June 3, 2018
By Zac Ellis
On the heels of a career night in an NCAA Regional, Connor Kaiser was a man of few words.
"I don't think there's any explanation," Kaiser said. "I think we came in focused and ready to play."
Kaiser, a junior shortstop for Vanderbilt, was more than focused in Sunday's NCAA Regional final against host Clemson. He was, in a word, historic. Kaiser put on an offensive clinic in a 19-6 regional-clinching victory over the Tigers, finishing 5-of-7 and tying a Vanderbilt record with three home runs, including a grand slam in the sixth inning. Kaiser, who had four homers in 163 career games prior to Sunday, also set a new Vanderbilt record and tied the NCAA Tournament single-game mark with 10 RBIs for the Commodores.
The Overland Park, Kan. native earned NCAA Clemson Regional Most Valuable Player honors in spearheading a stellar outing for Vanderbilt's offense. The Dores tallied 19 runs on 20 hits, with five players combining for an NCAA Tournament single-game record nine home runs. Vanderbilt's nine homers likewise set a new program record, streaking past the previous mark of six set on March 13, 1991 against Valparaiso.
"That's baseball," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. "It's just one of those things. It can happen every so often."
The end result of Vanderbilt's win over Clemson was more than just a gaudy box score. The Dores capped 3-0 stay at the Clemson Regional to earn their seventh berth in a Super Regional in the last nine years. Next weekend, Vandy will face either Mississippi State or Oklahoma, who play for the Tallahassee Regional title on Monday.
Less than a month ago, Vanderbilt seemed an unlikely candidate to reach another Super Regional. The Commodores dropped their sixth loss in a row on May 8 in a 6-4 loss to Tennessee Tech. In that moment, Vandy sat at 25-23 and in desperate need of a late-season surge.
The Dores responded immediately, venturing to Knoxville to take two-of-three against rival Tennessee. They then closed the regular season with a 21-4 win over Middle Tennessee and a convincing series sweep of a ranked Kentucky squad.
In beating Clemson on Sunday, Vanderbilt capped its ninth win in 11 games, seemingly playing its best baseball of the season. Alongside Kaiser's heroics, Philip Clarke
and Stephen Scott
belted two homers apiece on Sunday, with Julian Infante
and Harrison Ray
contributing the final two dingers. The Commodores used a big five-run inning in the top of the sixth to take control of the game with an 11-3 lead. They never looked back.
"From an offensive standpoint, we just had a lot of kids who were very aggressive," Corbin said. "They were very deliberate. I could tell when we were in the batting cages, there was a different feel - not a different feel of what they were doing, because I think they're pretty consistent. But I thought they were very much on point."
Added Scott: "It's awesome to see everybody getting theirs. We love seeing Julian get on the board and we loved seeing Harrison. That's Harrison's first [home run], so we were really excited for him."
Vanderbilt has been in this position before, of course: the Commodores defeated Clemson for the regional title in 2017 before a sweep by Oregon State in the Super Regionals ended their season. Now, as the Dores prepare for their next chapter, Kaiser said his current club boasts a winning mentality - one that paid off at Clemson.
"Both years are different -- two different teams," Kaiser said. "But I think our approach is really good. We didn't get caught up in the crowd or anything. We did what we needed to do."
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.