NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With 20 percent of the season in the books, Tim Corbin has been impressed with what he has seen from his Vanderbilt baseball team.
Not necessarily in the win-loss columns, which is still awfully good, but with some of the immeasurables inside his program.
“The maturity. How they’ve handle themselves academically. How they’ve handled themselves in this environment. They’re very intentional,” the Vanderbilt head coach said this week. “It’s tough for me to even say that about a group because I never want to compliment a group too soon, but I say that because it’s just day after day after day after day. The behaviors are very consistent.”
At 10-1 and off to their best start since 2016, the Commodores ride a seven-game winning streak into their biggest series of the season thus far. A trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face No. 9 Oklahoma State (10-0-1) awaits a team that has yet to be seriously tested three weeks into the 2021 campaign.
That will change at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We’re going to find out a little bit about ourselves,” Corbin said. “We’ve been in a comfort zone here for a lot of these games. Now we’ll get out of our comfort zone and kind of find out another personality trait or at least see who we are as a team.
“It’ll be great for (starting pitchers Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter and Thomas Schultz) – it’ll be great for our team. It will be great for these young, inexperienced kids to play a team that is a high-level team at an unbelievable ballpark.”
Oklahoma State, a team that was 13-5 in the shortened 2020 season and 40-21 with a Super Regional appearance in 2019, ranks sixth nationally in ERA (1.91) and 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (12.7) while also leading the nation with four shutouts.
The Cowboys have won four road games while Vandy, conversely, has not left the state.
“This weekend is going to be to see where we’re at,” Vanderbilt junior second baseman Tate Kolwyck said. “We’ve been kind of protected in our own little house, but this will be a good opportunity for us to go out on the road in a different environment and different atmosphere and just be strong with what we have – 42 deep.
“We’re going to be in our own little bunker so I think its going to give us a lot of experience that we need later on.”
Kolwyck and the Commodores rank 11th in the country in batting average (.332) and hits (125), fifth with 30 doubles, ninth in on-base percentage (.444) and eighth in slugging percentage (.570). But the Vanderbilt offense will be without leading hitter Dominic Keegan from some time, Corbin said this week, because the junior tested positive for COVID-19.
Thus, the Dores may have to rely more on the speed game like they did Tuesday in a 10-4 win over Memphis. Freshman Enrique Bradfield is now second nationally with 11 stolen bases and sophomore Carter Young has racked up 34 total bases and 17 runs scored.
Pitching, of course, continues to be Vanderbilt’s true strength.
Rocker has yet to allow an earned run in 15 innings, Leiter has fanned 26 hitters in 15 innings and opponents are hitting just .171 against Schultz. Those numbers have helped Vandy win 10 of its first 11 which, in turn, has helped a tight-knit group become even more so.
“The chemistry right now between everybody – everybody just loves being on that field,” Kolwyck said. “Not even looking at the games, if you come to the training sessions before, everybody is focused, intent, everybody is just loving being out there together.
“So I think that’s the best thing for us right now.”
Friday and Saturday’s games are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with the finale starting at 1 p.m. Sunday. All three contests can be seen on ESPN+.
When all is said and done this weekend Corbin will be able to look back and see if success has been accomplished or if it is still very much yet to come.
“There’s room to grow for sure and we will get better. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll get better – as long as we act in that same way,” Corbin said. “I just feel like the coaches and the players and how they work together and the respect that they have with one another and how they treat one another and how they speak to one another – I almost feel like a dad that’s overlooking a family and saying there’s great harmony with the group and how they coexist with one another.
“That’s really all I care about. From that you run into some type of success at some given time.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.