Discipline at the plate allowed Vanderbilt to tie the game.
Execution -- eventually -- won it.
After he watched Rhett Wiseman fail -- twice -- to get down a sacrifice bunt, coach Tim Corbin signaled for his freshman to swing away. Wiseman did as instructed and sent a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run home run and lifted the Commodores to a 3-1 walk-off win in 10 innings over Illinois-Chicago on Sunday at Hawkins Field.
“I thought [Corbin] was going to give [the bunt sign] to me again with two strikes,” Wiseman said. “I would have gotten it down but he gave me the swing away sign. I knew I needed to make up for those two missed bunts with something big for the team.”
The designated hitter’s first career home run did the trick and capped a three-game sweep for No. 2 Vanderbilt (11-1). The Commodores have won 10 straight – their longest win streak in two years – and manufactured their latest win thanks to some late patience.
After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the eighth, they tied it up in the bottom half of the inning without a hit.
UIC starter Joey Begel hit Spencer Navin and then walked Wiseman on four pitches to put runners on first and second with one out. Alex Posey relieved Begel and, with two outs, walked Tony Kemp on a 3-2 pitch that just missed the outside corner. Jack Lupo brought in the game-tying run when he took a pitch off his left hip.
“Our guys were pretty locked in at that point,” Corbin said. “I felt like, hit-by-pitch or walk, those guys had to earn those. Those weren’t giveaways. I think they did a nice job of getting themselves back in it. Certainly Lupo wearing a pitch to score that run was a big help otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about Wiseman’s home run.”
Lefty Philip Pfeifer allowed three hits, struck out seven and worked around four walks as he did not allow a run. He threw 110 pitches in six innings and capped a weekend in which all three starters – Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede went on Friday and Saturday, respectively – threw at least 100 pitches this weekend. The trio combined for 30 strikeouts, half of them by Ziomek on Friday.
Pfeifer’s efforts, however, were offset by Begel's. The righty kept Vanderbilt's hitters in check through the first seven innings, inducing nine groundouts and allowing just three hits while striking out five.
“The first time through the lineup he ate us up a little bit,” Wiseman said. “In the eighth inning there when we loaded the bases that was just patience. That was the patience that wasn’t there earlier in the game. But we knew in order to win that game we had to be patient so we turned it on a little bit.”
The Wiseman ended it quickly. In the 10th, he turned on a high fastball from Posey. His teammates cleared the dugout and raced to home plate as the ball bounced off the brick wall next to the right-field bleachers.
It marked Vanderbilt’s first walk-off home run since Jason Esposito ended a 17-inning marathon with a solo shot against Louisville on May 5, 2010. Wiseman’s teammates congratulated him with a shaving cream pie in the face – delivered by Pfeifer – in the middle of postgame interviews.
“Sometimes you wish for something and you don’t get it and that is probably a good thing in that case,” Corbin said of the missed bunt. “They’re trying like hell to get the bunt down. They just didn’t get it down. In Rhett’s case it was a situation where the pitcher’s angle was probably favorable to his swing plane. He ran into one and scooped it out of the stadium. It was a big moment for him.”