MURFREESBORO — Anthony Gomez continued to carry a hot bat but he saved the game’s best highlight for the infield.
The Vanderbilt shortstop collected two hits and extended his hitting streak to 13 games. But his hidden ball trick in the eighth inning was the talk of the Commodores’ 8-4 victory against Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday night at Reese Smith Jr. Field.
MTSU (24-19) loaded the bases in the eighth inning. With no outs Trent Miller singled to cut the lead to 8-3. Jack Lupo, just inserted into right field for Vanderbilt (19-22), tossed the ball into second baseman Tony Kemp who threw it to Gomez. He proceeded to jog over to relief pitcher Drew VerHagen and hand him the ball.
Or so MTSU base runner Justin Guidry — and VerHagen — thought.
“It is a quick, spur-of-the-moment thing. I was just looking around seeing if their bench is looking at me, looking at that transition,” Gomez said. “So I kind of faked it like I was going to put it back in his glove and ran back and just waited for [Guidry] to get off the base. I don’t know if [VerHagen] knew because he kind of said, ‘Where is the ball?’ I said, ‘Hey, shhh. Just stay off the mound for a second.’ Now he knows at least.”
So does Guidry, a senior left fielder and Father Ryan grad.
If VerHagen had stepped back onto the mound the play would have been dead. But he didn’t and Guidry wandered off second base. Gomez came in from his position, alerted the umpire by yelling ‘Got him’ and tagged Guidry with the ball never leaving his glove.
“The first Cardinal rule of base running is run with your head up and know where the ball is at all times,” MTSU coach Steve Peterson said. “The next thing is to never assume anything. You don’t assume anything and Justin assumed that the pitcher had the ball.”
It was the second time Gomez pulled off the trick this year. He also fooled an Oregon base runner back in February. He tried it over the weekend against Alabama but to no avail.
The junior said he picked up the sneaky move from former Vanderbilt infielder Brian Harris.
In this case, he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it. Three pitches later, Ver Hagen struck out Ethan Williams and escaped the jam by allowing just one more run.
“It was such a big play at the time because you had some strong hitters coming up and one swing of the bat could change the complexion of the game totally,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “That is just something players do on their own when they see there is a break. Gomez is a skilled kid and savvy. It was a nice play.”
• Gomez started the scoring in the first inning when he smacked an RBI triple to opposite field. He has now reached base in 20 straight games.
He wasn’t done either. Gomez, who leads the team with a .379 batting average, sparked a five-run third inning with a single through the right side. Conrad Gregor and Spencer Navin hit back-to-back homers — the first chasing MTSU starter Nathan Foriest and the second greeting reliever Nick Montgomery. After consecutive two-out walks, Connor Harrell crushed a two-run double into the left-center gap.
• Harrell capped Vanderbilt's scoring with a solo shot in the seventh that gave the Commodores their first three-home run game. In 18 SEC games this year, Vanderbilt has only hit four homers.
• The victory was Vanderbilt’s second over MTSU in eight days. The Commodores defeated the Blue Raiders 5-1 in Nashville on April 17.
• Sam Selman (5-3) picked up his fifth straight win in his longest outing of his career. The junior left-hander tossed 109 pitches and allowed two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings. For the fifth straight game, he struck out at least seven batters.
“I felt pretty good,” Selman said. “I played these guys last week so I kind of had the same gameplan going into it. Just force a lot of ground balls, let the defense work, attack hitters. I came out with the fastball and slider. It worked pretty well.”