It is not just another series. It just is not.
When Vanderbilt hosts Oregon State in an NCAA super regional this weekend, the Commodores will need two wins to make school history and punch their ticket to their first College World Series.
So there is obviously more on the line compared to a regular season non-conference series against Illinois-Chicago or Brown University.
Yet the Commodores won’t show that their approach is any different. Because they believe it isn’t.
They think that’s why they’re 50-10, seeded sixth nationally and one of 16 teams left standing in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We’re loose all the time,” first baseman Aaron Westlake said. “Being able to prepare like it is championship day each day — that has allowed us to have the confidence that we have. Preparing that way doesn’t put any extra pressure on us when it is a super regional. It is just another day at the park.”
Vanderbilt and Oregon State (41-17) will play at 7 p.m. on Friday (ESPNU), 8 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN2) and, if necessary, at a time to be determined on Sunday (ESPN or ESPN2).
The Beavers have gone this far before — and beyond. They have made the College World Series four times, including three straight from 2005-07. The program captured back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 but this is the first time it has advanced to the super regional round since then.
All three of Vanderbilt’s super regional trips have come since 2004. The Commodores went 0-2 at Texas that year and then fell one win short of the College World Series last season when they lost in a decisive third game at Florida State.
Yet, Oregon State Pat Casey doesn’t believe Oregon State’s experience gives his squad an edge.
“Not nearly as much as the fact that Vandy’s got the best statistical club in the country,” Casey said. “I think that if you look at them, they should win the national championship with what they have. They are loaded. ... There is nobody in the country that we have seen on tape, that we’ve seen play that is more talented than Vanderbilt.”
Earlier this week, 12 Vanderbilt players were taken in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, which set a school and Southeastern Conference record. That included two first-round selections — starting pitchers Sonny Gray (Oakland Athletics) and Grayson Garvin (Tampa Bay Rays) — and 10 through the first 14 rounds.
That means a majority of those dozen Commodores, which includes three seniors, will not be back next year.
So this could be Vanderbilt’s best shot for a while to reach the College World Series.
“I don’t think there is any pressure, to tell you the truth,” sophomore shortstop Anthony Gomez said. “If we do what we have done, it is just another game. Another two more games, three more games if we keep winning to play with guys we won’t see next year. We’ll just be out there having fun, smiles all around.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin reiterated Gomez’s sentiments — just enjoy the experience. It is something Corbin, now in his ninth year, has had to remind himself every now and then.
“Maybe four or five years ago maybe I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much as I do now,” he said. “I have seen it a little bit differently and maybe that’s through experience. The only thing I have learned more than anything else is don’t get to the point as a coach where you don’t enjoy it — where your kids stop enjoying it. I just want to enjoy it as much as them.”
• Vanderbilt will stick with its regular weekend pitching rotation: Gray (11-3, 2.01 ERA) on Friday, Garvin (13-1, 2.37) on Saturday and Taylor Hill (5-1, 2.84) on Sunday.
Oregon State’s rotation, however, isn’t clear beyond Friday. The Beavers will send out ace and right-handed Sam Gaviglio (12-2, 1.87) opposite Gray. Casey has not set a starter for Saturday or Sunday. No. 2 pitcher Josh Osich (6-4, 3.64 ERA, 113 strikeouts) will not be available this weekend after suffering an injury last weekend. Right-hander James Nygren (8-3, 3.47) and lefty Ben Wetzler (6-3, 4.66) have each started at least 10 games and could be options.
• Vanderbilt ranks second in the country in team ERA (2.41) and sixth in batting average (.319). Oregon State ranks 17th (2.93) in ERA but is 221st (.270) in batting average.
• Oregon State finished tied for second in the Pac-10 Conference but lost its last five regular-season games. The Beavers, however, swept their way to their first regional title in four years. They defeated Arkansas-Little Rock, Creighton and Georgia — all in Corvallis, Ore.
• Vanderbilt and Oregon State have met only one other time. The Commodores won 8-1 in their 2008 season opener.