Nashville Regional Expanded Preview: Oregon looks to make first super regional since 2012 after winning PAC-12 Tournament

By: Ian Sutliff

Eugene, OR— On Memorial Day, regional pairings were announced for NCAA baseball’s 2023 tournament and with Vanderbilt receiving the sixth overall seed, they’ll host a strong regional with Oregon, Xavier, and Eastern Illinois. The Ducks made the trip to Nasheville on Wednesday night into Tennessee where they’ll face a familiar face on Friday in the Xavier Musketeers. During the first week of the season, Oregon hosted Xavier at PK Park where the Ducks swept the Musketeers in four games, but both teams are very different than they were over three months ago. The Commodores are the overwhelming favorite to win the regional as one of the best teams in the nation, coupled with their dominance at home this season (25-6 at Hawkins field). It should be a fun regional with plenty of offense with first pitch at 10:00 PST between Xavier and Oregon on ESPN+. 

Vanderbilt (41-18):

It’s familiar territory for one of the best programs in all of college sports, with Vanderbilt earning its 17th straight regional appearance. After a 41-18 season that saw the Commodores win the SEC tournament, there’s no doubt that one of the most talented teams in the nation is playing its best baseball. It won six of its last seven games, with wins over other regional hosts in Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama, and Florida. 

While the numbers at the plate might not be as eye-popping at the plate as some of the other teams in this regional, it’s important to remember that Vanderbilt has faced the best pitching in the nation this season where they face a conference full of future big-leaguers. Freshman Chris Maldanado is one of the best pure hitters in the country and leads this deep roster with a .319 batting average in 42 games. RJ Schreck struggled down the stretch, but he may be the most dangerous hitter in this regional as the outfielder put up a .309/.455/.589 slash line while hitting a team-leading 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. He also stole six bases while landing right outside of the SEC all-defensive team. While Schreck might be the most dangerous hitter, potential first round pick Enrique Bradfield Jr. is the most exciting player to watch on this squad with his combination of power, speed, contact, and excellent defense. Bradfield hit .286 with six home runs, 33 RBIs and a .423 OBP which is credited to his team-high 45 walks. The center fielder and lead-off hitter for the Commodores earned second-team SEC honors and an all-defensive selection while finishing eighth in the country with 38 stolen bases. RJ Austin and Parker Noland are some of the most talented players in the nation while hitting in the middle of this lineup.

Projected Lineup:

CF- E.Bradfield (.286-6-33)

3B- D.Diaz (.261-8-53)

RF- R.Schreck (.309-13-57)

1B- P. Noland (.269-9-37)

DH- C.Maldonado (.319-7-30)

2B- R.Austin (.267-7-42)

LF- M.Polk (.280-4-23)

SS- J.Vastine (.283-4-32)

C- A.Espinal (.265-5-17)

The Commodores have a plethora of options in terms of arms, but there really are only a few very strong options that they rely on. Hunter Owen has been dominant this season as one of the two main starters for Vandy this season as the 6’6” junior left-hander has gone 4-0 over 11 starts with a 3.15 ERA. His 72 strikeouts over 60 innings while allowing just a .209 batting average against some of the best hitting teams in the country. Devin Futrell is the ace for Vanderbilt and will likely get the ball in the biggest of games this postseason after being named to the conference second team after posting a 7-3 record with a 3.55 ERA over 78 ⅔ innings in 14 starts this year. Futrell is just a sophomore for the Commodores but already has his name all over future draft boards after finishing his freshman year with a 9-3 season and 3.41 ERA. Out of the bullpen Nick Maldanado will be the pitcher to watch as he was also named to the conference second team. In 31 innings, the senior has a 1.45 ERA while striking out 40 batters and carrying a dominant 0.68 WHIP. This is a university that continuously produces major league arms and Ryan Ginther, Grayson Moore, and Greysen Carter could also be included in that list.

Oregon (37-20): 

It’s the third straight regional appearance for the Ducks in three straight full seasons in the Mark Wazikowski era for the Ducks, but the team has failed to get over the hump the previous two times. With arguably his best roster, a hot Oregon team with plenty of veteran leadership and young talent will look to carry the momentum it gained in the PAC-12 tournament into Nashville this weekend. 

While it’s been an up-and-down season with mostly ups for the Ducks, the offense has remained extremely consistent in 2023. This might easily be the most deep group of bats in the regional and the mix of power and contact should scare opposing pitching across the nation. Rikuu Nishida and Sabin Ceballos are two important players to watch for Oregon, as the transfers have combined to hit .326 with 20 home runs between the two. Drew Cowley is one of the best hitters in the nation and has gone for 24 multi-hit games in his 2023 campaign. It was clear that the talent was there last season while the infielder had his junior year nearly cut in half by injuries, but still hit .424 in 151 at-bats while slugging .616. His power numbers are up from 3 to 15 this year and has become one of the hardest outs in the conference. Underclassmen Bennett Thompson and Drew Smith have also caught fire at the end of the season to earn everyday starts for a deep Ducks team.

