The idea was for the night to be about flood relief. It turned into a showcase for the relief pitchers of both Vanderbilt and Louisville.
The longest game in Hawkins Field history – both in terms of innings and elapsed time – included a total of 14 pitchers, seven for each side. They threw as few as six pitches (VU’s Drew Hayes) and as many as 77 (UL’s Tony Zych).
The end finally came after 5:33 when Vanderbilt’s Jason Esposito hit a two-out, solo home run in the bottom of the 17th inning and lifted the Commodores to an 11-10 victory. Esposito launched the second pitch of his ninth at-bat well beyond the left field wall and then raced around the bases, almost in a full sprint.
“I just wanted to get to home plate and be with my teammates,” he said.
He also angered the Louisville players when, in his excitement, he flipped the bat a little too close to pitcher Andy Flett, who gave up the blast. As a result, the sides opted not to shake hands, which was an ending incongruous with the spirit that permeated the affair.
“(The bat) just kind of slipped out of my hand,” Esposito said. “I feel bad. I wish someone would tell them that, but I guess they don’t want to hear that right now.”
Vanderbilt officials decided late last week to give away the remaining tickets for this 2009 NCAA Regional rematch and to solicit donations of money and supplies from those who showed up. There also was a silent auction and other activities, and all of the proceeds were ticketed for the local Red Cross’ flood relief efforts.
The crowd of 3,203 produced $20,600 in donations. That did not include concessions and bookstore contributions, which also were to be factored into the haul. Louisville also contributed to the effort.
“I know my wife made a boatload of cupcakes and was auctioning them off,” VU coach Tim Corbin said. “They probably fed people breakfast with them. That’s how long a game this was.
“… The fact that there were (that) many people out here for a mid-week game, and I’m sure there were a lot of givers. This town is known for giving.”
Neither team was willing to give in, though.
Louisville (40-9), ranked ninth in the latest Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association poll, led by five early and later broke ties with two runs in both the ninth and 14th innings. Vanderbilt (36-13), ranked 17th, took the lead with a six-run third inning and answered with two runs of its own in both the ninth and 14th.
Will Clinard pitched the final six innings for the Commodores. It was the redshirt-freshman’s longest outing of the season. Five other relievers, beginning with Grayson Garvin in the third, preceded him. That group allowed a combined three runs on eight hits in nine innings.
“Obviously we used almost all of our pitchers before the ninth inning, so I just had to get mentally prepared,” Clinard said. “I saw that we were competing as a team out there. … I just went out there and competed. All you can do is compete.
“… After about four innings, your body starts to get worn down, but it’s all mental. It’s all in your head.”
It was during the 17th inning that outfielder Joe Loftus was sent to the bullpen to warm-up. Loftus, a sophomore, expected to pitch some this year but early arm soreness scratched that idea.
Corbin said he figured Clinard had one more inning in him. As it turned out even that wasn’t necessary.
“That was unbelievable,” Corbin said. “I don’t know if I’ve witnessed a game like that before, especially against a very good team. … There was a lot of emotion in that one – you played basically two ballgames, every pitcher threw well.
“… No one lost (Tuesday) night. This was a very good college baseball game.”
Actually, it was more than just a college baseball game.