June 6, 2014
Omaha is so close Vanderbilt fans can almost taste it, but don't expect the Commodores to spend much, if any, time thinking about what could be before handling the task that still remains.
"They know tomorrow is a different day and different set of circumstances, Head Coach Tim Corbin said, and I don't want them to play the circumstances. I just want them to play pitch-to-pitch, inning-to-inning and do the best they possibly can, just try to play better baseball than the opponent."
On Friday, that is exactly what Vanderbilt did. The Commodores are now one step closer to the College World Series after a convincing 11-6 win over Stanford that sets the team up to win one game over the next two days to earn their second trip to the game's biggest stage.
"It's a pretty cool feeling," left fielder Bryan Reynolds said when asked about being on the verge of clinching the series, "but we just have to play how we play and everything will work out,"
It's all about taking it one day at a time, and no one understands this tireless, but necessary cliché better than the Commodores.
After opening the season with a 19-3 record, the team sputtered in the middle of SEC play, losing three series in a row before taking two of three from the eventual SEC champions, Florida, on the road. The Commodores then entered the NCAA Tournament having lost four of six games.
Vanderbilt has now won four in a row and shows no indication of slowing down.
It didn't take long on Friday to see that the Commodores were continuing to build on their positive momentum.
A combination of erratic pitching by Stanford and timely hitting by Vanderbilt helped the Commodores jump out to a 10-0 lead before the entire sold-out crowd had even settled into their seats. Through three innings, Vanderbilt appeared to be on cruise control with first-round draft pick Tyler Beede on the bump with a double-digit lead.
Stanford's pitchers couldn't consistently locate, and when they did, the Commodores made them pay. Everything was going Vanderbilt's way.
Well, at least until the top of the fourth inning when Stanford scored two runs on a triple. Then Stanford plated four more in the fifth inning and suddenly the blowout was gone and so was Beede, who was chased before getting through five innings to qualify for the win.
"(Beede) was just trying to steer the ball to the plate and ball was running away from him," Corbin said. "I really wanted to get him through that fifth inning as much as possible."
With Beede out, Tyler Ferguson entered after a long layoff that dated back to May 17, and combined with Brian Miller to silence Stanford's bats the rest of the way.
"That's a good team over there and even though we were up 10-0, you knew that team was going to fight back," Ferguson said. "They did it against Indiana. It's a team you can't really back down on."
The duo of Ferguson and Miller made sure the game didn't get any tighter by combining to toss 4.1 innings of shutout baseball, while only allowing two hits.
Offensively, Vanderbilt delivered with 14 hits for its second consecutive offensive explosion to open a postseason series. Last week, Vanderbilt also scored 11 runs in a shutout of Xavier to open the Nashville Regional.
"I think the kids feel good about their ability to swing the bat right now," Corbin remarked. "I would say their confidence is strong, but it is placed well."
By winning Friday's game, Vanderbilt now has significant odds in its favor of winning the series. Dating back five years and 40 Super Regional series, just eight times has a team won the opening game and ended up losing the series. The winning percentage is 80 percent for the team that wins the first game of the series. Last year, only Kansas State failed to advance to the College World Series after winning the first game of a Super Regional series.
For Vanderbilt, the series couldn't be setup any better than it currently is. After throwing a top-15 draft pick on Friday, Vanderbilt follows on Saturday with the staff's most dominating arm the last half of the season and the team's winningest pitcher on Sunday (if necessary).
Give any team Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler with one game to win, and I like their chances.
Fulmer, who pitches Saturday, has not lost a game as a starter, while Buehler is coming off a complete game victory in the NCAA Regional final against Oregon.
After an up and down season, things are currently looking up, but the Commodores know they must keep the pedal to the floorboard in order to get to where they want to be.
Last week, Stanford won its opening game of the Bloomington Regional before losing to Indiana and having to fight back through the loser's bracket and win three straight games to claim the series.
"You have to play the tournament," Corbin said. "You can't play the circumstances and you can't play the what ifs. We just have the play the tournament as long as we need to in order to finish it, but we just have to play better baseball than the opponent."