The Boys Are Back

Vanderbilt officially begins preparation for 2022 season

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A little less than seven months removed from a runner-up finish at the 2021 College World Series, the Vanderbilt Baseball team officially began training Friday afternoon at Hawkins Field.

Vandy, coming off a 49-win season and returning a solid group of core contributors from that squad, has a little more than three weeks to prepare for the season-opener Feb. 18. That day will mark the starting line on the road back to the NCAA Tournament – an end goal all are cognizant of, but rarely mention.

“Everyone wants to get to a certain point at the end of the year, but our concentration isn’t on that,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “It’s not on winning an SEC title. Those are outcomes that happen if you stay very consistent with what you’re doing inside you program. More than anything we stay very regimented on what we’re doing right now, don’t look ahead at all because I think that’s dangerous.

“And really for these kids it’s poisonous. The best thing that they can do is really center themselves on what’s happening right now and if they’re growing in the right direction then they’ll play. If we’re growing in eat right direction then we’ve got a chance to be successful. If we don’t then we’re going to be where we’re supposed to be.”

Vanderbilt’s success could lie within its positional players and batting order. Javier Vaz, Tate Kolwyck, Dominic Keegan, Carter Young, Troy LaNeve, Parker Noland, Spencer Jones, Enrique Bradfield and Jack Bulger are just a few of the familiar names who are back in Nashville for the 2022 season.

As for pitching depth? There is plenty, but experience – especially in prime roles – isn’t at a high level. Gone are aces Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter as well as closer Luke Murphy.

Thomas Schultz, Christian Little, Nick Maldonado, Patrick Reilly and Chris McElvain could all be asked to step forward as inning-eaters over the next five months.

“This is a new year,” McElvain said when asked about adjusting to the absence of Leiter and Rocker. “This something new, we’re going to write our own book and we’re going to travel our own road.”

In June, the Commodores came within one win of the program’s third national title. Mississippi State, however, took the final two games of the best-of-three finals series in Omaha, Nebraska, and walked away national champions.

Vandy doesn’t have Mississippi State on the regular-season slate in 2022 so will have to wait for a rematch at the SEC Tournament or within the NCAA Tournament. Before then Corbin’s team has home tilts with Army, Michigan, Indiana State and Louisville as well as a trip to Hawai’i to play four games against the Warriors.

The Commodores are scheduled to open the 2022 campaign Feb. 18 when they host Oklahoma State, a team ranked inside the top 10 in most national polls, at Hawkins Field.

“I think we’re a tough group,” Keegan said. “We’re a pretty young group, but we did play as many games as you could last year, so I think experience helps us a lot. We also have a little chip shoulder and are a tough group, a really close-knit group and love being with one another. That’s real beneficial for us.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.