Vanderbilt knocks off Stanford to earn World Series berth
JUN 08, 2014 9:52p ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Vanderbilt made the College World Series for the first time in 2011, it was considered a major breakthrough.
This year's unlikely run to the College World Series culminated Sunday with a 12-5 win over Stanford in the Nashville Super Regional title game. It serves as further validation for a Commodores program that now carries national championship aspirations on an annual basis.
"I think we have been very consistent for a long period of time," Vanderbilt 12th-year coach Tim Corbin said. "You look at the last years -- 2009 and '10, '11, '12, '13 -- we are always playing in a final (NCAA tournament) game, whether it's a regional or Super Regional.
"I think that's the thing I'm proud of, the amount of consistency that our program has held."
The Commodores open College World Series play against Louisville on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Omaha, Neb. It's a rematch of last year's Super Regional swept by the Cardinals.
With Vanderbilt's sustained success comes heightened expectations of making the eight-team CWS. Last season, an appearance was almost a given for the Commodores, who spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
And when they were given the No. 2 overall national seed, they had the chance to play the regional and Super Regional rounds at home. But Vanderbilt was denied its second CWS trip by losing two straight games to visiting Louisville in the Super Regional, leaving the 2013 season to cast a long shadow for what might have, could have and, by many accounts, should have been a trip to the CWS.
This time around, though, the 20th-ranked Commodores (46-19) weren't thought to be College World Series worthy as little as two weeks ago. They had played inconsistently throughout the Southeastern Conference regular season to be a No. 6 seed in the league tourney, which they exited quickly after one win and two blowout losses.
But the young team caught fire last weekend in sweeping the regional behind stellar pitching. And in taking two out of three this weekend from Stanford (35-26), the two-time national champion seeking a 17th CWS appearance, the Commodores appeared to have righted the ship at just the right time.
"The kids have handled themselves pretty well these last three weeks," Corbin said. "They've grown quite a bit, not just because of the wins, but they have grown. They've seen through some things that, to be honest with you, I didn't know if they would be able to or not."
That included Sunday's win in front of a third consecutive sell-out crowd of 3,626 fans at Hawkins Field. After the Commodores scored five runs in the first inning to chase starter Logan James, Stanford answered with four runs in the third inning to knock Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler out of the game.
But Corbin made the right call when he relieved Buehler to start the fourth inning with freshman Hayden Stone (2-0), who allowed only one unearned run off three hits with five strikeouts over the final six innings.
"I just thought I would be in (the game) until it was time to pass it off to someone else," said Stone, a native of nearby Columbia, Tennessee. "But if I was out there being successful, I thought I might get to ride it out. And I did.
" â¦ The breaking ball (was working) with two strikes, and I was locating my fastball pretty well, too, especially with the great defense behind me. It is easy to just pump the (strike) zone and then just let them work."
The NCAA doesn't name a most valuable player for the Super Regional, but it would be a no-brainer that Commodores freshman All-American Brian Reynolds would be it. All the left fielder from Brentwood, Tennessee, in suburban Nashville did in three games was bat .667 (8 for 12), score five runs with three RBI, plus play outstanding defensively that included a diving catch on a line drive late in today's game.
"You've got people all around you that just build you up," Reynolds said of playing so well this season as a freshman, including currently leading the team in hitting with a .343 average. "And you don't feel like a freshman at all in this program.
" â¦ I guess things just kind of went my way. Up and down the lineup, everyone was swinging it well. It was a good weekend."
Holding a shaky 6-5 lead heading into the seventh inning, the Commodores broke the game open with a four-run outburst by sending nine batters to the plate against five Stanford pitchers. The inning started with consecutive hits by Dansby Swanson (single), Reynolds (double) and Vince Conde (single).
Vanderbilt opened the game with a five-run first inning off six hits, three stolen bases and a RBI squeeze bunt. Starter Logan James (3-4) was chased after giving up four runs to the first six batters, but reliever Marcus Brakeman couldn't stop the onslaught and was greeted with back-to-back RBI singles by John Norwood and Jason Delay.
But like Stone in relief for Vanderbilt, Brakeman settled to keep the Commodores at bay. In 5 1/3 innings, he scattered six hits and gave up three runs while throwing 92 pitches.
"What our coach has always preached is," Brakeman said, "just to get the ball over the plate and throw strikes and if they hit it, they hit it. So, that's the No. 1 way you can stabilize the defense and to stop their scoring or at least slow their scoring to give our offense the chance to come back like we almost did."
Stanford greeted Buehler in the third inning with three straight hits, including a RBI double by Alex Blandino. Swanson committed a two-run error, Wayne Taylor -- Sunday's hero with a walk-off home run -- knocked in the fourth run of the frame with a triple into the right-field corner.
"(Vanderbilt) kept the pressure on us and played a great game," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "I'm sure they will do really well in the College World Series. They have a little bit of everything pitching, defense, they can swing the bat.
"So congratulations to them, they beat us every which way they could today."