OMAHA, Neb. — It may seem unimaginable, now and perhaps forever, but Vanderbilt did win Wednesday to keep its season alive.
For three hours and 25 minutes, however, that outcome appeared more and more impossible as the seconds and minutes and hours ticked by. But head coach Tim Corbin knew his team would keep fighting now matter how bleak the direction of the game may have been heading.
He asked them midway through the game to keep up that fight. And boy did they respond.
“We might not be the most-talented team, but the thing that you can’t deny the kids is they are tough,” he said. “They’re tough. And every time you challenge them, they come back. And I appreciate that. I appreciate they’re fighters.”
Corbin may not give much thought to Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Stanford in the College World Series being his 800th victory in a black and gold uniform. There’s no doubt he’ll ever forget it.
The Commodores (47-16) played perhaps as poorly as they have all season through 3 1/2 innings. There were three errors, a misjudged fly ball in the outfield, a pickoff, a walk with the bases loaded.
Then there was the talk. A spirited speech by the veteran coach in the dugout minutes before Dominic Keegan would walk to the plate and hit a two-run home run resuscitating a lifeless Vandy side.
Troops, rallied pic.twitter.com/omMW6srRmD
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) June 24, 2021
There were two more runs in the sixth to get the Dores in position to hope. Then came the ninth inning.
“It was just a moment. I don’t typically talk to them during the course of the game,” Corbin said. “I went out to the mound to change pitchers and I didn’t think the eyes looked good. And when I came back in, (Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown) said the same thing. So just didn’t want to go down — if we were going to lose, we’re going to lose playing aggressively and I just didn’t think we were. It was more of a challenge than anything else.
“Rare moment because, first of all, I don’t like doing that. And, second of all, it’s their game. It’s theirs to win or lose and you don’t ever want to interfere. But at the same time I didn’t feel like they were playing like themselves and we needed to snap out of it. And I’m not saying that discussion had anything to do with what happened. But at that point we just needed to snap out of whatever fog we were in because we were not playing like ourselves.”
Because Vanderbilt started to fight back in the fourth inning and continued to fight into the ninth, a little bit of Omaha magic was able to take place.
Stanford reliever Brendan Beck, who came into the College World Series as the team’s No. 1 starter, was cruising. He struck out the side in the seventh, fanned two more and got a groundout in the eighth and then recorded two quick outs in the ninth.
Javier Vaz would not go quietly into the night.
The junior provided a life line after a six-pitch walk. Then Corbin went to his bench and sent in Spencer Jones to pinch hit for senior Jayson Gonzalez.
Jones got his bat on a 1-1 pitch and chopped it to deep short for an infield hit followed by a wide throw to first. Vaz scampered to third. Suddenly it looked like it might happen.
Enrique Bradfield wasted no time in smoking a ball to centerfield for a base hit. Just like that the game was tied at 5-5.
“Going into the ninth, we all knew we could do it,” Bradfield said. “We’ve done some crazy things this year, down in the last inning, two outs. A lot of the runs we scored are two-out runs. Nobody’s on to start the inning. We get to two outs, we get a baserunner, another base hit follows. So we knew it was always possible.
“Going through my at-bat, it all went back to, I think, my bat in the seventh inning when I faced Beck the first time I chased a curveball in the dirt. I was, of course, frustrated because nobody wants to do that. But I knew I had to see it pop out of his hand. I was looking for a fastball and just saw it and reacted to it.”
Vandy had, at least, at that point given itself a chance to at least play an extra inning or two. Then Beck’s third pitch to Carter Young, though, flew to the backstop. Jones raced home. Celebration ensued. The sophomore emerged from the dog pile somehow shirtless.
What. An. Ending. #VandyBoys | #CWS pic.twitter.com/nD0b09RSxv
— Vanderbilt Athletics (@vucommodores) June 24, 2021
“They didn’t back down. They’ve been tough,” Corbin said. “They’ve showed a lot of resiliency and played a lot of one-run games — Regional, Super Regional to tonight. Nothing’s been easy for the group.”
Vanderbilt survives to face North Carolina State (37-18) at 1 p.m. Friday. It will need to win to play again at 1 p.m. Saturday and then win that day to play in the championship series starting Monday.
And one thing has become clearer and clearer no matter how cloudy the result may seem at times – the Commodores are always in it until the very end.
“Anything’s possible. We’re a tough team,” said Vandy reliever Luke Murphy, one of four Vanderbilt bullpen men to hold Stanford to just one run. “If you haven’t noticed, our last couple of games are one-run ballgames, two-run ballgames. We’ll keep putting up the fight and I think we’ll have a good chance to keep advancing.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.