This looked all too familiar.
The last time the Vanderbilt bats went this silent was fewer than two weeks ago in a stunning loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
But coach Tim Corbin begged to differ with the notion that Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Georgia Tech in an NCAA Regional has become any kind of norm for the Commodores.
“I think games like these are anomalies; I don’t think they happen much,” Corbin said. “I tend to think our team reacts very well to games like these. They have in the past and I expect them to do it again. They are a tough group.”
Vanderbilt (53-10) will get the opportunity to prove its head coach right. The No. 2 national seed will see Georgia Tech again on Monday night at Hawkins Field with a trip to the Super Regional on the line.
The Yellow Jackets (37-26) have won three straight elimination games and have built momentum. Earlier on Sunday, they came from behind with four runs in the ninth and edged Illinois 6-3.
“They were thinking they were going to be facing Illinois. I think they liked that a little better than facing us,” Georgia Tech left fielder Kyle Wren said. “Now that we came out and really shut them down … right now we have them on their backs and in the corner.”
Said Corbin: “We will sleep it off, take a good shower and make sure we wash everything off.”
And hope the bats wake up in order to keep their season alive.
The Commodores failed to summon any offense in their second shutout loss of the season and first meeting with Georgia Tech since losing twice in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
Vanderbilt mustered just two hits against right-hander Josh Heddinger, who threw 127 pitches in his first career complete game. The sophomore worked around six walks, retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit after the third. Making just his sixth start of the season, he pitched past the seventh inning for the first time in his career.
Tony Kemp led off the game with a single and quickly moved to third. That was close as the Commodores got to home all night. Vanderbilt struck out just three times and had 14 fly ball outs. Seven of its 10 groundouts were vacuumed up on the left side by either shortstop Mott Hyde or third baseman Matt Gonzalez.
“I felt like we were aggressive on the fastball. We got the swings that we wanted to get off,” Kemp said. “We just didn’t get hits. It is tough but it is how it goes.”
Heddinger’s outing mirrored Parker Ray’s eight-inning performance that resulted in a 5-0 Vanderbilt loss on May 20 in the SEC Tournament opener. Texas A&M’s right-hander had also been used primarily out of the bullpen, making his fifth start. He allowed three hits and also had just three strikeouts, forcing Vanderbilt into 11 fly outs and nine groundouts.
Corbin, however, credited his team for taking better swings off Heddinger. Those swings simply did not result in hits for the Commodores, who entered the game ranked sixth in the country with 673 hits in 62 games. Connor Harrell appeared to have an infield single when he lined a pitch off Heddinger’s glove. But second baseman Thomas Smith quickly made a bare-hand play and an accurate throw for the out.
“It was one of those nights,” Corbin said. “Connor Harrell’s ball probably justified the whole deal. A ball that was hit hard right back up the middle that caromed off [Heddinger’s glove]. The kid stayed with it and threw the runner out at first base. It is frustrating.”
Georgia Tech, conversely, had 12 hits, including 10 off starter Walker Buehler, who was pulled after a three-run sixth inning. The Yellow Jackets benefitted from some that fell into gaps, sliced through holes and even a couple choppers that traveled less than 10 feet from the plate.
This marks Vanderbilt’s fifth straight appearance in a regional final. Last year, the Commodores also won the first two games of its regional before losing two straight to North Carolina State to end their season.
“Last year it was the same situation. It didn’t turn out how we wanted,” catcher Spencer Navin said. “We are going to be ready to go and the outcome is going to be better.”