The Cavs and the 'Dores square off tonight for the first of the Championship Series for all the Tostitos. Since we aren't in the GREATEST CONFERENCE OF ALL TIME (SEC) and don't know much about the boys from Nashville, we figured we would go straight to those with the most knowledge: SB Nation's Vanderbilt section, Anchor of Gold. Like we've done throughout the NCAA tournament, we asked one of their main baseball writers, Christian D'Andrea, some questions to get a better feel for their team. Here are their answers:
STL: What's the mindset of Vandy Nation right now? Going 3-0, dropping a game, then having the elimination game go into extras before a dramatic walk off...how are the nerves?
AoG: Things had been pretty easy going until Texas showed up...and then things got real tense. The 'Dores missed a handful of opportunities to finish that game off in regulation - but most fans were oddly calm in the 9th and 10th innings of Saturday's elimination game. There was a weird current of confidence running under that game - and that's something that is pretty rare for Vanderbilt fans who have known mostly heartbreak since Dan McGugin left town in 1931.
STL: Talk about unlikely heroes...did anyone expect this performance out of Tyler Campbell?
AoG: No one expected Campbell to play, let alone bring home a CWS Finals berth behind a two-out, bases-loaded, walk-off single in the 10th inning. To be fair, his single was basically a swinging bunt to shortstop and he (and the rest of the bottom third of the lineup) had been essentially ineffective until the 10th inning, but this kid won't have to worry about buying his own drinks in Nashville for a while. You know, once he actually turns 21. He has filled in admirably for the suspended Xavier Turner, but losing X at the hot corner is a significant loss for this team's offense.
STL: Who should Virginia fans know about on the 'Dores? Who has the hot bat right now?
AoG: Tyler Beede is the big name on the mound, but Carson Fulmer, Adam Ravenelle, Walker Buehler, Brian Miller, and Hayden Stone are all pitchers who have the talent to shut down any NCAA team's offense - even a team that's rolling like the Cavs. Vanderbilt has 1st round talent dotting the bullpen, so expect lots of low-scoring games and small ball over the next three days. Freshman Bryan Reynolds has been Vandy's hottest player at the plate in the postseason, but Dansby Swanson and Rhett Wiseman have also been effective rally-creators from the middle of the lineup.
STL: TD Ameritrade has played well for Virginia...how do the dimensions/wind factor affect Vandy?
AoG: Vandy hasn't hit a home run in more than a month - they aren't exactly a power team despite plastering a pair of long line drives off the top of the wall in their last three games. TDAP hasn't affected that aspect of their game too significantly. The 'Dores have taken advantage of a ballpark that knocks down fly balls, and this pitching-heavy team has done well in a CWS that has been defined by low-scoring games and pitchers' duels.
STL: What does Vandy need to do to beat Virginia in a best-of-three series?
AoG: They should get the pitching they'll need to survive - or thrive - but wins will be dictated by this team's ability to draw walks and string hits together. They can't do that if the bottom of their lineup craps the bed like they did in the first nine innings of Saturday's game against Texas (0-12 in regulation).
STL: What is your projected rotation for the series? Will the late walk off play any factor with relief down the stretch?
AoG: Vandy hasn't announced anything yet, but they'll choose between 1st-round draft pick Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.80 ERA) and Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.27) on Monday. Whoever doesn't get the call will go Tuesday. Beede has some of the best pitches in the NCAA, and he proved that against Xavier in the Regional (14 Ks). However, he's struggled since being drafted, showing off some devastating cricket-style pitches but not doing as well with pitches that aren't supposed to bounce at the plate. Buehler has been better in the postseason, and seems like the more likely bet for Monday.
Wednesday will likely see Tyler Ferguson on the mound (8-4, 2.72), but Fulmer will be available to twirl some innings with his 94-96 mph fastball on short notice.
The extra game against Texas burned ace Carson Fulmer early, but the 'Dores only used two extra pitchers thanks to some great long relief efforts from Hayden Stone and Brian Miller (13 combined innings on Friday/Saturday). Vandy's pen goes deep, so I don't expect things to get too hairy in this best-of-three series, despite the quick turnaround.
STL: First timers for both Virginia and Vandy in the finals. What factor will nerves play?
AoG: With the exception of some passed balls and botched pick-offs (and a completely baffling and terrible two-strike safety squeeze with RISP and one out), Vanderbilt looked every bit like they belonged in Omaha. I can't speak for the Cavs, but they've looked pretty relaxed in their three games as well. I expect the standard NCAA baseball shenanigans - bases loaded walks, hit batsmen, etc - but I think both teams will look the part in the biggest games in program history.
STL: What would you say Vandy's biggest weakness is?
AoG: The bottom third of this lineup is...not great. Can Virginia pitch around a stretch that may not include a batter who's hitting better than .220 this season? Because that's what Vandy threw out there Saturday vs. Texas.
STL: Who will throw the best tailgate? More popped collars? Could this be the classiest fan base in CWS history?
AoG: I feel as though Virginia will have the nicer sushi spreads and the jury's out on which side will wear more boat shoes, but the 'Dores will come correct with a vast supply of Korbel brandy old fashioneds and a custom-made tailgate playlist consisting solely of Gordon Lightfoot songs.
Is that how you prepare for a NCAA championship game? I feel like that's how you prepare for an NCAA championship game.
STL: Ok...what's your pick?
AoG: Vandy via dramatic game three extra innings victory, followed by an unexpected whiskey shortage in Davidson County, Tennessee.
There you have it. Like most UVa fans, it seems that Commodore fans will enter this Championship Series confident in their team. Hopefully one of these two teams can win in two games. Otherwise, Omaha's wine and cheese supply could be threatened.