Early victories elevate confidence of highly ranked Vanderbilt baseball team

Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 10:59pm

Vanderbilt’s season-opening win streak ended Sunday when it dropped the third game of a weekend series to Stanford.

The benefits of victories in each of their first seven games, including two over the Cardinal, likely will linger for some time.

“That’s an Omaha team — as good as it gets,” coach Tim Corbin said of Stanford. “You don’t get much better than that. I’m sure there are teams that are as good as them, but of all the teams in college baseball in America, they have to be right up there.

“… There’s not many teams better than them, that’s for sure. They might be the best team we’ve seen in a long time.”

Stanford (4-3), ranked eighth coming into the weekend, got nine hits, including a pair of home runs as it dealt No. 3 Vanderbilt (7-1) its first defeat, 5-2.

A pair of one-run Commodores’ victories preceded that defeat VU won a 2-1 pitcher’s duel Friday and came from behind twice for an 8-7 victory on Saturday.

Sophomore second baseman Anthony Gomez played a critical role in both. He drove in the winning run Friday with a double, one of three timely two-out hits Vanderbilt had against Stanford starter Mark Appel. Gomez then beat out a potential inning ending double play as the winning run scored in the bottom of the eighth Saturday.

“It’s obviously a confidence booster and it’s something we expect of ourselves,” starting pitcher Sonny Gray said. “We have a great team, no doubt about that. We can pitch and we can play defense and we can hit.

“Winning close games, such as one-run games, is huge for later in the season.”

Half of this season’s first six victories were by one run and another was by two runs.

“I just think every time you win a one-run game, just for the kids’ sake, it gives them a pile of confidence, particularly against a very good team like [Stanford],” Corbin said.

The 7-0 start was Vanderbilt’s best since 2007, when a roster with future first-round draft picks David Price, Pedro Alvarez and Casey Weathers won its first 20. That team spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country and hosted an NCAA regional tournament.

That came in the wake of the program’s first Super Regional appearance, in 2006. The second was last spring.

Just two years ago, the Commodores opened the season with three games at Stanford, which was fresh off its 16th College World Series appearance. Vanderbilt lost two of those three.

“It’s really important [to win early],” catcher Curt Casali said. “It’s good for our confidence. It’s good for the rhythm we have as a team, in terms of playing ballgames whether it’s home or away, and just getting comfortable with each other.

“It’s still early in the season … and we’re still getting used to [Corbin] putting down signs at third base and seeing other pitchers.”

The good news is it seems they’ve already gotten used to winning.