June 24, 2011
OMAHA, Neb. - The season that no one wanted to see end finally came to a close on Friday as the most successful team in the history of Vanderbilt baseball was eliminated from the College World Series with a 6-4 loss to Florida at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Commodores (54-12) did not go down without a fight. Trailing 4-1 after six innings, Vanderbilt scored twice in the seventh and once in the eighth to tie the score at four.
The score would not be tied for long as the Gators (53-17) seized momentum from the Commodores by loading the bases with no one out in the bottom of the eighth before scoring two runs to take a 6-4 lead into the ninth inning.
The two runs proved to be too much to overcome, as Vanderbilt was unable to muster any runs in the ninth inning.
"We had aspirations of taking it a step further," Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin said. "There's no complaints with the effort level of the kids. We did everything we possibly could, some things we didn't handle maybe appropriately. But, when you've got kids that are willing to battle the way we did and come back the way we did, I don't think many people thought at 4 1 that we would. But we did, and gave ourselves a shot. And they just got us at the end."
Vanderbilt concluded its season with 54 wins, which tied the 2007 team for the most in school history and the 12 losses were the fewest in school history. The 2011 team is the only team to ever advance to the College World Series. The Commodores were one of just four teams remaining in the CWS.
"Right now I want to take my phone and computer and dump it in the Tennessee River and just spend some time with these guys, because this is the toughest moment a coach, coaches and players can go through," Corbin said. "It's when you grind out days and hours together.
"And this particular team will be like no other we've had at the university, in my opinion, in terms of their selfless behavior and the way they exhibited themselves in the classroom and on the field. It's just tough to sum up and look at them right now and explain all of that."
Starter Sonny Gray earned the loss, surrendering six runs on 12 hits in 7.0 innings of work. Gray returned for the eighth inning, but was unable to retire the first three batters before being lifted from the game. Once Gray was out, Vanderbilt used four pitchers to get three outs in the eighth inning.
Daniel Pigott opened the eighth with a single to right center before Cody Dent laid down a bunt up the third base line and third baseman Jason Esposito hesitated on his throw to first, enabling Dent to beat out the play.
Leadoff batter Nolan Fontana than laid down a bunt that Gray was unable to field cleanly, loading the bases for Bryson Smith. Gray had made a similar play earlier in the game, and had pegged the runner headed to third.
Reliever Will Clinard then entered the game and forced Smith to pop out. The Commodores then went to lefty Corey Williams who had been perfect in 5.2 innings of work in the CWS. However, it was none other than Preston Tucker in the box for Florida. Tucker was responsible for Florida's three-run homer that beat Vanderbilt on Tuesday, and he once again terrorized the Commodores with a single over the head of left fielder Tony Kemp. Tucker's hit scored one. The Gators would add one more on a wild pitch that struck out Mike Zunino, but got past catcher Curt Casali.
Gray ended the seventh inning with 123 pitches, prompting some to believe his night was done, but Corbin opted to stick with Gray, who had led the team all season.
"I don't care what the number of pitches was," Corbin said. "He wanted to go back out there. That's all there is to it. You're not going to take the ball away from him or else you're going to fight him; rather give him the ball and let him pitch."
"I thought if I was going to wear down or thought I was getting tired, then I would obviously have told Coach," Sonny Gray said. "I wanted the ball. I went back out there and they put the things together and we were able to scratch two runs in the eighth inning. That's all there is to it."
The loss to Florida was Vanderbilt's fifth of the season to the Gators, who won five out of six meetings. Five of Vanderbilt's 12 losses were to Florida this season.
"They've got a great club," said Florida Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan. "And I don't know what it is. We've just been able to score one more run or two more runs than Vanderbilt this year. And I agree with Tim, with his statement the other day. I do think both teams were evenly matched. It's just a shame somebody had to lose."
Senior first baseman Aaron Westlake got the Commodores on the board first with a solo home run in the top of the first inning. Westlake entered the game just 1-for-10 in the CWS, but went 2-for-5 on Friday with a homer in the first and a double in the ninth.
Vanderbilt's lead would not last as a fielder's choice by Preston Tucker in the bottom of the third scored Cody Dent, who had reached with a leadoff triple. Dent proved to be a thorn in Vanderbilt's side all day. Florida's No. 9 hitter, Dent went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs.
Florida took its first lead of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning when Nolan Fontana singled up the middle with two outs and bases loaded. Fontana's single drove in Josh Adams and Tyler Thompson. Dent had walked to load the bases.
In the sixth inning, Vanderbilt would limit the Gators to one run after they had loaded the bases with nobody out.
Vanderbilt's comeback began in the seventh inning when Connor Harrell drove in Mike Yastrzemski and a Tony Kemp walk with the bases loaded forced Conrad Gregor in.
Vanderbilt's final run of the game came in the eighth inning when Vanderbilt loaded the bases with one out and Gregor was hit by a pitch, forcing in Casali. Vanderbilt almost added at least one more run, but Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana made a tremendous diving stab on a Connor Harrell liner.
Florida used a total of six pitchers. Austin Maddox earned the win after throwing the final 1.2 innings of work. Alex Panteliodis left after tossing 6.0 innings of work, surrendering just one run on three hits.
Three Commodores had two hits in the game, led by Westlake. Also adding two were Curt Casali and Mike Yastrzemski.
The season that seemed like it would never end and that no one wanted to see end, finally has.
"I've always said it's a car that's going 100 miles an hour and slams on the brakes," Corbin said. "Tomorrow they're all gone. That part stinks. That's not fun. That's not fun at all. I just hate to see it come to an end. But it does. And life moves on."