Stung by atypical play a night earlier, Vanderbilt was in familiar form Monday.
As a result, the Commodores set up a showdown with a familiar postseason foe.
Relying on a flurry of singles and problematic bunts, No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt staved off elimination with a 7-1 win over Georgia Tech in an NCAA Regional championship game at Hawkins Field.
On Sunday, the Commodores' bats went silent against the Yellow Jackets with just two hits in a 5-0 loss. Less than 24 hours later, Vanderbilt (54-10) swung its way into a Super Regional against Louisville. The teams have met 11 times in the last six years, including four times in the postseason. Louisville eliminated Vanderbilt in 2009 and the Commodores returned the favor in 2010.
The second time around against Georgia Tech (37-27), Vanderbilt collected 13 hits, including 12 singles. The Commodores also scored runs in three of the first five innings and improved their record to 38-3 when scoring first.
“I think [Monday] we came out and we weren’t so flat, especially right off the bat,” right fielder and regional MVP Mike Yastrzemski said. “Coming out [Sunday], we didn't seem to have our energy. We just needed to make sure we brought that back as soon as possible. That starts with guys’ attitudes and wanting to be there and wanting to come out swinging. You can tell there was a huge difference in our approach [Monday].”
Small ball once again was part of the formula for a team that ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with 57 sacrifice bunts.
Vanderbilt bunted four times, which led directly two runs. Jack Lupo, who leads the SEC with 20 sacrifice bunts, squared around successfully twice. He also showed a bunt in the sixth before he straightened up and doubled to left-center.
The pressure really mounted in the seventh when Vanderbilt pulled away with three runs. With Conrad Gregor on second, freshman designated hitter Rhett Wiseman laid down a bunt to the right side. Georgia Tech reliever Joe Wiseman fielded it cleanly but sailed the throw into right field, which allowed Gregor to score easily. Wiseman later moved around the bases and scored thanks to bunts by Conde and Lupo.
Vanderbilt also bothered Illinois with the bunt on Saturday night. Leading by one run in the eighth inning, Both Lupo and Tony Kemp both reached safely. A good toss would have thrown out Kemp but first baseman David Kerian also lofted the ball down the right-field line. The error let two runs score and sparked a five-run frame.
“It is a pressurized play and what happens is you speed up the internal clock of the defender,” coach Tim Corbin said. “Unless you practice a certain way it is tough to pull off in a game. We talk about that so often with our team and we do work on it a lot but we don’t always use it. We used it a couple times in this series but it is very tough to handle. Our own kids know it. So applying that type of pressure to the defense it is tough to execute the play, the out.”
Now the Commodores, who tied a program-record for wins, play in their third Super Regional in four years this weekend at Hawkins Field. The best-of-three series begins Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN), continues Sunday (3 p.m., ESPN) and, if necessary, will resume Monday (6 p.m., ESPN2). The winner advances to the College World Series.
Vanderbilt blasted Louisville 10-2 on the road back in April in a meeting between top 15 teams. But that game was atypical as well as it occurred during the middle of the week. Neither team’s aces were on the mound and Louisville (49-12) used eight pitchers.
“It is almost a completely different team that we’re going to face,” Yastrzemski said. “They’ve gotten way better and we’ve gotten way better. We’ll take the knowledge that we got from that game and try to provide ourselves with enough information to play. But I don’t think that game is going to have much of a factor in how this weekend will go.”