Vanderbilt threatened plenty of times. The Commodores just failed to make good on enough of them.
For the second straight game, they squandered numerous opportunities to extend their season.
Instead the No. 2 national seed’s record-breaking season ended in despair with a 2-1 loss to Louisville in a NCAA Super Regional on Sunday at Hawkins Field.
Vanderbilt mustered just four runs in two games and stranded 22 base runners — 11 in each game. On Saturday, it left five runners on base in the final two innings. On Sunday, four runners were left in the eighth and ninth innings.
John Norwood represented the tying run at third base and the go-ahead run, Xavier Turner, was on first when Mike Yastrzemski struck out to end the best-of-three series in just two games.
“They just held us down,” second baseman Tony Kemp said. “We were one click away, one hit away from finding one little dribbler through the hole and we just didn’t get it. We’ve been getting those big hits all year.”
Despite matching a program record with 54 wins, the Commodores (54-12) were two wins short of their second trip to the College World Series. They entered the series having won five in a row against Louisville, including a 10-2 midweek decision in April, and was 19-4 all-time. They had not lost to any team twice all season.
But the Cardinals (51-12), headed to their first CWS since 2007, held Vanderbilt’s potent lineup in check. After batting just 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Saturday, the Commodores went 1-for-7 in similar situations Sunday. The top of the batting order — Kemp, Turner and Yastrzemski — had just two hits on Sunday and were 5-for-27 in the series.
“Holding a team down to two runs you would think you would have an opportunity to win,” coach Tim Corbin said. “They were more effective from a pitching standpoint. You stop our hitters you have to do something special because our hitters are very good.”
Freshman Zander Wiel provided the only extra-base hit of the series with a solo home run in the sixth to trim the deficit to one.
“I was hoping it would get a little something sparked,” Wiel said. “But the old saying goes solo home runs won’t hurt you.”
Wiel’s fifth homer of the season didn’t derail Louisville right-hander Jeff Thompson.
The Big East Conference pitcher of the year outdueled Vanderbilt sophomore Tyler Beede (14-1), who lasted 2 2/3 innings in his shortest outing of the season. Thompson, who was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Tigers on Friday, allowed just three hits in seven innings. The 6-foot-6, 248-pounder struck out nine and threw 124 pitches.
“I thought he was effective with his fastball,” Corbin said. “To me, it had a lot of energy our hitters weren’t necessarily picking up. Particularly the one that was higher than the belt. It seemed to take off. He was always a pitch away from getting himself in trouble but he was always a pitch away from getting himself back in order again. He was composed.”
Vanderbilt’s best chance came in the second inning. With one out, Conrad Gregor was hit by the pitch. Wiel then drew a walk and Vince Conde singled to left field to load the bases. But Thompson buckled Spencer Navin on a curveball for a called third strike. Jack Lupo then popped up the next pitch to second.
In the ninth, Norwood singled off closer Nick Burdi with one out. In stepped left-hander Cody Ege, who hadn’t allowed a run in 14 straight innings. He forced Kemp, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, to fly to center field on a 3-2 pitch. Xavier Turner then moved Norwood to third with a single to right field. But Ege recovered and struck out Yastrzemski swinging on a 2-2 breaking ball to end the game.
Yastrzemski, a senior and All-SEC first-team selection, struck out three times Sunday and failed to get a hit in the series.
“It's unfortunate that maybe the most unselfish baseball player that I've ever been around finished at the plate,” Corbin said. “That's a tough one to watch because that kid's different. I probably won't coach too many more like him. I would've loved to have seen that go in his direction. He deserved better than that, and it just didn't work out.”
Stranding runners in losses was an unwanted theme for Vanderbilt. In 12 defeats, the Commodores left an average of nine runners on base. Seven times they stranded more than 10 runners. In 54 wins, they left an average of 8.4 runners on base.
Starting with the SEC Tournament, the Commodores suffered their first two shutouts and managed four runs or less in seven of their final 11 games. The bats that helped them rack up an SEC-record 26 wins and their third league regular-season championship in seven seasons went painfully quiet.
“A lot of good pitching,” Kemp said. “A lot of [opposing pitchers] drafted high and they showed why. I don’t think it was our bats [not lighting up] we just couldn’t find holes. They played good defense. They did a great job. You can’t win them all.”