Familiar foes to add another chapter to rivalry

June 13, 2014

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So, we meet again.

What would a postseason be without Vanderbilt and Louisville? If it feels like the two schools meet every year in the NCAA Tournament, it is because they usually do. Recently, the number of years the teams have met in the NCAA Tournament outnumber the years they have not faced one another.

The teams have met in three of the last five NCAA Tournaments, playing a total of seven games with Louisville holding a 4-3 edge in postseason meetings. So, naturally, it is only fitting that the two teams meet again; this time in Omaha at the College World Series.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the interstate rivals will face one another in the postseason for the fourth time in six years, but the stakes have never been greater than they will be this weekend.

"We play them every single year ... and we play them when we don't schedule them because the NCAA does," Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin said. "But I think that is fine. It is probably fine for them. It is fine for us just in terms of knowing who they have, understanding the type of game that they play."

The previous three seasons the teams met, it was a heavyweight fight between two evenly matched programs that play similar styles. The Cardinals own the overall postseason series record, but most notably are responsible for ending Vanderbilt's season two of the three years.

In 2009, it was Louisville avenging a loss to Vanderbilt the previous day to eliminate the Commodores and advance to the Super Regionals on their home field.

Vanderbilt was sent to the Louisville Regional for the second year in a row in 2010, but this time it was the Commodores who prevailed, winning three straight, including two in a row against the Cardinals, after losing to Louisville in the second game of the regional.

Then of course was 2013. Vanderbilt's record-setting season came crashing to a halt with a back-to-back home losses to Louisville in the Super Regionals.

The two teams met earlier this year at Hawkins Field, where Louisville won 11-7.

"When we played them, I thought they were one of the best teams that we have played all season and seen," Corbin said.

The history of the series dates back to a 3-0 Vanderbilt win in 1971, but the rivalry as fans know it today got its start in 2008. At the time, Corbin and Louisville Head Coach Dan McDonnell scheduled a single midweek game between the two programs. Since that game, a 17-6 Vanderbilt thrashing, the teams have met one time every regular season, and lately most every postseason.

The annual matchup has become one of the game's best rivalries, and has produced some of the most memorable and historical moments on both sides of the fence.

"They have become a very natural rival to us just in terms of proximity and the fact that they are an outstanding program coached by an outstanding guy," Corbin said.

Some could say the rivalry was born in 2009 when the two schools met in the postseason, but others may point to the 2010 campaign as being the year that really fanned the flames.

That year, the clubs met in Nashville during the regular season just days after the historic flood. Admission to the game was free with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross to benefit flood victims. Those in attendance will never forget the atmosphere in the stands and the unbelievable game that ensued.

For 17 innings, the two teams battled back and forth before a walk-off home run by Jason Esposito gave the Commodores an 11-10 victory in a game that ended well after midnight.

Later that season the teams met again in the NCAA Regionals in Louisville. The Commodores lost the first meeting in the second game of the regional before rallying to fight their way out of the loser's bracket and defeat the Cardinals two days in a row to advance to Super Regionals. The decisive game was won in the 10th inning on a sacrifice bunt by Connor Harrell that scored Curt Casali.

The rivalry has only grown since that season. In 2012, the annual regular season meeting was officially dubbed the "Battle of the Barrel." The Commodores won the first two meetings before Louisville claimed the barrel this spring.

For as many times as the teams have met, they have never faced one another with as much on the line as they will on Saturday. The rivalry and familiarity with one another should produce a terrific game, and has become an interesting subplot at the College World Series.

"We've played them in Regionals, Super Regionals and now we are playing them in Omaha, so why not?" asked pitcher Tyler Beede. "It will be obviously a little bit of a rivalry, but it will be a cool way to kick off Omaha for us and for them."

Both programs had reached elite status by the time the annual matchup(s) between the schools begun in 2008, but the continued success of each has only exacerbated the rivalry.

Adding to the series has been just how close the overall postseason meetings have been. Remarkably, in seven games played, the run differential in the series is just one run in favor of Vanderbilt. The differential in strikeouts is also just one with Louisville's pitchers striking out one more Vanderbilt batter over time. Additionally, Vanderbilt has committed one more error than Louisville.

Vanderbilt - Louisville Postseason Meetings (7 Games)
Category Vanderbilt Louisville
Wins 3 4
Runs 26 25
Hits 58 47
Strikeouts by Pitchers 49 50
Stolen Bases 10 4
Errors 7 6

As evidenced by the numbers, the difference between the two teams in previous matchups has been razor thin. A base hit, stolen base or error can determine the final score, and with these two schools often a whole lot more.

Louisville currently holds a three-game win streak in the series, including the last two in the postseason. The losses have put a bitter taste in the mouths of the Commodores, who are excited about the opportunity to face Louisville on the biggest stage, and hopefully regain the upper hand.

"Big time," said Beede who did not hesitate when asked if he was excited for the team to be facing Louisville again. "That's how we all are. We all kind of want redemption when we can get it. It's going to be fun."

Rivalries are an important part of the fabric of sports, and in college baseball, there aren't many currently being played that are as competitive or as unlikely as Vanderbilt and Louisville.

The two teams are in separate conferences and are located in different states, yet the historical path of each program has forever been altered by the other. On Saturday, another chapter of the rivalry will be written.



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