It was a heroic afternoon for Vanderbilt pitchers, both on the mound and at the plate.
While Jack Armstrong, a starting pitcher with two plate appearances on the season coming into Friday, got the game-winning hit in extra innings in an 8-7 victory over Illinois State, the bullpen took over long before that. Coming on in the fourth, they threw 9 2/3 innings, allowing only a single run and striking out 12.
In a tense NCAA Regional contest that lasted nearly five hours, the relievers kept Vanderbilt players and fans, well, relieved.
"I would just have to say the highlight of it was the pitching that we received after the third inning," said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. "I thought our relief pitching was outstanding."
Drew Hayes (6-0) earned the win with two scoreless innings. On a day when starter Taylor Hill didn't have his best stuff, the bullpen kept things from getting out of hand, helping the Commodores rally from an early 6-2 deficit against the Redbirds.
Grayson Garvin went 4 1/3 innings and allowed one run, and Chase Reid allowed no hits through 3 scoreless frames. Richie Goodenow got a critical strikeout of Jake Thornton with two men on in the 11th inning to end a scoring threat.
"Grayson, Chase, Richie, all of them did a great job, picked (Taylor) up," Hayes said. "That's kind of the theme of our pitching staff. If one guy doesn't get the job done, everybody else has got to pick him up and that's what we did."
It was a continuation of great work done during the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The bullpen allowed only one earned run in 11 innings in Hoover, a sparkling 0.82 ERA, and no inherited runners scored. After Friday's victory, Vanderbilt improved to 5-0 when tied after 8 innings and 5-2 in extra-inning ball games.
These extra innings were certainly not without their drama.
Hayes relieved Goodenow with one on and no out in the top of the 12th. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Hayes induced a double play ball from Zach Amrein to end the threat.
He was in even more trouble in the 13th, loading the bases with one out after two walks and an infield single. But Hayes kept the ball down and got Thornton to hit into another double play to keep the game tied up at 7-7.
"You know I didn't have my best stuff today," Hayes said. "I came in and didn't really have my control, but it turned out to be a situation where I found it for a couple pitches. We've got great defense back there. Both of those double plays were great turns by (Brian) Harris and (Anthony) Gomez. They did a great job."
The Commodores finally pushed through in their next turn at-bat, but only after the bullpen had combined to throw 158 pitches.
"Some people may say it'll wear us down for tomorrow, but I think it's only going to help us," Hayes said. "Since my group's been here, we hadn't ever won the first game of a Regional. Last two years we'd lost, so it's a new feeling for us, and something we're looking forward to. I think it'll help propel us forward."