"There's no panic whatsoever in the bunker at all."
Those were the words of Conrad Gregor after Vanderbilt's rally fell just short in a 6-5 loss to NC State Sunday night. The Wolfpack evened the series and forced a third and final game Monday (6 p.m. CT) in Raleigh for the right to play Florida in the NCAA Super Regionals.
The Commodores showed no signs of concern, though, because they've been here before. Their backs have been against the wall since April 21.
That afternoon, Vanderbilt fell victim to a three-run, walk-off homer at Alabama to drop to 17-22 with 15 games left in the regular season. As Head Coach Tim Corbin put it, the team was five losses away from being eliminated from postseason eligibility.
Instead of folding, the Commodores turned the tables and went 16-4 heading into regionals, which included a nine-game winning streak that vaulted them into the SEC Tournament championship game.
If you think there's pressure, think again.
"(Monday's) just another game. We've been at this for seven weeks now," Gregor said. "I think tomorrow we'll come out loose and confident, and we'll play together as a team."
Facing a must-win situation against the Wolfpack, Corbin said the possibility of "elimination" hasn't factored into their mindset this season. "It's your perception more than anything else rather than a word," he explained. "We just treated each game for what it was rather than a dying moment, so to speak."
Vanderbilt has registered 16 comeback victories this year, capped off by their electrifying five-run rally against NC State Saturday night. On Sunday, the Dores almost did it again, roaring back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the seventh.
It felt like deja vu. But a tough 5-3-5 double play erased VU's chances to take the lead in the eighth, and the Wolfpack responded behind Matt Bergquist's RBI single in the bottom half of the inning to set up the regional championship game.
"We'll be back," Corbin said calmly. "Let's give everyone their money's worth."
NC State Head Coach Elliott Avent credited his squad for their resiliency and toughness after the Wolfpack suffered a crushing defeat to Vanderbilt in the first meeting, one that usually breaks the will of most teams. The Commodores have displayed the same traits, too, during their magical run.
"When you're down four or five runs, you can only chip away," remarked Mike Yastrzemski. "All we do is keep chipping and that's what we've been able to do successfully."
Gregor added, "We're a confident group. We're never out of the game."
You can label Monday night's rematch a lot of things. Do or die. Now or never. Winner takes all.
Call it what you want. The Commodores aren't concerned.
They're just embracing the challenge.
And enjoying the moment.
"We'll have fun when we get to the field, and we'll just look forward to playing," Corbin promised. "The best team's going to win."