June 2, 2013
Vanderbilt has been aggressive on the base paths all season and Saturday was no exception. The Commodores kept Illinois on its heels defensively all evening long by utilizing their legs to cause havoc and put added pressure on the Illini defense.
Eventually, the pressure was too much for Illinois and the flood gates burst open with a five-run eighth inning in which Vanderbilt utilized its speed and base running to harass and eventually pull away from the Illini.
The inning began with a single by Spencer Navin. Jack Lupo followed with a bunt single down the first-base line that the pitcher could not field. Tony Kemp then followed with another bunt single down the first-base line that resulted in a throwing error by first baseman David Kerian who threw it high to the second baseman Reid Roper, who was covering first.
The ball tipped off Roper's glove and rolled down the line. Meanwhile Kemp was churning his legs all the way to third base as Lupo and Navin scored.
"What we talk about all the time is in any bunt situation make sure you get an out," Illinois Head Coach Dan Hartleb said. "Obviously, if you get the lead out that's a bonus, but just get an out, and we didn't do that. And it turned into a track meet that inning."
Following Kemp's hustle play, Xavier Turner singled to score Kemp from third and Mike Yastrzemski reached base after being hit by a pitch. Both runners moved up a base on a sacrifice by Connor Harrell. Conrad Gregor followed by hitting what looked like a routine grounder to the pitcher, but wildness ensued.
J.D. Nielsen, the Illinois pitcher, fielded the ball and spotted Turner stuck in no-man's land between third and home. Nielsen began running at Turner before tossing to catcher Jason Goldstein who chased Turner back up the line. Meanwhile, Yastrzemski had reached third base as Turner was barreling towards him.
Seeing this, Yastrzemski retreated to second base. As Turner approached third, Goldstein flipped the ball to third baseman Brandon Hohl, but Turner slid in safely. Hohl spotted Yastrzemski had still not reached second and he flipped it to Roper.
However, no one was left covering home and Turner began heading that way. Roper saw Turner making his way home and tried to connect with Goldstein like a quarterback passing to a receiver on a crossing pattern. However, the throw was a little off line and Turner scored as the ball got past Goldstein.
Yastrzemski would add another run by tagging from third on a sac fly by Zander Wiel. At that point, the damage had been done and Vanderbilt led 10-4.
"We just kind of moved the game back to us where we ran the bases hard and we ran the bases effectively, which caused some pressure and they didn't handle the pressure on the bunts and we were able to capitalize on it," Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin said.
Vanderbilt entered Saturday ranked ninth in the nation in stolen bases and the Commodores added three more against Illinois with Kemp, Yastrzemski and Turner getting into the act.
It was also Kemp's legs earlier in the game that got the Commodores on the scoreboard for the first time. After reaching first on a two-out single in the third inning, Kemp swiped second base. The throw down was hurried and off line, rolling away from Illinois' second baseman. As soon as the ball got away, Kemp sprinted the third and slid in safely.
Turner followed Kemp with a single up the middle and Yastrzemski followed with a triple that brought home Turner to give Vanderbilt a 2-1 lead.
"When that kid gets on base like he did tonight, there is nothing that we can't do and I think everybody feels that too," Yastrzemski said. "He is our spark plug."
Fulmer Keeps Fighting Illini Bats in Check
With Tyler Beede struggling with his location, Vanderbilt turned to freshman Carson Fulmer, who threw five scoreless innings of relief.
Fulmer earned the win, scattering three hits, walking two and striking out four in what was a season-long outing. When Fulmer entered the game, Vanderbilt held a 5-4 advantage, and he never allowed the Illini to get comfortable at the dish.
"The mentality is what we needed there at the time," Corbin said. "We needed a change of rhythm; the momentum was not in our favor at all. And if that game continued, it would have been back and forth, back and forth and we had to grab the momentum and take it on our side."
It was Fulmer's second consecutive long relief performance. He previously went 4.1 innings in the SEC Tournament against South Carolina, allowing just one run.
Fulmer's most impressive work may have come in the bottom of the seventh inning with Vanderbilt still clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Jason Goldstein doubled to start the inning and Fulmer was charged with facing the top of Illinois' lineup. He got Thomas Lindauer to pop out to shortstop and then struck out Michael Hurwitz and Justin Parr, the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year, to end the inning.
Fulmer's performance Saturday was a confidence builder for the coaching staff and himself. The freshman had never pitched in the NCAA Tournament, but he more than held his own and certainly performed well enough to be a valuable asset during Vanderbilt's postseason run.
"I tried to treat the situation like every other one that has happened in the past, but my job was to come out there and throw strikes and really let my defense work," Fulmer said of his outing.
Yaz Comes up Big
Mike Yastrzemski entered Saturday's game in a slump, going 6-for-29 (.206) during his previous seven games. It is safe to say Yastrzemski is no longer in a slump.
After striking out in his first at bat, he tripled, doubled and doubled again in his next three at bats. Yastrzemski drove home Xavier Turner with his triple in the third inning to give Vanderbilt a 2-1 lead and his double in the fourth inning scored Tony Kemp and Xavier Turner. Yastrzemski's second double led off the seventh inning.
"The last couple of weeks I've been struggling a little bit with hitting the ball the other way and I kind of made a last-minute adjustment with coach (Larry) Day and coach (Travis) Jewett, just trying to see the ball," Yastrzemski said. "And letting the guys in front of you do their job and none of that happens if they are not on base. I felt like I was up with guys in scoring position every single time and the credit really goes to them."
Yastrzemski did all the damage all while visibly bleeding from his right knee, which occurred when he dove for a ball in the outfield on the opening play of the game and tore open a scab. The blood soaked through his pants leg, and didn't slow down Yastrzemski a bit on the base paths or in the field.