June 2, 2014
For eight innings Sunday, Ro Coleman sat on the bench waiting his turn. He was in the same position he had been in for the previous two NCAA Tournament games - out of the starting lineup.
He patiently waited his turn, staying loose by doing on-field calisthenics between innings with teammates.
Finally, his opportunity came. And it just so happened to be in the biggest moment of the 2014 season.
With the game knotted at two and Oregon trying to avoid elimination, Vanderbilt loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth. After a strikeout by John Norwood, Coleman had his number called to bat for Will Cooper, who was currently slotted to bat in the DH position after pinch running.
"He's a good fastball hitter and I trust him," Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin would say about his decision to go with Coleman. "I just trust the kid. I trust the personality. He's not afraid of anything."
The 5-foot-5 true freshman from Chicago stepped to the plate and watched the first pitch from Oregon closer Jake Reed whiz by out the strike zone.
The crowd that was already standing becomes even louder.
Coleman's pint-sized strike zone seems even smaller with each off-target pitch.
The stadium is engulfed in nervous energy as fans resort to noise to help release tension that intensifies with each pitch.
Taking all the way on the fourth pitch, Coleman watches Reed fire a strike.
He wouldn't let another good one go by.
The left-handed Coleman swung and ripped a fastball between the shortstop and third baseman. Wiel trotted home as Vanderbilt's players rushed out of the dugout to mob Coleman near first base.
The smallest man on the roster had just delivered the biggest hit of Vanderbilt's 2014 season.
"You just couldn't ask for a better guy to finish the game," an emotional Corbin said. "He's just good. He is why Vanderbilt is what it is.
"I'm proud of him. It was a heck of a moment for him and a heck of a moment for the team."
The hit sent the Commodores to Super Regionals for the fourth time in five seasons, and cemented Coleman's name forever in the history of Vanderbilt baseball.
"I was just going up to the plate relaxed, looking for something good to drive, letting the ball travel, and just drive something the other way," Coleman reflected. "I got a good pitch to hit and I just drove it."
For Coleman, the walk-off single continued what has been a strong surge to close the season. Having been used off and on throughout the season, Coleman finally was coming into his own this last month. In his previous seven games, he was 9-of-19 (.473) in limited duty.
The recent success came on the heels of a 2-for-29 slump in which he saw his playing time decrease, in part due to performance, but also due to depth.
This group of Commodores is less experienced than teams of the past and posses fewer individual accolades, but they are loaded with talent. Throughout the season, that talent has shown through with different players stepping to the forefront when the moment presented itself. On Sunday, it was Coleman's turn.
He worked the count to 3-0 and appeared to be on the cusp of drawing a game-winning walk. But instead of waiting for Reed to misfire on another pitch out of the zone, he seized the opportunity and he refused to let his chance pass him by.
"I was just trying to make them come to my zone and when they got to 3-1, I knew he was going to come with a fastball, so I was just ready to hit."
Just like that, the diminutive Coleman came through in a monstrous way.
"Every emotion in the world goes through your mind when a kid like that gets a hit like that," Corbin said. "It almost felt like Worth Scott hitting that home run in 2003. I got the same chills. It couldn't have happened to a better guy. I just love the moment for him."