With two outs in the top of the sixth, redshirt freshman Caleb Cotham handed the ball to coach Tim Corbin and retreated to the dugout, where he received a bunch of high-fives from teammates and a loud, standing ovation from the Hawkins Field faithful that was very much deserved.
Making his first career Southeastern Conference start, Cotham gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits, while striking out nine to lead the No. 6 Commodores past No. 8 South Carolina 10-4 in the rubber game of a three-game series this afternoon.
"I was just trying to come out with an edge," Cotham said. "We got beat pretty bad last night and I wanted to make a statement early on, just compete and show them that we weren't going to give in."
Cotham said he knew he was going to have to be fearless to succeed against a talented Gamecock squad that scored 16 runs the day before, and that he was.
"He wasn't spooked by last night," said starting catcher Shea Robin. "That's the biggest thing. South Carolina came out yesterday and it seems like they couldn't not get a hit, but he didn't let that bother him. He came right after every hitter, (Justin) Smoak, (James) Darnell, (Phil) Disher - all the big guys. He was very aggressive and that's what you have to do to beat these guys."
After giving up a run in the first off a wild pitch, Cotham settled down quickly. Cotham ran into some trouble in the fourth, but fanned the final two hitters with runners on second and third to get out of the jam.
"Cotham did a nice job. I thought he was aggressive," said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. "He got himself out of trouble in the fourth inning (and) that was huge. He got those two strikeouts, which I thought was the turning point in the ball game."
Looking for dependable starters after sophomore Mikie Minor, Corbin said Cotham's performance was encouraging. The right-hander is now 3-0 with 1.88 ERA in 24 innings. He's struck out 28 and walked just nine.
"He came here and really pitched well in the fall and has carried it over," Corbin said. "You never know because you get these 'Fall Americans' that look good against your own team and you're thinking once they see someone else they're spooked, but (Cotham) hasn't been thus far."
Cotham said he established his low-90s fastball on both sides of the plate, while also mixing in a slider that he was able to throw for strikes and use as a chase pitch, and an occasional changeup. He also said that charting the first two games of the series from the bench helped tremendously.
"Being a Sunday starter, I was on every pitch Friday and Saturday," Cotham said, "picking up hitters' tendencies, where they were in the box and seeing what pitches worked to what guys. The more you're on every pitch, the more successful you'll be."
That preparation wasn't lost on Robin.
"I was definitely impressed, but I think we all expected it," Robin said. "He's shown every game this year that he can pitch, and that he needs to be out there."
Cotham said it feels good to contribute, especially after pitching sparingly in 2007.
"I was excited to get my crack at SEC," he said. "Watching all last year, I had a feel for what it was but it's a big step up. I had thrown in midweek games up until now to so to step in and do well for my team, it's a great feeling."
While redshirting was frustrating at times, Cotham said it was also extremely rewarding.
"It was a humbling experience because I really hadn't sat out before," Cotham said. "I was able to learn the game and watch guys like (David) Price and (Casey) Weathers go about their business, see how they competed and worked hitters. I just had my notepad out, taking notes, and it's paid off."
It most certainly has.
-Jarred Amato is a junior at Vanderbilt University and also writes for "The Sports VU" at http://sportsvu.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.