Looking Back: The Catchby Andrew Pate
Revisiting Harrison Ray’s game-clinching grab in Omaha
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Harrison Ray knew exactly what to do. He had seen this play out before.
In what had been an emotional game between two regional rivals, Vanderbilt clang to a one-run lead against Louisville with two outs and a runner on second in the ninth inning at the College World Series in June. Ray, playing a couple steps to his right to keep the runner close to second base, was ready.
“I was hoping the ball was hit to me,” Ray said. “I saw it playing out. When he hit it, the first thing that came to my mind was I had seen this exact same play happen already. I saw myself drop this play earlier in the year. When I saw him hit it, I said ‘I know what to do this time.’ ”
Vanderbilt had erased a one-run deficit in the top of the ninth thanks to RBI-doubles from senior Ethan Paul and sophomore Pat DeMarco. In the home half, the Commodores turned to closer Tyler Brown who allowed a one-out double – but bounced back with a strikeout.
With two away, Louisville catcher Henry Davis stepped to the plate. Two innings earlier, the freshman provided a two-out single after falling behind 1-2 in the count, extending an inning in which the Cardinals would plate two runs to grab a one-run advantage.
“He could use a majority of the field,” Ray said of Davis. “He could spray the ball. I didn’t want to give up too much (on the shift). At that point, with a guy on second, your whole thought process it to keep the ball on the infield no matter what you have to do. You’re trying to get an out. You don’t care what it takes.”
Like his previous at-bat, Davis fell behind 1-2 in the count. This time, he connected on Brown’s fastball in on the hands. The ball would not leave the infield but was just as much of a threat.
“Once he hit it, I took off,” Ray said. “There was no second thought about letting it bounce and throwing him out at first. My only thought process was I was going to catch the ball. You have to always be thinking you want the ball. The moment you don’t have that in your mind is the moment you’ll get the ball hit to you and you won’t be ready and you’ll be a step slow.”
Vanderbilt catcher Ty Duvall stood from his crouch and removed his mask, raising one hand to the sky in an attempt to point out the ball on the infield. For him, the short sequence seemed much longer.
“I remember going up in the air and it felt like it was up in the air forever,” Duvall said. “I thought there was no way this was going to fall and they’re going to get a hit on this. Seeing Harry coming in out of nowhere and laying out to make the play, it was awesome.”
WHAT A PLAY TO END THE GAME!!
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 22, 2019
On a charge, Ray – who had a knack for making a range of athletic defensive plays throughout the season – raced in. His read allowed just enough time to reach the ball. Sprinting full speed, the Longwood, Florida, native laid out, snagging the ball before it could hit the grass.
“He got a good burst on the ball,” head coach Tim Corbin said postgame. “That was a hell of a play. You have a ball that’s shot up about 12 feet in the air and it’s in between the pitcher and second baseman. When he caught the ball, I thought it was such an outstanding play right there.”
The catch capped Vanderbilt’s 57th win and sent the squad into the College World Series finals against Michigan. Five days later, the Commodores concluded their record-breaking season with the program’s second national title. For Ray, the grab cemented his legacy in program history.
“Going to a university like Vanderbilt, you come in and try to leave your mark in some way,” Ray said. “A moment like that on the biggest stage and to make a play like that is what it’s all about. To think that I am going to be remembered for a while because of that play is amazing. It’s something you dream about.”