Vanderbilt’s Campbell unlikely CWS hero

Tyler Campbell was 3-for-8 in two games against Texas. 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin knows about unlikely heroes when it comes to championship baseball.

That’s why he made a particular prediction to his team before starting play in the College World Series a week ago Saturday at Omaha, Nebraska. Corbin said championship teams always have a player or two unexpectedly step up in heroic fashion in crucial situations.

For the Commodores, that has been little used sophomore infielder Tyler Campbell. Playing in just his 16th game of the season on Saturday night, he had only 21 prior at-bats before his game-winning infield single pushed Vanderbilt past Texas and into the College World Series best-of-three championship series starting Monday against Virginia.

"I said that’s what these moments are all about," Commodores coach Tim Corbin said, "when kids get a chance, that have been practicing all year but just haven’t been in games, then all of a sudden, their number is called."

Vanderbilt (49-20) plays Virginia (52-14) on Monday and Tuesday night at TD Ameritrade Park in search of the first college baseball national championship for either school. If necessary, a third game will be played on Wednesday.

After not having an official at-bat in nearly six weeks and batting a paltry .133, Campbell was called into duty on Friday after starting third baseman Xavier Turner was suspended for the remainder of the CWS for undisclosed violation of NCAA rules. In 64 games, Turner batted .284 with two home runs and 38 RBI.

But in the 4-0 loss to Texas, Campbell had two of Vanderbilt’s six hits and played flawlessly in the field. Then came Saturday night’s rematch with a berth in the championship series on the line. With the score tied in the bottom of the 10th inning with two outs, Campbell’s walk-off infield single with the bases loaded scored fellow sophomore Rhett Wiseman for the win.

"As for the at bat, I think I did most of my thinking on the on-deck circle more than once I was actually up," Campbell said of the game-winning hit. "When I was in the dugout in the hole (two batters away from batting), I was expecting to come up. I was expecting those guys to get on, so once I got up, everything kind of took care of itself. I was trying to keep the ball on the ground, though."

Indeed, it was a whirlwind few days for Campbell, who has raised his batting average to .217 in just two games and is expected to be back starting at third base on Monday night. 

"As far as the past few days, it’s just been fun," Campbell said. "I mean, from the time I got in (Friday), I tried to stay focused and in the moment, and it’s been all right."

While Campbell got the game-winning hit on Saturday, he also started a crucial double play in the fifth inning that might have saved the game for the Commodores. Starting pitcher Carson Fulmer walked three Longhorns to load the bases with one out and was relieved by freshman Hayden Stone, who got the first batter he faced to ground to Campbell at third base to start the inning-ending double play.

"Tyler Campbell, just picking us up by starting an unbelievable 5-4-3 double play, was a big moment in itself," Corbin said. "And then (he was) able to stay aggressive and chop the ball down and run a hard 90 (feet to first base for the game-winning hit)."

Campbell said that while he has played little this season, his mental toughness to shine in such key moments like the last two days can be traced to his parents, Fritz and Kristan Campbell, back home in Portland, Oregon.

"I think my mental game really started with my parents from a young age and having a dad who was an athlete and having a mom who was an athlete," Campbell said. "So, they were able to coach me up a little bit on that."

While the team celebrated advancing to the CWS championship series, Corbin was quick to note that Campbell’s teammates were elated that he has come through in a big way despite being used little this season.

"It takes a great deal of patience," Corbin said of a player not playing much. "And then when you get in there, it takes a great deal of controlled emotions, and Tyler has been able to do that. Everyone is so happy for this kid. They wanted him to play. And just to see him succeed, the team is beyond happy."

Another unexpected hero of the postseason for the Commodores has been Stone (3-0), who on Saturday night replicated a relief appearance in the Super Regional championship win over Stanford. In that previous game, he replaced struggling starter Walker Buehler and pitched the final six innings, yielding just one unearned run for the win.

"He has the right temperament," Corbin said of Stone, who hails from nearby Columbia, Tennessee. "He has the right heartbeat. You put him on the mound (in the fifth inning Saturday) and bases are loaded and I say, ‘Here you go again.’ And he said, ‘Yep, let’s go.’

"I don’t mean to make it sound simple, but he’s got a very good temperament for that part of the game. He believes in himself and all the pitches that he throws."

Vanderbilt is expected to start junior right-hander Tyler Beede (8-7) and Buehler (12-2), a sophomore right-hander, in the first two games against Virginia, which beat Ole Miss 4-1 on Saturday to advance to the title series. But Corbin said Sunday he didn’t know which pitcher would start Monday. The Cavaliers will start sophomore Nathan Kirby (9-2).

"This team has gone, maybe, deeper than anyone anticipated at the beginning of the season," Corbin said. "But they have tremendous resolve. They’ve been in this situation so many times during the year, whether it’s SEC weekends or the Super Regional and now, and they find another gear to move forward. So, I’m very proud of them in more ways than one. I love what they’re about."