Off to Omaha -- that is Vanderbilt baseball team’s destination, home of the College World Series.
“It’s not easy," Commodores Coach Tim Corbin said after his team smothered Stanford, 12-5, in a winner-take-all game at Hawkins Field Sunday. “I’m proud of how they came back from last night."
If anyone can understand just how difficult it is to reach Omaha, it is Corbin.
This will be only his second appearance at college baseball’s location to eventually crown a champion.
Corbin has sent numerous players to the major leagues. In pitchers alone, Corbin has seen David Price, Mike Minor and Sonny Gray become starting pitchers in the major leagues. Pedro Alvarez anchors third base for the Pirates. Numerous others have been drafted after three years under Corbin’s tutelage.
After a bitter defeat to Stanford Saturday, the Commodores could just as easily come out flat. Corbin didn’t allow them to have a hangover from the loss. Instead of taking batting practice on the field, Corbin had his players go to the indoor facility and hit in the cage.
Run production has been a problem at times for these Commodores. They have been able to put runners on base, but couldn’t move them across the plate against elite teams.
There was no sign of surrender Sunday. They dropped a 5-spot on Stanford in the first inning. But they knew that was not going to be enough to kill the Cardinal, a team used to bunking in Omaha in June.
Stanford used eight pitchers in trying to stop the bleeding. There was no use to save any arms.
There were a number of Vanderbilt players that came through in the clutch Sunday.
The first seven players in the batting order had 14 hits and eight RBI. The top four hitters banged out nine hits, led by freshman outfielder Bryan Reynolds and shortstop Vince Conde with three hits each. They combined to plate three runs.
Brentwood High’s Reynolds made a run-saving catch when he snagged a line drive in left field, one he had to dive head first for.
And you can’t say enough about Columbia Central’s Hayden Stone. It was his Superman impersonation out of the bullpen that saved the day.
Stone came in with Stanford threatening to overcome a 5-4 deficit. He handcuffed the Pac-12 team with three hits over six innings. He gave up one run. It was unearned. He struck out eight batters and gave up only two walks.
Stone replaced starter Walker Buehler, who was not as sharp as he had been in the post-season. Not to worry. They will need and use Buehler in Omaha.
This Vanderbilt team is peaking at the right time. They didn’t always field the ball cleanly during the regular season. They are not as sharp defensively as most Corbin teams have been.
He believes in playing defense, getting strong pitching and playing small ball at the plate. It has carried him a long way during regular seasons, but they have been burned by offensive droughts in tournament play.
The most difficult task is getting to Omaha. It’s a marathon that can leave teams physically and mentally drained.
Corbin believes in his players. He has a way to get inside their heads and push the right buttons.
Who knows how far this team can go in Omaha. They are playing with house money now.
Every team in Omaha believes their mid-summer dream can come true.
Why not them?
Contact Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.