Preview: No. 20 Missouri to face No. 2 Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee

Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 17-3.

Coming off of consecutive series wins against South Carolina and then-No. 23 Tennessee, No. 20 Missouri will attempt to continue its momentum in Nashville, Tennessee against No. 2 Vanderbilt, arguably its toughest opponent this season.

The Commodores sit atop the SEC East at 18-6. The Tigers are in third in the division, but are significantly farther back at 12-11-1. Vanderbilt is on a 12-game winning streak, which includes a sweep against then-No. 25 Auburn, and a win against No. 6 Louisville.

Missouri, which has one of the best pitching staffs in the conference, will be tested against the Vanderbilt offense. With a .320 team batting average, the Commodores are the best in the SEC and sit at third in the nation.

Their offense is led by sophomore Austin Martin and junior J.J. Bleday. Martin leads the conference in batting average (.431), on-base percentage (.780), runs scored (62) and is second in hits (75). Bleday is first in the conference in runs batted in (61) and home runs (23) — Tennessee junior Andre Lipcius is second in the conference with 13 homers.

In its last series against South Carolina, Vanderbilt played only one full game. In its game Friday, the Commodores scored 22 runs on 15 hits. Martin and Bleday each had multi-hit games with multiple RBIs, but six other players recorded RBIs as well, led by six RBIs from senior Julian Infante.

Over the remainder of the series, Vanderbilt scored 15 runs in 14 total innings. Coming off of the sweep, it beat Louisville 6-2. The Cardinals are No. 11 in the country in team earned run average (3.34).

Missouri will counter Vanderbilt with a pitching staff that ranks No. 10 in the country in team ERA (3.19). Leading the team with a 1.22 ERA, junior T.J. Sikkema comes into the series second in the SEC and fourth in the country in the category. Sikkema will pitch Saturday.

Starting in the series opener will be junior Jacob Cantleberry, who had two outings at Tennessee last weekend. On Friday, Cantleberry threw 3 2/3 innings and gave up two runs. Coming out of the bullpen on Sunday, he was pegged for three runs in just two-thirds of an inning.

For the third weekend in a row, the Sunday starter will be announced on the day of the game. Against Tennessee, redshirt junior Jordan Gubelman opened the game, pitching only one inning before being removed in favor of Cantleberry. Against South Carolina, junior Art Joven recorded zero outs in the first inning.

Offensively, Missouri had a good series in Knoxville, Tennessee, racking up 33 hits over the weekend. It concluded with a 10-8 comeback victory. Senior Paul Gomez hit two home runs and led the team with four RBIs. Senior Connor Brumfield had three RBIs.

First pitch from Nashville will be at 6:30 p.m. CDT tonight. The night game will be followed by day games starting at 2 p.m. CDT on Saturday and noon CDT on Sunday.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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