One win won’t be enough.
In order to reach the championship series at the College World Series, Vanderbilt needs to win back-to-back contests on consecutive days against conference rival Florida, which is 4-1 this season in head-to-head meetings.
Yet one win is all that is on the Commodores' minds.
“I don't think you can think about two games right now,” coach Tim Corbin said. “There are no two games unless you win the first game. We’ll treat it as such. There are nine innings you have to play, and we’ll do whatever we can.”
Vanderbilt will once again try to stave off elimination when it matches up with Florida at 1 p.m. Friday (ESPN).
The Commodores (54-11) kept their season alive with a 5-1 victory in an elimination game against North Carolina on Wednesday. Both of Vanderbilt’s wins in this CWS have come against North Carolina. Its lone loss was to Florida, which is 2-0 in the double-elimination tournament and needs just one win to advance to the championship round, which begins Monday.
The Gators (52-17) edged Vanderbilt 3-1 on Tuesday morning, in a game that started the night before but was suspended due to inclement weather around TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Preston Tucker’s three-home run off SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin stood up thanks to solid pitching by Florida. Starter Karsten Whitson allowed just one run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings and Steven Rodriguez took over from there. The lefty didn’t allow a hit as he closed out the game and picked up the win, striking out seven.
Florida’s bullpen has overmatched Vanderbilt all season. The Commodores haven’t scored a run in their last 17.2 innings against the Gators’ relief pitchers. In Florida’s four wins against Vanderbilt, the bullpen has allowed just one run on nine hits while striking out 24 in 21.2 innings.
“I think the biggest factor is being able to do something with their pitching,” Corbin said. “That's been the nemesis. I feel good about our offense, and I feel good about the mindset of where we'll be when we get to that particular game.”
Sonny Gray (12-3, 2.14 ERA) will start for Vanderbilt, while Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.24) most likely will get the nod for Florida. Gray gave up eight hits and three runs in 4.2 innings in a no-decision against North Carolina in the CWS opener last weekend.
If the Vanderbilt ace can deliver with six solid innings — like he did in his two previous postseason appearances — the Commodores bullpen has proved it is up for the task.
Relievers have allowed just one run in 22.1 innings this postseason. Left-hander Corey Williams and righty Will Clinard have carried a bulk of the load, especially in the CWS. Williams has pitched in all three games, going 5.2 innings. Clinard has worked 3.1 innings and freshman Kevin Ziomek has pitched 1/3 of the 9.1 innings.
But the pitching staff needs more run support as Vanderbilt’s sluggers are in a slump. Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Commodores' No. 3 through No. 6 hitters (Aaron Westlake, Curt Casali, Mike Yastrzemski and Jason Esposito) went 2-for-32 in their first two CWS games. They were a little better against North Carolina the second time around. Casali homered and Westlake and Yastrzemski each added hits. But the four hitters were still a combined 3-for-14.
That sort of production won’t help their cause against a team like Florida.
“We're not thinking, ‘How the heck can we beat Florida? It’s not really in the back of our minds at all,” Casali said. “We feel we can compete with them. We feel we match up with them well, but we'll see what happens on Friday. We're going to come in confident, I guarantee that.”