OMAHA, Neb. — Vanderbilt had a chance to breathe Thursday – but not for long.
A rematch with North Carolina State awaits the Commodores at 1 p.m. CT Friday in another do-or-die matchup at the College World Series. Vandy needs to beat the Wolfpack to keep its season alive for at least one more day – it would then have to beat North Carolina State again at 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. Saturday to earn a trip to the best-of-three championship series starting Monday.
All those options are on the table because of an unforgettable win Wednesday against Stanford. Vandy, down to its final out in the bottom of the ninth, got a walk, an infield hit, a Cardinal throwing error, an RBI single and a wild pitch to walk off 6-5 winners in an elimination game.
It was Vanderbilt’s second walk-off win of the tournament and third one-run game in as many contests.
“Our team, we’re a pretty tough team,” Vanderbilt reliever Luke Murphy said of the comeback victory. “I don’t think we were down. We were still motivated. Everyone in the dugout was thinking that we’re going to win this ballgame. There was no doubt about it.”
Murphy was part of a pitching quartet Wednesday that allowed Vandy to stay in the game after trailing 4-0 at one point and 5-2 later. Murphy (4-1) went the final 1 1/3 innings and got a crucial strikeout with the bases loaded in the eighth.
Those bases were loaded because Hugh Fisher had come in and walked Brock Jones – not necessarily a bad thing seeing as how Jones was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, a home run and a double at that point.
Chris McElvain tossed 1 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball and Nick Maldonado held the Cardinal to one run and four hits over three frames. They all followed freshman Christian Little, who left after three innings and 70 pitches with his team down 4-0 – but only one of those runs was earned.
“It’s difficult for a 17-year-old kid coming out there in an environment with 25,000 people. He gave us all he had,” Murphy said. “It’s kind of difficult coming out there and expecting a lot. He’s a young kid. Give him some urgency about that, and hope for the future, I guess you could say.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s going to bounce back. Hope we can use him for the rest of this tournament.”
Bouncing back was certainly the theme of the day for a Dores team that was rattled early Wednesday.
Jayson Gonzalez and Parker Noland both made first-inning errors. Enrique Bradfield was picked off first in the bottom half of the inning. Isaiah Thomas lost a fly ball in right field in second that turned into a double. Carter Young committed an error in the fourth.
Yet the Commodores hung tough. And it was Bradfield with the biggest redemption of all, a two-out, first-pitch single in the ninth that scored Javier Vaz to tie the game at 5-5.
A wild pitch two pitches later brought in Spencer Jones from third handing the victory to Vandy.
“Going through my at-bat, it all went back to, I think, my bat in the seventh inning when I faced (Stanford pitcher Brendan) Beck the first time – I chased a curveball in the dirt,” Bradfield said. “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.”
The next challenge for Vanderbilt will be a well-rested North Carolina State team (37-18), which hasn’t played since it beat the Commodores 1-0 on Monday. Vandy, conversely, will be facing the possibility of elimination for a second-straight game in less than 48 hours.
But now that’s something these Commodores have already survived.
“You look at the lineup, absolutely zero excuses, but you look at the lineup and none of those guys have been on the field before. So I’m sure for them, when you think about it and you’re human and the elimination games are just different because you know that if things don’t go your way the season’s over,” Corbin said. “And there’s some emotional feelings that way. And I’m sure it can pull you down. And it’s tough to get inside this environment and play with freedom.
“Playing in another one-run game, we’ve just played a lot of one-run games. We have. And, really, losing the other night in that one-run game (to Arizona) is one of the few one-run games we lost all year. But they get to those moments they do a good job of competing staying in it.”
• Vanderbilt is now 18-8 at the College World Series all-time and 26-8 in its last 34 postseason games.
• Vandy has now recorded 745 strikeouts this season. The 2019 team set a Vanderbilt record with 765.
• Corbin now has 18 College World Series win, the 12th-most in the event’s history.
• Vanderbilt has the most wins (18) at the College World Series since 2011. Florida is second with 13.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.