If Vanderbilt is going to go far in this week’s NCAA baseball regional at Raleigh, N.C., it probably won’t be because of the long ball. In fact, it likely will be the exact opposite.
The Commodores showed in last week’s Southeastern Conference tournament that the bunt is among their most effective weapons.
“You start to see that once the postseason comes around,” junior right-fielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “Everybody starts to bunt more. You move runners over with one out, possibly.
“The postseason is all about one-run games and if you can win one-run games then you’re going to be very successful. Just by being able to put buts down, that’s one way you can do it.”
Two of Vanderbilt’s four victories en route to a runner-up finish at Hoover, Ala., were by one run.
The first was 3-2 against South Carolina, and Yastrzemski drove home with the winning run in that one with a successful squeeze bunt in the eighth. The next day the Commodores topped Florida 2-1.
Yastrzemski executed another successful squeeze that brought home the tying run in the ninth inning of a semifinal victory over Florida. His bunt single in the first inning of the championship game against Mississippi State was part of the Commodores’ best offensive threat in that one.
“Shoot, we’ve got the best bunters in the world,” junior center-fielder Connor Harrell said. “Yaz is a pretty skilled player and he’s one of those guys where if you ask him to do something he’s probably going to be able to do it. We’ve known all year, and the last three years that Yaz can bunt. He’s a skilled offensive player. So that’s one of the things that we kind of expect from him.”
The truth is that opponents probably ought to expect it from just about anyone in VU’s lineup.
Of the teams at the Raleigh regional — host North Carolina State, North Carolina-Wilmington and Sacred Heart are the others — Vanderbilt’s 53 sacrifices this season are the most. Yet that total just barely cracks the top 75 in all of Division I.
N.C. State is next with 46, yet no one has a large number. Anthony Gomez, Riley Reynolds and Jack Lupo have a team-high eight apiece where as UNC-Wilmington, the Commodores’ first opponent, got 29 of their 45 from just two players.
By comparison, Harrell’s team-leading home run total is seven.
“I think it really depends upon your roster,” coach Tim Corbin said. “When you’ve got a Florida-type roster … you might do less bunting. But right now, that’s kind of the personality of our team.
“We’re kind of a fastbreak-type team. We like things in motion. When things aren’t in motion it makes it a little bit difficult for us.”
With that in mind, they make certain they are well-prepared to get things moving as soon as the opportunity arises.
“Our team spends so much time on it,” Yastrzemski said. “We have countless hours of bunting practice. We know how important it is. Just being able to have fundamental plays is the best way to play the game.
“… It’s just any way we can get the run, any way we can win. I think that’s the best part about our team — everyone’s willing to do that. So there’s not one guy who’s not willing to go out there and put the ball on the ground to move someone over.”
Plus, there’s not many guys who can hit the ball out.