Vandy trying to slug its way back to College World Series
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Julian Infante tipped his cap to the applauding fans after being named MVP of the Nashville Regional following his impressive hitting performance.
The Vanderbilt senior went 6-for-12 in three games cranking out three home runs , three doubles and five RBIs. And he did it from the ninth spot in the Commodores' batting order.
It was just another indicator of how strong coach Tim Corbin's lineup is from top to bottom. The nation's home run leader JJ Bleday had a relatively quiet weekend, yet the No. 2 seed nationally outscored opponents 28-8 to send Vanderbilt to its ninth super regional.
Ohio State coach Greg Beals said the Commodores' lineup as good as there is in college baseball.
"I haven't seen everybody in the country, but that one's pretty good," Beals said. "They're hitting .319 as a team. They got home runs, and they got stolen bases. They got a little bit of everything that they can do in that lineup, and that's what makes them tough."
Pitching has been Vanderbilt's biggest strength during most of Corbin's tenure. Now he has one of the best-hitting teams in Commodores' history and chasing a fourth trip to the College World Series hoping to add to their 2014 national title and 2015 national runner-up.
Infante's second home run — and Vandy's fourth in its regional final — set a school record with 87 this season. The Commodores not only hit for power, but their .319 batting average leads the Southeastern Conference and is fourth nationally. They've set school records for most RBIs (497), walks (341) and runs (529) with a few more marks within range for a team with the nation's most wins (52-10).
"I think whoever walks in here to play Vanderbilt better pack a lunch," Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs said. "That's a very good team."
The Commodores last hit for average like this in 2007 when setting the school record at .324, and they hadn't hit as many as 85 home runs since 1997. They also have hit at least one home run in nine of their last 10 games. The Commodores' ability at the plate is a big reason why Vanderbilt goes into the super regional having won 12 straight and 25 of 26 games.
Corbin notes Infante hit fourth and fifth as a freshman and that the senior now is tied for second on the team with 11 home runs this season. Ty Duvall, batting eighth, hit a grand slam in the regional clincher. Leadoff hitter Austin Martin (.410) is trying to become the first Commodore to bat above .400 since Warner Jones (.414) in 2004. Bleday leads five other hitters batting at least .294.
"As a coach when you're standing at third base, there's a comfort level every time someone gets to the plate," Corbin said.
Duke (34-25) faces Vanderbilt starting Friday after winning the Morgantown Regional as the No. 3 seed. Vanderbilt was the childhood team of Duke pitcher Bryce Jarvis as he grew up in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. He struck out 11 as he outdueled Toronto Blue Jays first-round draft pick Alek Manoah in a 4-0 win over West Virginia last weekend.
He believes one of the major reasons for his success is not shying away from contact.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to just paint the outside corners or be too perfect with an off-speed pitch," Jarvis said. "But attacking the zone is really going to be big. The best hitters in the world get out 70 percent of the time. So if you do the math there, the odds are in your favor as a pitcher, personally."
Sophomore Philip Clarke, hitting .306 with seven home runs, said experience benefits Vanderbilt throughout the order. Infante is one of five seniors, while Bleday — the fourth pick overall in Monday night's MLB draft — is one of five juniors.
"Everyone's been in that situation," Clarke said. "There's really not any nerves. Plus, you have a guy coming up right behind you that you have full confidence in. There's really nothing to be nervous about."
Ohio State and Indiana State held Martin and Bleday to just one RBI and seven walks combined. Duvall says that plays into the Commodores' strength.
"We don't really need certain guys to produce one through nine," Duvall said. "Anyone can put up to change the scoreboard and things like that to get us going."