Watching freshmen Chase Reid and Russell Brewer thrive in the late innings of Friday night's 3-2 victory over Kentucky reminded Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin of two of his formers players.
"It's a lot like (Jensen) Lewis and (Matt) Buschmann my first year here," Corbin said, "where we just threw them out there so much so that you forgot really that they're freshmen."
While that's quite the compliment considering the fact Lewis is currently a middle reliever for the Cleveland Indians and Buschmann is pitching well for San Diego's Double-A affiliate, the two have certainly proved worthy of the comparison.
Against the Wildcats, Corbin handed the ball to Reid in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded, nobody out and the game tied at one. After falling behind the first hitter 2-0, the right-hander calmly came back to record a strikeout on a killer curveball before forcing the next batter to ground into an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play. As Corbin said, "that was the game-turner right there."
Catcher Shea Robin wasn't the least bit surprised.
"That right there is why we bring in Chase," Robin said, adding later, "You can't ask for much more with Chase. He's done that so many times this year, getting us out of key situations."
The same could be said for Brewer, who recorded the final five outs to pick up his third victory of the season.
"You're throwing first-timers in Reid and Brewer and they're stepping up and doing a nice job in tough situations," Corbin said.
What the two youngsters lack in experience they make up for in toughness. Forget about age; they want the ball with the game on the line and fear nobody, which is essential in a game that Corbin called as a "boxing match."
"(Pitching coach Derek Johnson) talks about it all the time - the freshmen expectation," Brewer said. "He expects us to go out there and perform like we're juniors or seniors because of the preparation that we've had."
So far they've done just that.
"I just go in and pound the zone, trying to throw low strikes, get ahead of the hitters and not be afraid of the bat," Brewer said. "We've got seven great fielders behind me so if they hit it, it's no big deal because these guys are going to catch it and throw them out."
Robin said that Brewer's approach is what allows him to be successful.
"It's the same mindset that Casey (Weathers) had last year," Robin said. "Granted they're completely different pitchers. Casey throws 100 miles per hour and not everyone can do that, but the biggest thing is the mindset. Russ believes that he can get it done."
Corbin does too.
"If you'd asked me who was going to be the closer (at the beginning of the year), I could've told you six names and probably meant every one because I thought it would be closing-by-committee," Corbin said, "but he's been the go-to-guy because he's got the best heartbeat. He's the one who you can talk to and have a conversation with when the bases are loaded and there are two outs in the bottom of the ninth."
A year ago, Brewer never imagined he would be the closer for a 31-11 Commodore squad. Then, he was just a redshirt third baseman. But, after trying his luck on the mound in the Valley League over the summer, Brewer realized he'd be able to contribute more as a pitcher. Still, he came into this season with modest expectations.
"I just wanted to get some innings," he said.
As did Reid, but with the Commodores in desperate need of reliable arms, Corbin had no choice but to turn to the two freshmen. Both have taken full advantage of the opportunity.
"It's great coming in a close game," said Brewer, who recorded the final out as the "black-gold" chant resonated through Hawkins Field. "It's just a blast."
-Jarred Amato is a junior at Vanderbilt University and also writes for The Sports VU at sportsvu.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org