ANALYSIS: Vandy will be defined in NCAAs

Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 2:13pm
Vanderbilt is still waiting for a breakout from star third baseman Pedro Alvarez. [Neil Brake for The City Paper.]

HOOVER, Ala. -- Vanderbilt's reign as Southeastern Conference Tournament baseball champion came to an end Saturday on a muggy Alabama spring night as Ole Miss eliminated the Commodores with an 8-7 victory.

But let's be honest: The real season, the time in which teams are defined, begins this week as NCAA Tournament play gets started.

Consider: A year ago, Vanderbilt was ranked No. 1 in the nation for 15 of 17 weeks and captured the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. Yet how are the 2007 Commodores remembered by most?

By an unlikely home run for a .188-batting pinch-hitter from Michigan named Alan Oaks, who connected off VU ace pitcher David Price in an NCAA regional final to finish Vanderbilt's season.

The Commodores entered that regional -- played at their home park at Hawkins Field -- as one of the favorites to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Oaks' stunning home run was perhaps the single most significant play of the 2007 college baseball season.

There will be no No. 1 rankings for Vanderbilt this season, and the chances of hosting a regional this week are slim to none. VU begins NCAA play at 40-20 and out of the national rankings.

In addition, a lineup full of experience and talent has yet to click all season, and time is running out.

Vanderbilt's big guns -- Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and Dominic de la Osa -- have yet to hit this season at the same time.

"It's not a perfect world," Flaherty said. "That's just the game of baseball."

Alvarez, in particular, struggled throughout the SEC Tournament, going 2-for-21 until hitting a home run in the ninth inning of Saturday's loss to Ole Miss.

"It was a struggle most of the tournament," VU coach Tim Corbin. "I just hope we're locked in and more balanced next week when it matters most."

Corbin believes Vanderbilt will receive a No. 2 seed when NCAA Tournament pairings are released Monday. Sixteen four-team regionals will be held around the nation.

This time, no one will peg the Commodores as a national favorite, and no national analysts will be talking about a likely trip to Omaha for Vanderbilt.

Perhaps that's a good scenario for VU, which has never played in the College World Series.

In this topsy-turvy season, the Commodores have displayed the talent to beat any team in the nation. But it's also a team that had lost five straight games entering SEC Tournament play.

The final stamp will come now in NCAA Tournament play.

"I know we're going to be traveling somewhere, but I have no clue where we're going," Corbin said.

No one else seems to know, either.

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