Stallings will have eye on NCAA bracket

Pirates' Minor Leaguer is son of Vanderbilt coach

Stallings will have eye on NCAA bracket

BRADENTON, Fla. -- This was a stressful Selection Sunday for Jacob Stallings' family, but it turned out to be a good one.

Stallings, a Minor League catcher in the Pirates' Spring Training camp, typically knows whether he wants to tune in for the annual unveiling of the NCAA Tournament field. It all depends on his father, longtime Vanderbilt University coach Kevin Stallings.

If Vanderbilt is guaranteed a spot in the field of 68 teams, Stallings will watch the selection show. If the Commodores are definitely out, why bother?

"It's hard for me to watch the tournament if they're not in it," Stallings said before this year's bracket was revealed. "I'll be watching this year. Watching and praying."

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Those prayers were answered Sunday evening, in a way, as Vanderbilt grabbed a spot in one of the "First Four" play-in games, against Wichita State University. The Commodores went 19-12 overall this season and 11-7 in the Southeastern Conference, though Stallings pointed out out they battled through injuries and a tough non-conference schedule.

Vanderbilt and Wichita State will meet in Dayton, Ohio, and the winner will move on to the field of 64 as the No. 11 seed in the South Region.

This was the first time Stallings could remember his father, Vandy's head coach since 1999, having such an uncertain fate leading up to the tournament. In most of the last-minute bracket projections, Vanderbilt was considered among the top four teams that would miss the cut.

"They've had a pretty good idea of where they're going to be every year," Stallings said. "It's either really good -- or don't watch it at all."

Stallings, who caught last year for Double-A Altoona, speaks just about every day with his father. Kevin asks his son about his baseball career, and Jacob asks his dad about basketball.

"My dad's probably my best friend," Stallings said.

If Vanderbilt can't make a deep run into the Big Dance, Stallings has a solid fallback rooting interest: his alma mater, the University of North Carolina.

"Vanderbilt's my first team," Stallings said. "Carolina's a close second."

Stallings played for UNC from 2009-12, and during that time he got to know basketball coach Roy Williams, who was Kansas University's head coach when Stallings' father was a Jayhawks assistant.

The Tar Heels finished first in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings and won their conference tournament on Saturday, yet some projections pegged them as a No. 2 seed. But when the brackets were announced Sunday night, sure enough, North Carolina was the top team in the East Region.

"I don't know how you win the regular season and the tournament and not be a one seed," Stallings said. "Hopefully they can keep that going."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.