Tim Corbin reserved the right to refrain from putting into perspective another record-setting night.
But the Vanderbilt coach jumped at the chance to applaud his reserves.
Kyle Smith, Rhett Wiseman and Johnny Norwood took advantage of their playing time in a 6-1 over Belmont on Tuesday night at Hawkins Field. The trio combined for eight hits and four runs to help consensus No. 1 Vanderbilt (46-6) match the school record for most regular-season wins.
“It was just a pick-me-up night,” Corbin said. “You got three kids who were inserted into the lineup and they picked everyone up. They accounted for about five runs.”
Smith made his first start since April 13, when he crashed into the bullpen wall chasing a foul ball. The freshman received 15 stitches in his chin, suffered a concussion and had to wear an orthopedic boot on his foot for what he described as turf toe.
Against Belmont (36-16), he spelled Xavier Turner, who had made 26 straight starts at third base. Smith made an immediate impact, as the righty smacked a pitch from Belmont starter Jordan Deal into the seats in right-center field. The two-run blast was the third homer of the season for the former Mt. Juliet standout.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive the other way,” Smith said. “I got a fastball away so it worked out well for us. I got to give credit to [hitting coach Travis] Jewett and [volunteer coach Larry] Day. They have really been working on my swing. They have helped me feel good and get some confident in the box.”
Wiseman and Norwood each chipped in three hits as the Commodores extended their winning streak to 13 games.
Wiseman, a freshman often used as designated hitter, made his first official start since March 15. He ended a six-game hitting drought with three singles and scored a run. Norwood was a late addition to the lineup. The sophomore subbed in for left fielder Jack Lupo, who injured his groin while running for a foul ball in the second inning. His single down the left-field line drove in the first of three runs in the fourth and cushioned the Vanderbilt lead.
All three players have been used seldom this season while trying to crack a stacked Vanderbilt lineup that leads the Southeastern Conference in hitting. Norwood entered batting .333, Wiseman was hitting .284 and Smith had driven in 11 runs in just 23 at-bats.
The trio's performance spoke volumes about the Commodores’ depth. Despite compiling respectable numbers, they have had to wait their turn.
On Tuesday, they didn’t squander the opportunity.
“Rhett Wiseman got off some really good swings and took advantage of an opportunity,” Corbin said. “Johnny Norwood coming in for Jack Lupo made things happen around the bases. He tried to bunt his first time up. He drove some balls, pulled a ball, hit a two-strike ball the other way. … That was a big pick me up by those three kids. I’m proud of them.”
• With a triple into the right-field corner in the fourth, Tony Kemp tied the SEC career record with 21. It took the second baseman from Franklin 61 fewer games to match the mark set by Florida’s Brian Duva, who needed 241 games to do the same from 1991-94.
Kemp, whose batting average climbed to .411, has six triples on the year and needs two more to tie the single-season school record he shares with Ryan Klosterman (2004).
• With two outs in the ninth, Corbin removed Kemp from the game and inserted seldom-used D.J. Luna. The Brentwood Academy grad is a redshirt junior who will not be placed on the postseason roster and most likely won’t play this weekend against Alabama.
Luna attended an alternate graduation on Tuesday, along with Lupo, Connor Harrell, Mike Yastrzemski and seniors from the track and women’s tennis teams who couldn’t make commencement last Friday.
• Despite the loss, Belmont has its sights set on bigger goals.
The Bruins can clinch at least a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming league tournament. They need to win two of three in the final regular-season series at Tennessee Tech this weekend.
“This is a big weekend for us,” coach Dave Jarvis said. “We have to learn from the mistakes we made tonight. We have to wash this game off our back and get ourselves ready for practice [Wednesday] to face a very good Tennessee Tech team.”