Tim Corbin’s first season as Vanderbilt baseball coach was punctuated by Worth Scott’s walk-off home run against Tennessee in the final game of the regular season, which allowed the Commodores to reach the SEC tournament for the first time in a decade.
Corbin’s most recent season, which ended Monday with a loss in the final game of the Louisville Regional, lacked any such moment.
In fact, the 2009 Commodores — while decidedly heavy on pitching — came up short on clutch hits throughout the 37-27 campaign, which included 14 losses by one or two runs and a 4-10 record in one-run games.
“I think that sums up everything,” coach Tim Corbin said, “…It’s very much a mindset. You do it once, then you do it twice and it starts to happen.
“(Scott) was a .200 hitter, but all of his hits counted. He was a .300 hitter when it mattered most.”
Scott actually averaged .212 for his four-year career with VU and never hit better than .242. He was the only one of five seniors on the 2004 team who did not get drafted (three of the other four went in the first five rounds), but he consistently produced in key moments.
The nine primary starters on this year’s team all averaged between .263 and .377. None consistently displayed the knack for a timely hit.
When Corbin addressed the team Tuesday he pointed out that the overall average for the season was .306, but in the eighth and ninth innings it fell to .220. The Commodores did not have a walk off hit and never came from behind in the ninth inning to win.
“That’s sort of been a trademark of this team in recent years, we’ve always been able to battle back and find ways to win,” Corbin said. “I don’t know if it’s the youth of this team. I hate to keep going back to that, so I don’t know what it is.
“It’s like we never could grab momentum and hold on to it offensively.”
Arguably the most dramatic offensive moment of 2009 came when Brian Harris tied an April 22 game at Louisville with a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth. The Commodores won in 10 innings that day against the team, which ultimately ended their season.
Similarly, Jonathan White walked with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and forced in the game-winning run in a 5-4 SEC tournament victory over South Carolina.
The difference in a 4-3 victory over Florida on April 4 was Steven Liddle’s game-winning RBI in the bottom of the seventh. It came when he grounded into a fielder’s choice.
More common were innings like the seventh in Monday’s loss to Louisville. Down by two, 4-2, the Commodores had runners on second and third with one out, and the next two batters struck out. In a sweep at the hands of Tennessee in the final regular-season series (none of the games were decided by more than two runs), they left the bases loaded three times, twice in the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s hard to put your finger on why it happened,” Corbin said. “I like the future of this team because I like what’s coming back. Right now, though, because of the lull (following the end of the season), it’s tough to think that way. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll feel better better.”