher (.324, 32 RBI) drew five walks during the Big Ten Tournament. Third baseman Reid Roper (.302, 49 RBI) scored a school-record six runs plus hit two home runs, including a first grand slam, and totaled a career-best six RBI versus Rutgers on May 10. First-team All-Big Ten short stop Adam Walton (.294, 31 RBI) has a team-high 25 multi-hit games.

As mentioned earlier, Illinois is a sound, well-rounded team. However, pitching appears to be the strength of this team. The Illini rank third in the nation in ERA (2.42) and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.45). Illini pitchers are allowing opposing batters a .236 batting average. Illinois, like Vanderbilt, has only revealed its Saturday starter, Kevin Duchene. Sunday and Monday's starters are to be announced. Here's a look at Duchene and other potential starters.

Lefty Kevin Duchene (11-1, 1.46 ERA) earned first team All-Big Ten and second team All-America honors after the regular season. This season Duchene has 86 strikeouts and walked just 15 batters. Undrafted out of high school, A Louisville Slugger Second-Team All-American pick by Collegiate Baseball, Duchene has progressively improved his ERA from 2.79 his freshman year to a sparkling 1.46 this year. His fastball runs about 90 mph and he also likes to throw the curveball and changeup.

Righty Drasen Johnson (10-3, 2.01 ERA) will likely pitch game two if the Illini lose game one. In his most recent outing Johnson threw a complete game shutout against Notre Dame. Against the Irish he struck out six while walking just one.

Right handed John Kravetz (5-0, 3.35 ERA) could be the starter in game two or three (if required). Last week against Wright State Kravetz allowed two earned runs in 4 2/3 inning pitched while not garnering a strike out.

Lefty Tyler Jay (5-1, 0.60 ERA, 14 S) is the most highly regarded player on the Illini roster. Some experts are predicting him to be taken very early in the upcoming MLB Draft. This season Jay has allowed opposing batters a paltry .151 batting average. He struck out 70 while allowing just 7 walks. Jay usually pitches just one inning but he's gone as long as six innings with success.

Other key relievers for the Illini include Rob Donnell (7-2, 2.19 ERA) who has made 16 appearances this season in both starting and relief roles. McDonnell, a righty, has struck out 70 batters in 74 innings pitched. Lefty J.D. Nielson (3-1, 2.92 ERA) has 24 strikeouts in 24 1/3 inning pitched. He's walked 11. Right-handed Cody Sedlock (4-0, 4.50 ERA) has 26 Ks in 29 1/3 innings of work. The sophomore has given up 10 walks.

.ILLINOISVANDERBILT
Record50-8-145-19
Avg.295.293
Runs387440
Hits608657
HR54 62
2B102139
3B1427
RBI357400
SB-SBA67-9895-127
Fielding Pct..973.977
ERA 2.423.02
K 435637
BB 126269
Opp BA.236.217

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