Long journey now complete: Vanderbilt advances to College World Series in Omaha

Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 2:11am

Oregon State did not make it quick. Nor was it easy.

Starting pitcher Ben Wetzler stepped off the rubber before he ever threw a pitch. He and the three pitchers who followed repeatedly did likewise and kept base runners honest with numerous throws to first and even to second. Hitters stepped out of the box and took their time when they headed to the dugout following an out.

Ultimately, none of it was enough to keep Vanderbilt from the destination on which it has been firmly focused during nine seasons under coach Tim Corbin.

“I think that’s what they were trying to do — get us out of our rhythm,” Corbin said. “But it was almost like a speed bump. The game was just stop and slow, stop, slow. [Wetzler] was effective. … The game was in the balance there mid-stream, the fourth or fifth inning.”

Next stop — Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series where Vanderbilt's first opponent will be North Carolina.

Aaron Westlake hit three home runs and was the driving force in VU’s 9-3 victory before 3,387 at Hawkins Field. The Commodores remained unbeaten (5-0) since the Southeastern Conference tournament, won the best-of-three super regional series in the minimum number of contests and earned the first CWS appearance in the program’s history, which dates back to 1886.

“I’ve been coming to games since [I was] a little kid, so I know what the program was before coach Corbin got here,” relief pitcher Will Clinard said. “All it has done is gone up and we’re going to go even further. The next stop is Omaha.”

Although in the homestretch, they merely inched toward their goal through the first five innings. They led 3-2 but left seven runners on base, including at least one in four straight beginning with the second.

They took a huge leap forward in the top of the sixth when Anthony Gomez drove in two runs with a  single — his fourth straight hit — and Westlake followed two pitches later with a two-run home run, his second of the night.

“Last year we were so close to our goal — about 90, maybe 180 feet away,” Westlake said. “This year we [had] the same team coming back and everybody had their eyes set on one goal. In doing so, we took it each day, came out and prepared the same way each day from Aug. 25 until now.

“It’s a great feeling to get to Omaha. Now we have one more step and we have a couple days to celebrate what we’ve done.”

That celebration unofficially began after Westlake’s second home run made it 7-2. From there, each Oregon State out drew louder applause and his third home run — another two-run shot in the top of the eighth — elicited a chant of “Westie! Westie!”

The end came when Will Clinard struck out Parker Berberet. Catcher Curt Casali tackled Clinard a few feet in front of the mound and in no time the pair was at the bottom of a dog pile.

“We met Aug. 25 and that was the day we said we’re going to open Ameritrade Stadium [now home of the College World Series],” Corbin said. “We said, ‘The stadium will be built then. Will we be built then?’ We’re built today.

“So we’re going. The train has another stop.”

While the Commodores (52-10) move on, the Beavers (41-19) head home because of their inability to get runners home.

Unlike Friday’s series opener, when they got just four hits and two walks, they routinely got runners on base — eight hits, four walks, two Vanderbilt errors — but could not move them all the way around. They left 11 on base, including three in the fifth.

The combination of those struggles on offense and they fact that they were without their No. 2 starter and their closer because of injuries put the Beavers in a tough spot, yet their coach insisted they were right where they wanted to be.

“If you looked at all the places you could go, Vanderbilt would probably be the one no one wanted to go to at this point in time with what they have and what they have going in momentum and experience,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “We kind of liked that challenge. We’ve kind of feasted on that all year long.

“We didn’t have enough firepower to get through it.”

Vanderbilt did.

As the celebration continued, players lifted Corbin on their shoulders and he pumped his right fist twice. Gloves and hats remained strewn about the infield as the players took a victory lap, beginning in right field and working counter-clockwise.

It was a moment, their coach reasoned, they would take with him through the rest of their respective life journeys.

“This is not a great team; it’s a legacy team,” Corbin said. “They’re going to learn a lot of things from this, and they’re going to want to enjoy this experience again in their lives somewhere.

“Whether it’s marriage, whether it’s business or something, they have developed something that they can grasp on to and take it further than sports.”

Breifly

• Grayson Garvin, the SEC pitcher of the year, came away with no decision for just the fourth time this season. He lasted just 4.1 innings, allowed at least a hit in each inning, walked three and struck out three.

It was his second-shortest appearance of the season. He went just 2.2 innings against Georgia on May 20.

“It’s not like they hit Grayson,” Corbin said. “Grayson just had a little bit of trouble finding the strike zone. But he gutted it out.”

• Clinard pitched the final 4.2 innings and struck out a career-high eight, including the last two outs of the game.

“I expected to get ball in the ninth and … I was ready to go,” Clinard said. “I was just mentally going through the next batter after batter. All I was worried about was the first batter, getting him out, and making the next pitch.”

• Oregon State’s three runs were the most scored against Vanderbilt in a game during this tournament. During the regional round, Belmont scored one total in two tries and Troy scored two.

• Vanderbilt’s first opponent, North Carolina, swept Stanford in order to make it to the CWS for the fifth time in six seasons. Its starting catcher is Jacob Stallings, son and VU basketball coach Kevin Stallings.

“I don’t think it puts him in a tough position — he’ll be rooting for his son, as he should be,” Corbin said of the elder Stallings. “I don’t like Kevin’s son right now.”

Jacob was 3-for-5 with one run scored and three RBIs in the Super Regional clincher.

2 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 6/12/11 at 5:53

WTG, Vandy! Clutch hitting and pitching! Good luck in Omaha!

By: JeffF on 6/13/11 at 6:19

I have been to Omaha three times for the CWS. At first I was a proponent of moving the CWS around to various bid cities, but after finally going there I am now firmly in the camp of keeping the event in Omaha. No other city would put the effort into the event.

I am truly sorry the Vandy fans will not get to experience Rosenblatt Stadium. What a wonderful place for baseball. Omaha officials truly blew it with their decision to build a new stadium that neither the CWS or the resident AAA team really wanted. The sterile, new downtown facility will not have the tailgate areas and shade trees that made the between-game downtown bearable and even entertaining. I will miss the old behemoth on the hill and all its different seating structures of various ages and designs. Hopefully the people of Nebraska will keep the venue filled with appreciative fans of swaying loyalty. It is fun watching the Nebraskans still root for whoever is playing Miami.