May 28, 2011
Hoover, Ala. -
How does Vanderbilt spell relief?
C-Z-L-M. No need to buy a vowel, not Saturday morning as the consonants were a perfect blend in a 3-2 Commodore victory over Southeastern Conference Western champion Arkansas. Clinard, Ziomek, Lamm and Moore is not a Vanderbilt alumni law firm.
What began as a leisurely summer's stroll down Feel Good Lane had suddenly veered into an extended Mylanta moment. After tallying a run using just two batters in the first and watching Connor Harrell launch a massive blast over the left field fence in the second, an SEC novice might have thought Grayson Garvin had all that he needed.
After all, the lanky lefty is the league's Pitcher of the Year and early on he looked like the tallest dart champion on dirt, painting the corner of home plate with laser-like accuracy. But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish.
Arkansas inserted seldom used middle relief man Colby Suggs with two outs in the second, a move predicated on Razorback coach Dave Van Horn's belief "that we knew if we gave up three or four runs the game might be over."
Suggs doused Black and Gold bats, keeping hitters off-balance with a low 90 mile per hour fastball and sneaking in a highly effective slider. He would toss four and a third innings of goose eggs.
While this was going on, Hog hitters began to figure out that Garvin was throwing an awfully high percentage of strikes and according to ace centerfielder Collin Kuhn, "we changed our approach, slowed the game down and stayed shorter." That proved to be an effective recipe as they managed five of their nine hits in the fifth and six innings, scoring their lone runs in the process.
No worries, although we didn't know how this movie was going to turn out at the time.
With two runners Hogging base and just one out in the sixth, Coach Tim Corbin figured it was time for his bullpen to show up for work. In came Will Clinard to face lead-off hitter Bo Bigham and after some crafty work, Clinard got his man, then punched out Kuhn on a check swing as Vanderbilt dodged a possible big inning.
"The pitch to lock-up Kuhn was the play of the game," Corbin would say later. The Arkansas skipper agreed when meeting with the press afterward.
With a hearty buffet of pitchers to choose from, the Commodores went with freshman lefty Kevin Ziomek in the top of the eighth to face the dangerous three hole hitter, Dominic Ficociello. One pitch, one out as the Razorback grounded to first. (The Commodores wanted the switch hitter to bat from the right side.) In comes Mark Lamm, who retires his two batters and quickly the game enters the ninth. Still 3-2, still electricity in Regions Park.
It was closing time and today that meant Navery Moore, the hard-throwing Franklin product. A pop-up to short sandwiched by two fly balls to right field and finally Vanderbilt fans could safely start making dinner plans as they await Sunday's 1:00 p.m. title game, their fifth under Corbin.
A quick recap of C-Z-L-M's worksheet shows no runs, no hits, no walks and no worries. Clinard represented the bullpen in the press conference and credited pitching coach Derek Johnson with having everyone prepared.
"We have good karma in Hoover," Corbin explained to those curious of his tremendous success at this demanding tournament. "We have a good routine; we love being down here, it's special to be one of the eight teams that qualify. Sitting in the hotel lobby Monday night is almost a sense of relief that you survived the season."
So maybe Vanderbilt actually has TWO ways to spell relief, the other being H-O-O-V-E-R.