June 1, 2012
Keep running until somebody stops you.
That's been Vanderbilt's mantra during the tail end of the season.
And no one has been able to press the brakes on the Commodores yet.
"We just do it regardless (of the opponent)," said Head Coach Tim Corbin of the Dores' tactics following Vanderbilt's 8-2 win over UNC Wilmington in the first game of the NCAA Raleigh Regional Friday.
Using what Corbin called their "motion offense," the Commodores (34-26) ran at will against the Seahawks, racking up a season-high eight steals including two double steals and a swipe of home.
Vanderbilt's biggest inning came in the bottom of the fourth when the Dores scored four runs on only one hit, a leadoff double down the left field line by Riley Reynolds. VU took advantage of three walks and proceeded to swipe five bases. UNCW started Tyler McSwain didn't make it out of the inning, his shortest stint of the season.
"We play aggressive," junior Mike Yastrzemski said. "When you can do that, things start rolling and then you don't need to rely on the big hit to come through when you force things like that."
After McSwain was lifted, the Commodores went to work on Seahawk lefty Kelly Secrest. With Tony Kemp occupying third and Anthony Gomez on first, VU took advantage of Secrest's high leg lift to pull off another steal of home, the Dores' second in three games. Corbin gave Kemp the green light and the speedster took off after Secrest's fourth pickoff attempt to first base. Kemp made a good slide to avoid the tag at the plate.
"I know they've done that in the past," UNCW junior Hunter Ridge said of the play. "It's just one of those things we couldn't really defend."
UNCW entered the regional with 104 steals (compared to Vanderbilt's 78) with five players in double figures, but was held without a stolen base Friday. The Commodores turned the tables on the Seahawks and took advantage of catcher Drew Farber, who had only thrown out five base runners in 49 attempts coming into the game.
"We definitely wanted to try to be the aggressor," explained UNCW Head Coach Mark Scalf, "but Vanderbilt did a great job turning that around."
Vanderbilt's won 10 of its last 11, and the statistics in those triumphs are telling. Since VU's 6-3 victory over LSU on May 12, the Commodores have picked up the tempo, stealing 38 bases in 47 attempts. Kemp's a perfect 10-for-10 in that span.
The Commodores' need for speed has been the recipe for their success.
Pecoraro Grabs the Spotlight
Corbin labeled sophomore pitcher T.J. Pecoraro's performance the "main story" of the game.
Pecoraro (2-4) mowed down eight, matching a career-high, over 7.2 innings to pick up his first postseason win.
The Dix Hills, N.Y. native neutralized UNC Wilmington's potent offense, retiring 13 of 14 hitters beginning in the third inning (including nine straight) before allowing a single to Ridge in the seventh. His only blemish was surrendering a two-run homer to Thomas Pope later that inning.
Pecoraro told reporters that his changeup and fastball were working but his curveball was off at times. He thought the Commodores' defense deserved more of the credit for making plays behind him.
"As long as I got soft contact to my players, I knew they'd handle it for me," a humble Pecoraro stated.
UNCW Head Coach Mark Scalf was more straightforward with his praise of Pecoraro.
"Pecoraro was outstanding," Scalf said. "He was in the strike zone all day and attacked the hitters. He threw strikes, and threw a lot more than we did on the mound today.
Last year, Pecoraro's All-American freshman campaign was derailed when he suffered a torn ligament in his pitching elbow against Georgia in the SEC Tournament on May 25. Pecoraro, who was sidelined until the middle of this season, didn't get to participate in the Commodores' first-ever appearance in the College World Series.
Pecoraro returned faster than most expected from Tommy John surgery and has been one of the spark plugs in the Commodores' late-season run. Manning the coveted Friday night role, Pecoraro's earned run average has dropped two runs (from 5.40 to 3.40) in his last four starts, two of which were complete games. He allowed only six runs over that span in 29.2 innings, good for a 1.85 ERA.
"I'm just glad (T.J.) gets to do something that he missed last year because it killed him to have that injury at the time that he had it," Corbin said. "Not going to Omaha was a tough one for that kid to go back to New York and watch that on TV. I'm glad he got his due today."
Quite the story indeed.
Know When to Hold `Em
Scouting reports tell you not to test Yastrzemski's arm.
UNC Wilmington decided to gamble instead.
With Hunter Ridge in scoring position in the top of the second, Jake Koenig laced a single to Yastrzemski in right. UNCW's third base coach waved Ridge around third, and Yastrzemski threw a strike to Spencer Navin at the plate to get the third out of the inning.
And it wasn't even close.
By the time Navin turned to apply the tag, Ridge was still over 20 feet from home. Ridge was so far up the line that he didn't even bother to slide.
"Sometimes it works for you," Scalf commented. "Sometimes if you hold that runner there's no guarantee you'll get the next two-out knock."
Yastrzemski's dagger erased any early momentum UNCW was looking to capture in a scoreless game. After that play, the Seahawks only had one runner reach second base until the seventh while the Commodores built an 8-0 lead during that time.
Was Yastrzemski, who leads Commodore outfielders with nine assists, surprised the runner was sent home?
"Not really. Early in the game, you're going to take more chances than normal," Yastrzemski said. "I expected them to try and send them. You always come up ready to throw. When you have an opportunity you just have to take advantage of it."
Not to Be Forgotten
Yes, Vanderbilt ran wild in their four-run fourth inning, but it was clutch two-out hitting that triggered the rout of the Seahawks.
With two outs in the third, the Commodores strung together three consecutive hits to build a 2-0 lead.
Yastrzemski's double got things started and then Anthony Gomez drove him in with a base hit to center. Conrad Gregor then singled to right and Gomez was almost thrown out advancing to third but the ball ricocheted off his helmet allowing him to score.
"You almost need something to break the ice early in a playoff game because everyone's a little bit tight. I think that's always the way it is, " Corbin stated.
"Big hits with two outs, that was clutch right there. We needed that inning in order to propel us forward. It kind of loosened up our team."
Gomez, who was named first team All-SEC earlier this week, drove in a game-high three runs and leads Vanderbilt with 54 RBI on the season. He's hitting an amazing .487 with runners in scoring position and has a team-high 16 two-out RBI.
It Only Gets Tougher
With one win in the books, it's time to turn our attention to the next game.
And it will be a tremendous challenge.
Talented freshman phenom Carlos Rodon, the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year and Golden Spikes semifinalist, will take the hill for No. 1 seed NC State, who rolled to a 16-5 victory over Sacred Heart Friday night.
Considered by some to be one of the best amateur left-handers since David Price donned a Commodore uniform, Rodon (9-0, 1.46 ERA) showcases a four-pitch arsenal, including a mid-90s fastball and a nasty cutter. The 6'3, 234-pound rookie ranks third in the nation with 126 strikeouts.
According to NC State's game notes, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt believes if Rodon were draft eligible, he'd be the first player selected in the Major League Draft this year.
Corbin has heard the hype first hand from NC State's Associate Head Coach Tom Holliday, who has mentored several big-time arms over his lengthy career including major leaguer Huston Street at Texas.
"Talking to Tom early in the year, he said (Rodon's) one of the best he's ever had. If Tom Holliday says that's one of the best he's ever had, that's saying a lot," Corbin noted.
Vanderbilt will counter with a standout arm of its own in southpaw Sam Selman (9-3, 3.33). Selman has been dominant down the stretch, winning 7 of his last 8 starts to help the Commodores get to the postseason.
You don't want to miss this showdown.
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at Doak Field.