Projected Lineup:

RF- R.Nishida (.313-5-34)

CF- C.Shade (.337-6-30)

SS- D.Cowley (.336-15-61)

3B- S.Ceballos (.342-15-61)

LF- T.Smith (.317-9-38)

DH- D.Smith (.403-2-15)

1B- J.Walsh (.245-14-32)

C- B.Thompson (.376-1-17)

2B- G.Grant (.277-8-29)

There are some huge questions around the Oregon pitching staff right now with injuries to arguably their two best pitchers. Isaac Ayon is rumored to be on his way back after spending the entire 2023 season on the shelf and ace Jace Stoffal may be available for the regional, but is still not 100%. Logan Mercado would probably be the best bet to take over as the Oregon ace if Ayon and Stoffal aren’t able to go, but the junior has yet to find consistency. Turner Spoljaric has earned himself some innings in the regional after gems against Utah and then Arizona in the PAC-12 championship. Matthew Grabman is the other freshman that will likely be asked to eat some innings, but he struggled down the stretch and finished with a mediocre 4.60 ERA over 47 innings. His .237 batting average against is a sign of encouragement nonetheless. At the backend of the bullpen, Austin Anderson (3-0, 0.39 in 20 apps) and Josh Mollerus (2.81 ERA, 9 SV) have been extremely consistent while freshmen Grayson Grinsell and Ian Umlandt have had great ends to their seasons. 

Xavier (37-23):

After a 10-12 start to the season, Xavier ran the tables in the Big East, going 14-7 in conference play and 27-11 over the final two months of the season. It’s the first regional appearance for the Musketeers since 2017 when they were eliminated in the Louisville regional championship by the hosts. This is also the program’s best finish to a season since it went 39-21 back in 2009 so there’s a lot at stake for a Xavier team with high hopes.

Xavier isn’t extremely deep offensively in terms of contact, but they do have five hitters who finished the season in double figures for home runs. Everything starts with Andrew Walker though who is the star grad student outfielder who has stolen 29 bases in 33 attempts. On top of that, Walker has a team-high .329 batting average and 82 hits (27 extra-base hits). In the middle of the lineup Matt McCormick, Matthew DePrey, and Jared Cushing have for 47% of the team’s 88 home runs. All of those players are hitting over .285 on the season as well. And don’t forget Jack Housinger who gets forgotten in such a strong lineup. The infielder from Hawthornes, Illinois is batting just .220 but has 12 home runs and a team-leading 59 walks to boost his OBP to third-highest on the team at .399. He also has seven stolen bases and a .453 slugging percentage which makes him a threat on multiple levels.

Projected Lineup:

SS- J.Housinger (.220-12-37)

C- M.DePrey (.288-14-41)

LF- A.Walker (.329-7-53)

DH- T.DeMartino (.264-10-32)

1B- M.McCormick (.310-13-39)

CF- G.Schultz (.246-3-20)

2B- J.Cushing (.286-14-49)

RF- C.Hendrickson (.254-5-23)

3B- G.Stephenson (.247-3-28)

One advantage that separates Xavier is their pretty strong pitching depth which has kept them afloat in team slumps at the plate. The Musketeers use three starters pretty regularly with Brant Alazuas as the team’s ace. Through 100 innings this season, Alazaus went 9-3 with a 3.87 ERA and a tremendous 0.92 WHIP. If the Xavier ace can keep the ball in the yard (20 HR allowed) then the Musketeers could find their way to a surprising regional championship appearance at the very least. Ethan Bosacker is the number two for Billy O’Connor’s squad and put up strong numbers as well. The senior started 15 games this year and over 89 innings, he was 7-3 with a 3.84 with a dominant 95 strikeouts to just 29 walks. Justin Loer is the star out of the bullpen and there’s a chance that the lefty could make an appearance in every single game that Xavier has in this regional. In 28 appearances, Loer is 6-3 with a 1.96 ERA and 60 strikeouts in just 55 innings. Loer is a multi-inning reliever, but can also be used to attack a lefty-dominant lineup in any given inning. 

Eastern Illinois (38-19)

It’s an exciting time for Panthers fans as the team is appearing in its first regional since 2008 and after 12 straight losing seasons between 2010 and 2021, Eastern Illinois has gone 71-39 over its past two seasons. This year, the Panthers made a shock run into the conference championship game after entering as a five-seed and earned an auto-bid after knocking off top-seeded Morehead State. They also own a 12-3 win over Arkansas which should give them confidence to pull off a huge upset against the Commodores.

Ryan Ignoffo is this team’s Shohei Ohtani; a two-way player with plenty of attraction at the plate where he slugged 15 home runs and closed out four games for the Panthers. On top of that, Ignoffo has 29 stolen bases which is right up there with teammate Grant Lashure who is one of the fastest players in the nation. Lashure is hitting .312 coming into the regional with just 11 extra-base hits but is a table setter as he has driven in 34 runs and has stolen 25 bases in just 28 attempts. Lincoln Riley is also a dangerous hitter and though he only has four home runs, the junior outfielder has ten doubles, a triple, and 18 stolen bags while he has been caught just once. Eastern Illinois only has 54 home runs on the year, but when this team gets on the bases, they are a headache. With 97 stolen bases as a team, the Panthers rank 36th out of 295 D1 schools in the nation in the category. Their ability to create havoc on the base paths and force fielders into mistakes is upset material.


While Xavier and Eastern Illinois are very dangerous lower seeds that are on a tear, Vanderbilt is one of the most polished teams in the country. The Ducks will make quick work of the Musketeers just like they did in the regular season and an upset bid for the Panthers will fall short on Friday. Vanderbilt will beat Oregon and Eastern Illinois will knock off Xavier to send them crashing out of the tournament. The Panthers run will end there, but the Commodores will sweep their way through their regional and get ready to host the supers at Hawkins Field next weekend.