Not Done Yetby by Zac Ellis
The chant from the Hawkins Field crowd said it all late Sunday night, as Vanderbilt's baseball team congregated on its home green turf in front of a few hundred of its most loyal supporters. Moments earlier, the Commodores had closed out the Nashville Super Regional with a dominant 13-2 win over Duke.
They had rallied from a 0-1 hole in the series and sealed the comeback with a raucous celebration at midfield, where they mobbed closer Tyler Brown after a game-clinching strikeout. The Dores knew their season wasn’t over. In many ways, it was just beginning.
Of course, Vanderbilt’s Super Regional win came with an enviable reward, one that had eluded the program in recent years: A trip to the College World Series.
There's nothing better than watching your players celebrate.
Vanderbilt’s disposal of Duke assured its return to Omaha for the first time since 2015. The Commodores needed to rally from a stunning 18-5 loss in Game 1, only to respond with a thrilling 3-0 win on Saturday by virtue of a piping-hot no-hitter from starter Kumar Rocker. Wins in two must-win games in two days lent credence to Vanderbilt’s destiny as a team worthy of the College World Series. In all, its players delivered when things mattered most.
It's a very proud and joyous moment when you get to see your players celebrate something like this in the end, particularly with what they've been through through the years.
Vanderbilt made its intent clear early on Sunday. Austin Martin opened the game with a leadoff homer for an early 1-0 Commodore lead. A three-run dinger from Pat DeMarco inflated Vandy’s lead to 4-0 before the end of the first frame.
The scoring didn’t stop for one of the nation’s best offenses. The Commodores sent runners across in the game’s first five innings and went on to blast five home runs on the night, including two from Martin. Vanderbilt smacked 14 hits and scored in all but two innings on Sunday. That allowed a seasoned Brown to step to the mound in the ninth and deliver a three-up, three-down frame, punctuation by a pair of strikeouts for good measure.
In the most clutch of matchups, the Commodores showed just how they have rewritten the program record book in 2019. The offense has already set new program bests for home runs, RBIs, walks and runs. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt reached 54 wins with its victory over Duke, matching a school record. Those stats – and perhaps the number of wins – expect to grow next week at the College World Series.
“I said before the Super Regional started,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said, “that I thought they were a historically good team, meaning they’re one of the best teams in college baseball in the last five to 10 years.”
Vanderbilt showed off its championship-caliber mettle in responding in kind to Friday’s Game 1 loss. The Dores gave up their most runs ever (18) in an NCAA Tournament game in that matchup, pushing their backs against the wall with a pair of do-or-die games remaining. But the Commodores said they never lost their focus in reversing their fortunes at The Hawk.
"I think we were looking at each other on Friday, and nobody was really too down," said senior right-hander Patrick Raby, who increased his Vanderbilt record to 32 career wins on Sunday. "The scoreboard kind of indicated a different game than it actually was … We knew we were the kind of team that can come back from that."
Patrick Raby, senior right-hander
Added Martin: “As a group, we had confidence coming into today, knowing that we had something ahead of us that was within grasp. We just went for it.”
This spring, the Commodores have grown accustomed to celebrations. They brought home the SEC regular season and tournaments titles for the first time since 2007. Last week, they advanced in the Nashville Regional to reach their eighth Super Regional in 10 seasons. Vanderbilt took its next step in that progression on Sunday, putting to rest the lingering pain from last season’s loss to Mississippi State in the Super Regionals. For a new team, it was a new year.
An extended season meant even more to Vanderbilt’s senior class. Raby said the five-member group – the program’s largest since 2008 – is not far removed from the tragic death of teammate Donny Everett during their freshman season in 2016. The Dores know they represent Commodore Nation each time they take the field. But in venturing to Omaha, Raby said they will also play for even more in their final go-round.
“We all knew we were meant back to go back to Omaha this year and experience it, experience it for Donny and have a good time, too,” Raby said.