CINCINNATI – The Xavier baseball team is happy to play David to Vanderbilt's Goliath in the NCAA tournament this week.
The odds are stacked against the Musketeers (30-28) in the double-elimination regional. They're opening against the 2014 national champs and last year's runners-up on their own field in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday. Plus, Vanderbilt (43-17) crushed Xavier in a three-game sweep in March.
Xavier coach Scott Googins wouldn't want it any other way.
"We're starting to hit on all cylinders, which is going to be nice because when we played Vanderbilt earlier this year we were scuffed a little bit," Googins said. "We're a lot better ballclub than we were then, so it's going to be a good matchup for us."
This will be Xavier's second trip to the NCAA tournament in three years and third overall. It will help that some of this year's Musketeers played in a first-round series in Nashville two years ago. The 2014 Xavier team lost to Vanderbilt in the opener, knocked off Clemson, and was eliminated by Oregon in extra innings.
They'll know what to expect this time around.
Xavier is clearly the longshot in the four-team Nashville Regional behind top-seeded Vandy, No. 2 seed UC-Santa Barbara (37-18-1) and No. 3 seed Washington (32-21). But the Musketeers have come a long way since their 3-11 start in March. That included three straight losses to Vanderbilt 7-0, 14-3 and 5-2.
Xavier has won 16 of their last 18, taking the Big East Conference regular-season crown (they finished last a year ago) and winning the conference tournament Sunday.
Catcher Dan Rizzie is the team's top hitter (.312) and has nine homers and 34 RBI.
Shortstop Andre Jernigan, the Big East Player of the Year, has a .573 slugging percentage with 13 homers, 17 doubles and four triples, plus 40 RBI.
First baseman Joe Gellenbeck from St. Xavier High School also has 13 homers and leads the team in RBI (48) and total bases (119).
The Musketeers had to rally to make the NCAA field after spotting Creighton a 4-0 lead in the Big East championship game Sunday. Xavier came back for an 8-7 win.
Rizzie, who went 5-for-5, was named tournament Most Outstanding Player, hitting .571 (8-for-14) with four runs and six RBI in three games.
Four other Musketeers made the all-tournament team:
Outfielder Matt Fallon went 5-for-10 (.500), scored four runs and walked twice for a .583 on-base percentage.
Jernigan (.364) and Gellenbeck (.357) each had a homer and three RBI.
Reliever Garrett Schilling got his 13th save in the championship game, tying the school record.