If the slumbering Vanderbilt baseball team needed a wakeup call, it rang loudly after the Commodores were swept in a three-game series over the weekend at Ole Miss.
VU returned home shell-shocked but also, perhaps, with renewed purpose after being swept by a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time in two years.
“It lights you up and makes you realize what’s going on,” VU outfielder Dominic de la Osa said.
Vanderbilt, defending SEC champion, is 5-6 in league play and in last place in the Eastern Division standings.
Although they have yet to reach the halfway point of a 30-game SEC schedule, the Commodores feel urgency to pile up some wins. Only the top eight teams, based on winning percentage in league play, will compete in the conference tournament May 21-25 in Hoover, Ala.
Without an appearance in Hoover, an NCAA Tournament invitation isn’t likely.
“It’s going to be a fight to make that tournament,” de la Osa said. “It’s going to take a total team effort. Everyone is going to have to pick it up and start playing better.”
Statistics tell part of Vanderbilt’s 2008 story.
As a team, VU is batting .300 after hitting .324 last season. Commodores pitchers currently have a combined earned-run average of 4.69. Last year it was 3.55.
Coach Tim Corbin said his team’s struggles go beyond numbers.
“Nothing is running in synch with one another, whether it’s the base running, the pitching, the fielding or the hitting,” he said. “There hasn’t been one aspect of the game that we’ve done really well up to this point. It’s just not clicking yet, but it will.”
Corbin admits Vanderbilt’s success in 2007, when it was ranked No. 1 nationally for 15 weeks and won the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, established a new precedent for 2008.
The Commodores won nine of 10 SEC series last season and administered three sweeps. Many VU players had never experienced the losing end of a sweep before last weekend.
“It’s a big shocker,” sophomore pitcher Mike Minor said. “We’re thinking every time we’re the much better team and we’re going to beat them by five or six runs every time.”
When winning becomes more elusive, players can begin to feel pressure, Corbin said.
“It gets magnified, and they have a tendency to press and think, ‘What’s happening here? We’re a good team,’” he said. “Thinking about those external things can get in the way and cause ‘brain freeze.’”
Vanderbilt, ranked 19th, plays host to Western Kentucky tonight and Austin Peay on Wednesday before traveling to Mississippi State for a three-game series this weekend.
The goal of the week is to shake off last week’s sweep and leap back into the conference race.
“We were disappointed, but I try to put a positive spin on it,” Corbin said. “I explained them to that these things happen. Now we’re getting a test, both physically and mentally.
“How we get through these tests will determine what type of team we are in the end. Maybe we need this, who knows?”
FEINBERG OUT: Vanderbilt senior second baseman Alex Feinberg is expected to miss up to two weeks of action after being hit by a pitch and suffering a broken jaw in a game at Ole Miss last Saturday.
Feinberg, who underwent surgery Sunday, was in the midst of his best season, ranking third in the Southeastern Conference in hitting with a .400 batting average.
Feinberg was hit in the jaw by a pitch thrown by Lance Lynn that was clocked at 92 miles-per-hour.
Nashville native and MBA product Brian Harris will fill in at second base until Feinberg returns. Harris, VU’s top utility infielder, played third base most of this season while starter Pedro Alvarez recovered from a broken hand.