To say this Vanderbilt team has it all would be incorrect.
True, no weaknesses were revealed as the Commodores cruised through this weekend’s NCAA baseball regional, which they clinched with a 6-1 victory over Belmont on Sunday before 3,050 at Hawkins Field.
In so doing, they earned the right to host a super regional series for the first time. They will face Oregon State in the best-of-three series, which will begin either Friday or Saturday. Exact dates and times will be determined Monday.
“I’m just happy with the way the kids isolated things this weekend and took each game separately, didn’t get too far ahead of themselves,” coach Tim Corbin said. “It just speaks to their maturity and their consistency. … I’m proud of them.”
What they lack, though, is a bona fide, singular, count-on-in-the-clutch, clearly-better-than-everyone-else star or stars.
In winning all three games Vanderbilt (50-10) outscored the opposition 26-3, averaged more than 11 hits, got 23 strikeouts and just two walks from its starting pitchers and 6.1 shutout innings from its bullpen.
Look up and down the lineup and every one of the nine hitters came through at a critical moment at some point during the weekend. Seven of them had an RBI or scored a run against Belmont.
Friday’s starting pitcher, Sonny Gray, is expected to be a top pick in Monday’s Major League Baseball draft, but Saturday’s starter, Grayson Garvin, is the 2011 Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year and the VU record-holder for wins in a season.
Taylor Hill outperformed both of them Sunday as he struck out a career-high 13 and held Belmont (38-26) to five hits in eight innings. The Bruins’ only run came on a leadoff home run by right fielder Tim Egerton in the second, which was the only extra-base hit against the Commodores in the three games.
“From start to finish it was very solid,” Corbin said. “I don’t feel like any of these games, though – despite what the scores look like – they didn’t feel like they were runaways. … The pitching allows us to stay in the game and our offense just kind of chips away.
“It’s been that type of consistency throughout the year.”
Oh, and while they did commit four errors, all of the runs they allowed were earned.
“Look at some of the plays they made defensively [Friday and Sunday],” Belmont coach Dave Jarvis, whose team’s only losses were to Vanderbilt, said. “… The ballgames go differently if they don’t make some of the game-changing plays they did in the field.
“They’re extremely well coached and extremely well prepared for any situation they’re going to face.”
That overwhelming balance is in stark contrast to 2007, the only other time Vanderbilt won 50 games, not to mention hosted as regional. Then, pitcher David Price and third baseman Pedro Alvarez provided a top-heavy presence for a team that ultimately failed to reach the super regional.
These Commodores never looked in danger of being upset once, let alone the two times needed to keep them from the next round.
Third baseman Jason Esposito was selected as the tournament’s most valuable player as he hit .538 with three runs scored and four RBIs. However, eight of the 14 named to the all-tournament team were Commodores, including the entire infield.
Esposito put Vanderbilt ahead to stay in the clincher with an RBI double in the top of the third and capped the scoring with a home run to start the seventh inning.
“There’s threatening moments, there’s always tough situations to get out of during the course of a game,” he said. “… Of course, there’s tough times in any game. It’s just the way you battle through them and pick yourself up after those innings.”
Opponents scored in only two of the 27 innings played against Vanderbilt. Both times, the Commodores answered with multiple runs in their next turn at bat.
“We kind of came in here and had our goals set to play each game very well — and we did,” relief pitcher Mark Lamm, who got the final three outs, said. “Now, we have a lot of confidence. … We’re 3-0, we’re riding high and hopefully we’ll take that into the weekend.
“You can’t take the runs and how you played, but you can take the confidence into the next weekend and that’s what we’re going to do.”
• Esposito became the third player in Vanderbilt history with 60 career doubles. He got there — and drove in two runs — in the third inning. He trails only Dominic de la Osa (2005-08), who had 63, and Sean Luellwitz (1999-2002), who had 61, on the school’s career list.
He also became the ninth Commodore with 250 career hits, when he hit a leadoff home run in the seventh.
• The complete all-tournament team — Starting pitchers: Gray (Vanderbilt), Hill (Vanderbilt) and Chase Brookshire (Belmont); Relief pitchers: Jon Ivie (Belmont), Thomas Austin (Troy); Catcher: Matt Zeblo (Belmont); First base: Aaron Westlake (Vanderbilt); Second base: Riley Reynolds (Vanderbilt); Third base: Esposito (Vanderbilt); Shortstop: Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt); Outfield: Mike Yastrzemski (Vanderbilt), Daniel Peterson (Troy), Derek Hamblen (Belmont); designated hitter: Conrad Gregor (Vanderbilt).