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February 7, 2007

Vanderbilt has high expectations

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It's a chilly Tuesday morning in Nashville, Tenn., and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin peers over Hawkins Field from his spacious office.

The construction of Vanderbilt's state of the art clubhouse shows that money continues to be filtered into the program. But most importantly, it displays Vanderbilt's willingness to win and the accomplishments of Corbin and the Commodores.

Corbin and Vanderbilt are simply a match made in heaven.

"We've accomplished a lot since I showed up here, but we have plenty of work to do," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "Our program is in a position to do something special and we need to take advantage of that."

With consecutive successful seasons, external expectations have risen.

The Commodores are ranked No. 5 in the Rivals.com Top 25 and reaching the College World Series is no longer a dream, it's an expectation.

Just don't tell that to a cautiously optimistic Corbin.

"It's always good to have people thinking highly of your program, but we can't focus on that as we embark on a new season," Corbin said. "We have expectations within our program and that's what we're living by entering the spring."

Corbin expanded on the internal expectations.

"As a program, we approach each practice looking to get better," he said. "There are some things out there you can't control, but as a team, you can't think about that. You have to think about going to practice, getting better and recording victories."

With a possible College World Series berth in the back of their minds, the Commodores begin the 2007 season at the Astros College Classic, where they'll face three solid opponents Rice, Arizona State and Baylor.

Each team presents a different challenge for the Commodores.

Rice has balance with a solid pitching staff and talented lineup, while Arizona State has one of the nation's top lineups with first baseman Brett Wallace leading the charge. Baylor has several question marks, but has enough young talent to make a splash.

"Playing these three teams to start the season is very beneficial for us," Corbin said. "The speed is going to be quick and it's a good situation to be in this early in the season."

The Commodores enter the weekend with one of the nation's top arms junior left-hander David Price.

Price has been a staple in the weekend rotation for two seasons and hopes to leave a mark in what will likely be his final season at Vanderbilt. In 2006, Price went 9-5 with a 4.16 ERA in 110 1/3 innings. He also struck out 155 and walked 43.

Joining Price on the weekend are right-handers Nick Christiani and Brett Jacobson.

Christiani had a team-high 25 appearances last season, while Jacobson made just six appearances.

"Nick (Christiani) has gained much confidence since last season and has a solid fastball and plus curve," Corbin said. "We've slowly brought Brett (Jacobson) along, but he's a hard thrower and has a wealth of potential."

The Commodores are also high on their closer, senior right-hander Casey Weathers.

"Casey (Weathers) has more confidence and is really looking forward to the season," Corbin said. "The Team USA invite was good for his confidence and he continues to get better, stronger and more durable. We're expecting a productive campaign from him."

As Vanderbilt moves forward, they do so with a mixture of pluses and minuses.

"Our biggest weakness is the uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff," Corbin said. "But on the flip side, we have a crop of talented hitters that play hard and smart."

When the Commodores take the field in Houston this weekend, they will look to earn a trio of victories. They also hope to establish some consistency.

"I want to see our team perform at a high level this weekend," Corbin said. "We're approaching this tournament like a postseason Regional, so there's a lot we want to accomplish in three games."

The Commodores open the Astros College Classic against No. 1 Rice on Friday.