RALEIGH, N.C. -- Vanderbilt stole a season-best eight bases and used a stellar pitching performance to beat UNC-Wilmington 8-2 in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament Raleigh Regional Friday afternoon.
The Commodores (34-26) grabbed the lead in the third inning with a two-out rally. Mike Yastrzemski's double to the left-center field gap ignited the rally before Anthony Gomez lifted a flair to center field that dropped in to score Yastrzemski for the first run of the game. Conrad Gregor lined a single into right field with Seahawks' right fielder Tyler Molinaro coming up throwing to third base. The throw bounced off Gomez, who was sliding into third, and allowed him to score for a two-run Vandy lead.
The Dores blew the game open in the fourth, scoring four runs on one hit and stealing five bases in the frame. Riley Reynolds led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Connor Harrell coaxed a walk to put runners on the corners for Jack Lupo. The VU left fielder dropped down a perfect safety squeeze bunt to score Reynolds for the first run of the inning. After a walk to Vince Conde, he and Harrell stole second and third. A groundout and error by first baseman Hunter Ridge scored Harrell from third base. Yastrzemski drove in Conde from third with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0. Gomez drew a two-out walk to put runners on first and third base. With Gregor at the plate, UNC-Wilmington (38-22) pitcher Kelly Secrest threw over to first base to chase Gomez back to the bag. Kemp took off for home when Secrest threw to first, sliding into home plate for the fifth run of the inning as Gomez swiped second. Kemp's steal of home is Vanderbilt's second in the last three games. Gomez added to the lead in the sixth with a two-run single.
T.J. Pecoraro (2-4) was outstanding over 7.2 innings to earn the win. The right-hander dominated, scattering six hits with no walks and matching a career-best with eight strikeouts. The Seahawks' only offense on the day came in the seventh inning when Thomas Pope blasted a two-run homer over the left field fence. Pecoraro cruised through the first six frames allowing only two base runners to reach scoring position, including Hunter Ridge who was thrown out at home plate by Yastrzemski to end the second inning. Pecoraro retired nine Seahawks in a row before Ridge singled in front of Pope's homer. UNC-Wilmington starter Tyler McSwain (9-4) took the loss allowing six runs, two earned, on seven hits over 3.2 innings.
Gomez, Reynolds and Yastrzemski each had two hits to lead the Commodores. Gomez knocked in a game-high three runs to give him his team-best 15th multi-RBI game of the season. Gomez's two hits give him 86 on the season and 263 for his career, which ties him with former teammate Aaron Westlake for eighth all-time at Vanderbilt. Ridge led the Seahawks with three hits.
Vanderbilt's eight stolen bases in the win set a new season-high, topping the previous high of seven set against Florida in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament last Saturday. The Commodores have stolen 38 bases in 47 attempts in the team's last 11 games led by Tony Kemp's perfect 10-for-10 on the base paths.
The Dores advance in the winner's bracket of the Raleigh Regional and will play the winner of North Carolina State-Sacred Heart Saturday night at 6 p.m. CT. Left-hander Sam Selman is scheduled to get the ball for the Commodores.
Opening Statement: "The main story was T.J., I thought he pitched very well today. He went in there with the notion of throwing a lot of first pitch strikes and he did that. He let them put the ball in play and play and when they did we made the plays behind him."
On the play at the plate: "Mike threw a strike to the plate to nail the first runner and that was a momentum builder for us because it happened early when the game was still in question."
On the offensive production: "Offensively we did some things with our feet and we did some things in the bunt game. We slid very well there were four slides in particular that I remember because the ball beat the runner there, but we were able to slide our way out of it."
On the performance of T.J. Pecoraro: "T.J. going that far keeps the bullpen out of play which is obviously needed in a tournament like this. So it was a big day for us, we will take it and move forward."
On his performance: "I just tried to get out there and throw as many strikes as I could. I have a solid defense behind me and I knew that if I let them hit it they would make the plays. I had my change-up working so I got a lot of swings and misses and it just all worked out pretty good."
On throwing the runner out at the plate: "I wasn't surprised to see the runner trying to score since it was early in the game, so teams usually take more chances than normal. I expected to try and send them so I always come up ready to throw and when you have an opportunity you have to make the most of it."
On the RBI double: "I think just being aggressive at the plate and trusting yourself is something that we have been doing well lately and knowing that each person is going to do their job to get on so all we have to do is trust and do our best to get on and that's how we've been winning and that's what we will have to keep doing."
UNC Wilmington Head Coach Mark Scalf
Opening statement: Vanderbilt played very well; they just made all the right plays. Unfortunately in the four-run inning we didn't handle the baseball very cleanly, and that opened up the door for them. They made a big play in the top of the third, with a two-out single, and Hunter got thrown out at the plate. Then they turned it around and had a two-out double, and a single behind that. There was another single, a tough play from Molinaro that couldn't stay in his glove. McSwain was throwing the ball well for us up until that point; he was 0-2 on the leadoff hitter. He did a good job moving the baseball just inside the line, and they got going from that point on. Pecoraro was outstanding; he was in the strike zone all day and attacked the hitters. He threw strikes, and threw a lot more on the mound than we did.
On no one on the roster ever having played in a regional: It probably makes a little bit of difference, having not been here, and really no one on the roster having been on the regional. The inning we got in trouble, guys just couldn't slow the game down enough. That's one of the things we talk about and have worked on all year, just being able to slow the game down and catch and throw. After today, we'll come back and play a little different baseball tomorrow.
When you go that route and you've taken a chance on a two-out knock to just try and score that run, it was hard. One hopper right at Yastrzemski, he got off a good throw and its one of those things where you can either stop him or hope the ball gets up the line and maybe you can get in there. It's going to happen, it's happened during the course of the year. Sometimes if you hold that runner there's no guarantee you'll get the next two-out knock.
We definitely wanted to try to be the aggressor, but Vanderbilt did a great job turning that around.
Thomas Pope, LF
On his two-run homerun: We had a couple chances earlier in the game. We failed to capitalize with two outs. Hunter led off with a single and right then we were just looking to get base runners on and try to get something started. I got into a good favorable count and tried to put a good swing on it and that was the result.
Hunter Ridge, 1B
How tough is the loss: It is very tough on any team, if we play Seahawk baseball like we have been the last few months, that shouldn't be a problem for us. We just got excited, I think.
On the importance of the two-run homerun: It was very important for the shut out- we didn't want to get shutout. We wanted to get the win, but putting runs up at the end was what we needed to carry on for tomorrow.
On what Vanderbilt did right: They just got runners on when they needed to. They got a lot of leadoff guys on, and it's tough to defend when they get leadoff guys on. We just need to do better at that tomorrow, and I think we'll be fine.
On Vanderbilt's season-high stolen bases: I know that they've done that in the past. They're a good running team, and they're going to steal bases. We'll get better, and I think we'll be able to defend it.