HOOVER, Ala. – Things got so bad for enigmatic Vanderbilt pitcher Nick Christiani at one point this season that he was left off the team’s 25-man roster for a weekend series against Arkansas in March.
VU’s trepidation Friday was understandable when Christiani took the mound in a do-or-die elimination game against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Regions Park.
Rather than wilting, Christiani delivered a clutch performance, leading the sixth-seeded Commodores to a 7-5 victory over the seventh-seeded Gamecocks.
Vanderbilt, defending tournament champion, takes on Ole Miss on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Commodores must defeat the Rebels twice Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship game.
Christiani stifled the powerful Gamecocks, yielding one earned run and striking out four in 6 2/3 innings.
“It was just what we needed,” VU first baseman Andrew Giobbi.
Giobbi and Pedro Alvarez each slugged two-run home runs in support of Christiani, and David Macias added three singles to lead Vanderbilt’s 10-hit attack.
On March 15, Christiani was lashed for nine hits and five runs in less than three innings in Vanderbilt’s loss at South Carolina.
He avoided a similar fate Friday by mixing pitches and working with efficiency. He twice retired the Gamecocks in order on only seven pitches.
“You just have to forget about it and clear your mind of it,” Christiani said. “They hit a lot of fastballs and a lot of mistakes last time. This time I just tried to keep the ball down and mix it up.”
Christiani surrendered a fourth-inning home run to Phil Disher but otherwise was spotless.
“The story for us early was Nick’s pitching,” VU coach Tim Corbin said. “He was able to control the middle part of their order for the most part, and they have some big, big hitters.”
Vanderbilt [39-19] grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a two-run infield single by Ryan Flaherty.
Disher's homer sliced the lead to 2-1 before Giobbi’s blast made it 4-1 in the fourth.
Alex Feinberg’s triple plated Macias in the sixth inning to extend the lead to 5-1, and Alvarez’s home run made it 7-1.
Disher homered off VU reliever Chase Reid to pull the Gamecocks to 7-5, but South Carolina [38-21] posed no further threats against Commodore relievers Richie Goodenow and Russell Brewer.
TOURNAMENT NOTES: Vanderbilt will have to defeat Ole Miss twice Saturday to advance to Sunday's championship game. Taylor Hill or Brett Jacobson will start for the Commodores. ...Alvarez, Flaherty and de la Osa -- VU's top power hitters -- are a combined nine for 36 at the plate in three games at the SEC Tournament with only one extra-base hit. Alvarez's homer Friday was the 48th of his career, moving into him second place in school history. ...Giobbi hit his first home run Friday since April 23. Giobbi and outfielder Steven Liddle each have five hits in the tournament. ...Vanderbilt eliminated South Carolina from the SEC Tournament on Friday for the first time ever.
SEC Baseball Tournament
Game 1 — LSU 5, South Carolina 4 [10 innings]
Game 2 — Vanderbilt 7, Florida 3
Game 3 — Ole Miss 4, Georgia 1
Game 4 — Kentucky 9, Alabama 3
Game 5 — South Carolina 11, Florida 3
Game 6 — Alabama 5, Georgia 2
Game 7 — LSU 8, Vanderbilt 2
Game 8 — Ole Miss 8, Kentucky 7
Game 9 — Vanderbilt 7, South Carolina 5
Game 10 — Alabama 13, Kentucky 4
Game 11 — 10 a.m.: Vanderbilt vs Ole Miss [FSN]
Game 12 — 1:30 p.m.: LSU vs. Kentucky [FSN]
Game 13* — 5 p.m.: Winner G11 vs. Loser G11 [CSS]
Game 14* — 8 p.m.: Winner G12 vs. Loser G12 [CSS]
Game 15* -- 3 p.m.: Winner G13 vs. Winner G14 [FSN]
*If both bracket winners are undefeated, there will be no 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. games on Saturday, and the championship game Sunday will be Game 13.