Vanderbilt finds itself in a familiar situation as the Southeastern Conference baseball race enters its final weekend.
The 19th-ranked Commodores, who begin a three-game series at Florida on Thursday, need one win to wrap up a spot in the eight-team SEC Tournament field May 21-25.
For the sixth straight year, VU’s season will be defined by how it performs when it matters most.
Experience should pay off, coach Tim Corbin said.
“It’s a huge plus,” he said. “These guys want that and they’re fine with it. They’ve seen it before. They’re not going to be spooked by anything that’s going on from here on out.”
Vanderbilt is gunning for its third straight SEC Tournament appearance and fifth in six seasons under Corbin. An appearance in the tournament all but ensures a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
SEC champion Georgia is the only team to have already secured a spot in the league tournament. Only Mississippi State has been eliminated.
That leaves the remaining seven slots open to 10 teams. Four are log-jammed at 14-13 in conference play, while Arkansas is 13-13.
Even Vanderbilt, currently with the SEC’s second-best record, could finish ninth in the final standings and be left out of the league tournament.
While such a scenario is unlikely, it creates urgency for the Commodores to win at least one game at Florida and remove suspense.
VU, with a battle-tested lineup featuring five seniors and two juniors, has been down this road before.
“A younger team hasn’t been through these rough weekends at the end,” senior catcher Shea Robin said. “There’s some pressure. With an older team, you’re almost comfortable being in that uncomfortable situation.
“I’d much rather have it in our hands than for someone else to have to win or lose for us to get in. Going into this weekend, we’re kind of excited.”
In 2007, the Commodores won their first ever regular-season SEC championship by defeating LSU in the final series of the season.
In 2006, they had to beat South Carolina in the first game of the final series to reach the SEC Tournament.
In 2005, needing only one win to qualify for the league tournament, the Commodores were swept at home by Florida in a three-game series to end the season.
In 2003 and 2004, Vanderbilt was forced to win games in the final series of the season to play in the SEC Tournament.
“It makes it fun,” VU outfielder Dominic de la Osa said. “That’s SEC baseball for you.”
Can Vanderbilt come through in the clutch?
“We’ll just concentrate on this weekend,” Corbin said. “We have to get to the [SEC] tournament. That’s the goal. If we get to the tournament, we’ll make our way from there.”
Vanderbilt at Florida
Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
Friday, 5:30 p.m.
SEC Baseball Standings
#Georgia 19-7-1, 33-13-1
Vanderbilt 15-11, 37-15
Florida 14-13, 30-20
Kentucky 14-13, 38-14
S.Carolina 13-14, 34-18
Tennessee 11-16, 25-27
LSU 15-11-1, 35-16-1
Alabama 14-13, 30-23
Ole Miss 14-13, 33-20
Arkansas 13-13, 31-20
Auburn 11-16, 27-25
^Miss. State 7-20, 20-32
#Clinched SEC championship
^Eliminated from SEC Tournament
*Three regular-season games remain for each team. Top eight teams based on winning percentage advance to SEC Tournament, May 21-25 in Hoover, Ala. Division winners receive seeds 1 and 2.
Series Thursday through Saturday
Vanderbilt at Florida
Alabama at Georgia
Arkansas at Mississippi State
LSU at Auburn
Ole Miss at Kentucky
Tennessee at South Carolina