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MLB4 tourney features College WS rematch

@JakeDRill
February 13, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Last year, Vanderbilt began its baseball season at the inaugural MLB4 Tournament. Its season ended with a win over Michigan at the College World Series to clinch the second national championship in program history. This year, the Commodores are back in Scottsdale to open the season. And

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Last year, Vanderbilt began its baseball season at the inaugural MLB4 Tournament. Its season ended with a win over Michigan at the College World Series to clinch the second national championship in program history.

This year, the Commodores are back in Scottsdale to open the season. And their first opponent? The Wolverines.

Vanderbilt and Michigan are among the four schools that will play three games each in this weekend’s MLB4 Tournament at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies. The Commodores and Wolverines face off Friday night, then play UConn and Cal Poly the rest of the weekend.

All six games featuring these four teams will be live-streamed on MLB.com. Here’s the schedule: (all times ET):

Friday, Feb. 14
Cal Poly vs. UConn, 3 p.m. - Gameday
Michigan vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (Live on MLB Network) - Gameday

Saturday, Feb. 15
Michigan vs. Cal Poly, 3 p.m. - Gameday
Vanderbilt vs. UConn, 7 p.m. - Gameday

Sunday, Feb. 16
UConn vs. Michigan, Noon - Gameday
Vanderbilt vs. Cal Poly, 4 p.m. - Gameday

Vanderbilt is the only one of the four teams that participated in the MLB4 Tournament last year. The Commodores opened with consecutive wins over Virginia and Cal State Fullerton, before falling to TCU on the final day of the tournament.

Vandy’s 59-12 season ended with back-to-back wins vs. Michigan at the College World Series, bouncing back from an 0-1 series deficit to claim the national title. The Commodores, who are ranked No. 2 in D1Baseball’s Top 25 preseason poll, will look to beat the Wolverines to open the 2020 season on a strong note.

“We’re very excited to be here, No. 1. We’re excited to play Michigan, excited to do it on TV,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “I think the whole element of this tournament is incredibly exciting for the kids. … It would be very easy to just stay at home and play someone else, but you come out here, you learn how to fly together, you learn how to stay in a hotel together and then you learn how to compete on foreign territory. So I think there are so many benefits to being here for a weekend.”

Although the Commodores lost some key members of their team from last season, they also have several strong returners. That group includes junior shortstop Austin Martin, No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Draft Prospects list, junior left-hander Jake Eder (No. 34) and sophomore right-hander Kumar Rocker, who won Most Outstanding Player at last year’s College World Series.

Vanderbilt looks to become the first team since South Carolina in 2010-11 to win back-to-back national titles.

“Years are all separated, you have to recreate an identity of who you are,” Corbin said. “It’s a new chapter. Yes, the experiences will help, but at the same time, they’ve got to recreate their own team.”

Michigan is ranked 13th in the D1Baseball Top 25 poll, coming off its runner-up finish at last year’s College World Series. It was the Wolverines’ first CWS appearance since 1984, and their best finish since winning the national title in ’62.

Although Michigan lost its top two pitchers from a year ago, Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, it returns junior right-hander Jeff Criswell, MLB Pipeline’s No. 52 2020 Draft prospect.

Heading into their first MLB4 Tournament appearance, the Wolverines are ready to open the season against tough competition, starting with the rematch vs. Vanderbilt.

“It provides a great opportunity for our program to allow ourselves to make the jump,” Michigan head coach Erik Bakich said. “If we want that needle to move, to be one of the premier programs in college baseball, then we’ve got to play the premier teams in college baseball.”

Prior to Vandy and Michigan’s rematch, this year’s MLB4 Tournament opens with a Friday afternoon contest between UConn and Cal Poly.

The Huskies have reached the NCAA tournament in three of the previous four seasons. They’ll look to start 2020 with a win over the Mustangs, who are aiming to get back to the NCAA tourney for the first time since ’14.

“It’s a cliché, but the next game on the schedule’s the most important, and I know Cal Poly is really, really good,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “We’re playing three very good programs from around the country, it’s a great representation from across the country. … I think MLB did a great job selecting the four of us. Hopefully, we can put on a great show.”

Jake Rill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.