NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No. 1 Vanderbilt needed 11 innings to overcome fourth-seeded Austin Peay 2-1 in its first game in the Nashville Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Shortstop Ryan Flaherty scored the winning run after a grounder by catcher Shea Robin eluded reliever Ben Wilshire.
Vanderbilt starter David Price, the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year, tied a career-high with 17 strikeouts, scattering five hits while walking two in nine innings. Not to be outdone, Austin Peay starter Shawn Kelley, the Ohio Valley pitcher of the year, tossed a career-high 130 pitches in 10 innings, striking out nine and allowing five hits.
The Commodores (52-11) advance to play second-seeded Michigan at 7 p.m. CDT on Saturday while the Governors (39-21) will face Memphis at 2 p.m. CDT in an elimination game.
“You had two pitchers that pitched as well as they possibly could,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I thought David (Price) was tremendous in the fact that it was tight the whole game and he had to pitch with guys in scoring position. I thought he was very, very good and Casey (Weathers) was too. Kelley pitched the way I anticipated he would pitch. He’s a five-year guy, tough as nails, out there competing. It was like a heavyweight fight, to be honest with you, and it was going to come down to a play like that. It was just a weird play and we were fortunate to take advantage of it.”
The play of the game came in the top of the fourth when Vanderbilt rightfielder Dominic de la Osa made a diving catch to his right to save a run. The Commodores managed to strike first in the bottom of the sixth inning when first baseman Brad French scored on a wild pitch. French had singled to lead off the inning, moved to second of a bunt by centerfielder David Macias and to third on a fly out by second baseman Alex Feinberg.
“Obviously it was a great ballgame tonight,” Austin Peay coach Gary McClure said. “It was as well-pitched a college baseball game as I’ve seen in a long time. You’ve got probably the best pitcher in the country out there from Vanderbilt and Shawn Kelley for us. He was in total command of the game and pitched with a ton of heart. He pitched well enough to beat anyone in the country tonight, without a doubt. All three pitches he threw well and he showed why he’s the pitcher of the year in our league.”
Holding a 1-0 lead, Price took the mound in the top of the ninth looking to win his 12th game of the season. After working a 3-2 count, third baseman Tyler Farrar hit the next pitch over the high leftfield wall for his sixth homer of the year to tie the game.
With two runners on in the 10th inning, Kelley forced a groundout to end his night and send the game into the 11th. Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers (12-2), in his second inning of work, struck out the side. Then, in the bottom half, de la Osa singled to bring up third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez hit a shot that bounced off first base right to first baseman Jake Lane. Lane stepped on first and threw to second to seemingly end the threat.
But Flaherty, who earlier had extended his hitting streak to 31 games, hit another single and outfielder Matt Meingasner drew a walk from David Vicini (2-2), prompting a pitching change. After the runners advanced to second and third on a passed ball, Robin hit a weak ground ball to the right side. Wilshire got the spikes of his cleat caught while trying to make the play, and the ball bounced off his glove behind him. Gilbert was unable to retire Robin and Flaherty bounded home to give Vanderbilt the victory.
“You have to tip your cap to Kelley,” Flaherty said. “He pitched a great game. He came out and had a plan and stuck to it. We were fortunate enough to catch a break and a win’s a win. You’ll take them any way you can this time of year.”