Pitching a key tonight in Louisville

For the third time in the past four years Vanderbilt has made it to the final of an NCAA Baseball Regional. Unfortunately in both of the previous two finals the Commodores came up short. Pitching decisions in each of those two super regional losses turned out to be the key factor and will again likely be a vital component to tonight's game.

In 2007 the Commodores fell to Michigan on a Monday night when David Price was asked to throw one pitch too many. Price gave up a tenth inning homer that kept the top ranked Commodores from advancing. Last year we saw the same thing when Mike Minor started and threw 70 pitches after throwing 134 just a couple days before. Minor would give up a big 3-run homer that was the difference in that game.

Things looked pretty bleak just a couple days ago when Vandy struggled to an 8-7 win over Illinois State in 13 innings. Corbin went with Taylor Hill in that game, gambling correctly that he would have Sonny Gray to face Louisville on Saturday. But then on Saturday Louisville cruised to a 7-1 victory over the ‘Dores when Sonny wasn't at his best. This meant that the good guys would need to win three straight to advance to a super regional. For what it's worth I think it was a smart move by Corbin to go with Hill in the opening game although things didn't pan out correctly.

On Sunday morning Vandy went with Jack Armstrong. Armstrong also wasn't at his sharpest giving up several walks while lasting just four innings. Even after Vandy pulled off a 10-4 win over Illinois State it seemed like it would take a miracle to get past the Cardinals in order to force a game on Monday. You see the Commodores led just 5-4 going into the ninth inning of their game with the Redbirds and had struggled for much of the game stranding 13 runners. However, something happened to the Commodores batters in that inning as the men from Nashville plated 5 runs to seal another NCAA victory.

That fine ninth inning performance must have given the Commodore batters confidence heading into their crucial Sunday afternoon re-match with the Cardinals. A stellar pitching performance by usual relief pitcher Richie Goodenow was vital to the winning cause. Goodenow allowed only two hits and two walks while throwing a complete game and shutting out the Cards, 7-0. Goodenow and the Commodore batters seemed to feed off each other. The Commodores pounded out 11 hits and actually advanced base runners as opposed to stranding most as they had frequently done in the first three games.

Now the big question is who will pitch on Monday? My bet is that the Commodore staff would like to give the Card batters a good dose of lefties. Goodenow is a lefty and caused all kinds of problems for Louisville in Sunday's shutout victory. In his post game remarks on Sunday Tim Corbin specifically mentioned sophomore Grayson Garvin (1.33 ERA), another lefty. After Garvin there isn't much left handed wise. Sam Selman is a young lefty with potential but he has a 9-run ERA. The coach also discussed right-handed Taylor Hill (4.19 ERA), who threw 75 pitches on Friday, as someone who should be able to pitch. Garvin pitched as well on Friday and had 73 pitches so he may not be able to go much longer than a few innings. Corbin also didn't rule out the possibility of using Gray but he threw 98 pitches in Saturday's loss to Louisville so that might be a tall order. Whoever pitches let's hope the Commodore coaches don't make the same mistake they made in the past two regional finals. Maybe just be a little more prudent in using pitchers who have recently started. I'm not saying don't use them, just be more careful in their length of use. Almost all players will say they are not tired when asked; they want to stay in the game and be heroes.

On the other side of the coin the question is who will pitch for Louisville? The Card's ace pitcher, Thomas Royse (2.91 ERA) who earned All-Big East honors, has so far been held out of the regional due to illness. However, a REPORT on Saturday in the Louisville Courier-Journal revealed that Royse (photo at right) was feeling "much better" and might be available for Sunday. With one additional day to recover you'd think the Louisville coaches might be more inclined to use him especially now that they are in an elimination game. Louisville assistant coach Chris Lemonis also confirmed that Royse was a candidate to pitch on Monday during his Vanderbilt post game comments.

The Cardinal pitching situation doesn't seem near as daunting as Vanderbilt's. In addition to playing an entire extra game, the Commodores had the 13-inning affair with Illinois State on Friday and when they faced the Redbirds again on Sunday, while the game didn't go into extra innings, it used up Commodore pitchers again. That contest lasted almost four hours because of a ridiculously small strike zone established by the home plate umpire, which resulted in an excessive number of walks by both teams. Louisville has three pitchers who will likely be too fatigued to pitch: Justin Amlung (71 pitches on Sunday), Matt Koch (82 pitches on Saturday, and Derek Self (66 pitches on Friday). After that only one Cardinal pitcher has thrown more than 50 pitches (Tony Zych 55). My guess is we'll see the ace Royse.

What does the future hold for the 2010 Vanderbilt baseball team? Will the clock strike midnight again for the Diamond ‘Dores? Or will they be playing in sunny Florida next weekend? It'll likely all come down to pitching and hopefully the Commodores have enough rested arms remaining to get the job done.

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