Panthers set to take on No. 3 Vanderbilt


File Photo

Former outfielder Caleb Howell steps up to the plate for his turn at bat before he broke the all-time career hits record Wednesday at Coaches Stadium.

Jack Arkus, Staff Reporter

After dropping its season opening series against Southern Mississippi, the Eastern Illinois baseball team will head to Nashville to play No. 3 ranked Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

Unlike Eastern, the Commodores will play their 4th home game in a row to start the season. They come into the contest 3-0 after sweeping San Diego this past weekend. The Panthers will remain on the road until the March 1.

Vanderbilt’s program is considered an SEC powerhouse year after year. Virginia spoiled its push for a second consecutive NCAA Championship last June at the College World Series in Omaha.

Former Vanderbilt player Dansby Swanson was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB draft, but was traded to the Atlanta Braves. Pitcher Carson Fulmer was drafted by the Chicago White Sox eighth overall in the draft.

Eastern had one practice this week, which was on Tuesday after returning from its three-game series against Southern Mississippi. Despite getting swept, head coach Jason Anderson feels his team played great and was confident in his young starters.

“We started seven freshman and sophomores against a pretty good program and I thought we competed well for two of the games, while Saturday’s game we need to just take as a learning experience, “Anderson stated.

Wednesday’s line up is looking to be more of a mix up between under and upperclassmen. In that lineup, pitching for Eastern will be red shirt freshman Ben Hughes. Coach Anderson feels that the bullpen may be a key resource, but knows that Hughes will go out there and hold it down for the Panthers, he said.

Expected to pitch for the Commodores is right handed pitcher Patrick Raby, a 6’3” freshman from Knoxville, Tenn. A team like Vanderbilt seems to be a good challenge in Anderson’s eyes, and he is eager to see how the Panthers will stack up against them.

A small ball approach against a talented team may be a more viable solution for Eastern on Wednesday.

“Against these types of programs, we are a small ball team,” Anderson said. “We are going to take what they give us and hopefully capitalize on some mistakes. Playing sound baseball will give us a better chance to come out with a win.”

Anderson does not want his team to fear any new talent on the Vanderbilt roster. His plan is attack and come prepared as they would against any other team they play, he said.

Being on the road the first few weeks of the season is just another obstacle to overcome for Eastern. Realistically, the team’s first home game may not be until late March because of the weather conditions. Until then, the baseball team does try to hold practices on their field while getting some reps in on the turf of O’Brien Field as well.

The Panthers will hit the road at 8 AM Wednesday morning and will head to Arkansas after Vanderbilt for a four-game weekend set. The weather for Wednesday’s game was forecast as periods of rain and light wind gusts. The high will be 53 degrees.


Jack Arkus can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]