Commodores reach into bag of tricks to upset Rebels

When the desire to win is strong, baseball players will do whatever it takes to see a “W” next to their name.

For the Vanderbilt Commodores, “whatever it takes” includes some trickery and some Sandlot-style strategy.

In the fifth inning of Vanderbilt’s second seven-inning game of a doubleheader against the Ole Miss Rebels, Ole Miss’ Nick Fortes doubled to score two runs and tie the game for the Rebels. The Commodores were set to face the next batter with two runners in scoring position and no one out.

That’s when Vanderbilt took after its namesake and hustled the Rebels.

After receiving the cutoff throw from the outfield, third baseman Austin Martin gave first baseman Julian Infante a look that only Infante could recognize.

The trick was on. With pitcher Reid Schaller pulled off the mound next to Infante, Martin quickly tagged the baserunner at third base when he briefly stepped off the bag.

Vanderbilt had executed the hidden ball trick.

The Rebels, having been successfully swindled out of a baserunner, would not threaten for the rest of the inning. However, they took the lead in the next inning, and it took a three-run double from catcher Ty Duvall to give the Commodores an 8-7 win to seal a huge series win over a top-five team.

Whether it’s a hidden ball trick or just a clutch hit, the attitude from the Commodores is the same: never say die.

“This group is really tough,” Duvall said. “We work extremely hard and I feel we’re as prepared as anyone that steps on the field. I try to remind the guys of that. No one does what we do, no one works as hard as we do. When you get out there, just do your thing because you’re more ready than anyone.”

That fifth inning was one of many instances on Sunday in which the game, and the series, could have gotten away from the Commodores. In the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, the Commodores were down to their final outs multiple times. In the seventh inning, Martin hit a two-out infield single off the glove of the second baseman that plated the tying run. In the first extra inning that followed, they were down 7-6 when Ethan Paul launched a towering solo shot to tie it. Then, with the bases loaded, an Ole Miss wild pitch brought the winning run across.

Vanderbilt caught breaks. But the age-old idiom remains true: you have to be good to be lucky.

“They outhit us both games I think,” coach Tim Corbin said. “In some ways, you have to, and the hits have to be timely. Really, that’s what it boils down to. You get a timely hit, the two home runs were certainly timely and then Duvall’s hit was timely with the bases loaded and that’s really what you need at the end of the day is just to come up and get big hits and we did. That was great to see.”

The difference between any other team in the country and a Corbin-coached team is effort. Vanderbilt may not win every game, but they will give 110% in each and every one. There has never been a single Commodore that has quit on a game. If they have, it was the last time they were on the field in a Vanderbilt uniform.

However, that doesn’t mean that Vanderbilt can dominate any game. They can win ugly, and in the case of the 2018 Commodores, they have mastered the art of the ugly win. It’s why they’re sitting in the Top 25 with two straight SEC series wins under their belt.

“We’re not always pretty, we’re not always the most cosmetic team in college baseball, but at the same time, you just wanted to see that,” Corbin said. “You wanted to see the passion, grit and the ability to take a punch and then come back. There were a lot of tough moments in the first game, a lot of tough moments in that second game too. But, they withstood the punches and they got back on their feet and answered the bell.”

After an 11-3 beatdown at the hands of the Rebels on Friday night, some might have counted out the Commodores in the series against their toughest opponent since facing the top-ranked Florida Gators. With two shortened games on the schedule on Sunday thanks to poor weather on Saturday, Vanderbilt had plenty of time to put Friday behind them and just believe in themselves.

The Rebels came out hard in both games and gave the Commodores everything they had. But for every punch Ole Miss gave, Vanderbilt hit back twice as hard. Moving forward, that attitude will come in handy as the games get more important.

“This was a tough series against a tough team,” Martin said. “The way that we were able to bounce back after every inning. They just kept coming at us and I was really proud of the team just being able to come back and get these two wins today.”

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The VandyBoys have their swagger back after winning series vs. Georgia

Two years after releasing “The Marshall Mathers LP,” rapper Eminem came back with a vengeance with a single entitled “Without Me.”

It’s unclear if that song is on Vanderbilt Baseball’s pregame playlist, but perhaps it should be, because the VandyBoys are back, and you should tell a friend.

After losing their sixth game in a row in the series opener against the Georgia Bulldogs, the young Commodores successfully regrouped and won two straight to claim the series. They used a three-run inning and some stellar relief pitching from Chandler Day to claim a 5-3 win on Saturday before putting together a decisive 8-3 victory on Sunday.

Enough consecutive losses can weigh on players’ minds, especially younger players. Head Coach Tim Corbin said the emotion was on display this weekend as Vanderbilt tried to get back on track.

“I thought they handled it well,” Corbin said. “I think the emotion stemmed from I think Thursday night was a tough loss. They felt like they had something in their hand and it got taken out. That can happen, but the only way you take care of that is by responding well the next day. They did, they played pretty well yesterday and to come out with one round apiece, win the last round.”

“They’re kids, they feel the effects of not having success on the scoreboard over the course of two weeks. Going back to Lipscomb, the Florida series, and the tough game in Murfreesboro on Tuesday night, and then a tough game on Thursday. So yeah, I’m sure they were emotional because they care. It’s good for them to walk out of here with a series win.”

The series win could not come at a more opportune time for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have lost three consecutive mid-week games, including last Tuesday’s controversial seven-inning loss to Middle Tennessee State. In the middle of all of those losses, they traveled to Florida to take on the top-ranked Gators and were swept handily. Their closest loss in that series was by four runs, with the two other losses coming by eight and six runs.

Follow that up with a performance on Thursday in which the team blew a 2-0 lead and stranded two runners in scoring position with one out, and it seemed Vanderbilt’s confidence was shot. Some players lingered around the dugout by themselves on Thursday for long after Corbin made his postgame remarks and met with the media.

The Commodores had two choices: sink or swim. And they swam like sharks.

“It’s a big confidence-builder for all of us,” Day said after Saturday’s game. “We had a six-game losing streak and had the opportunity to go out there and do my job and I was fortunate enough to get us through the rest of the game and save the bullpen for tomorrow and get us back into the win column. Definitely a confidence-booster for all of us.”

They started with a bang on Saturday and finished it off with a statement victory on Sunday. Their hit parade in the fifth inning gave them the lead, but it was a home run by catcher Stephen Scott that put an exclamation point on the win.

“It’s huge,” Scott said after Sunday’s clincher. “We had a lot of emotion coming into this game, and so it really just propelled us forward. I think we’re looking to keep on that track.”

The Commodores have a number of reasons to believe in themselves. They can steal bases like few teams can with plenty of speedsters on the roster. They also have a number of players that can step into many different roles. Sophomore Harrison Ray and freshman Austin Martin played multiple positions over this series. Veteran Julian Infante did not even play in the last two games of the series.

With that much depth and potential lineup combinations, some younger players will get some playing time and continue to grow. If they’re feeling it again, the rest of the SEC should watch out, because a confident Vanderbilt squad is a scary Vanderbilt squad.

“They’re all good players, and I think they want an opportunity to play,” Corbin said. “You can’t play them all, but I just think a lot of teams have depth in this conference. We’re fortunate that we’ve got some young kids that are able to compete this early, because that’s difficult to do. Some of them probably shouldn’t be on the field if we had normal depth in the senior and junior class, but we gave them the opportunity to play and they’re taking advantage of it.”

“Hopefully they’re better at the end of the year than they are right now. I think any time they’ve stepped in, whether it’s Cooper Davis or Harrison Ray, and gotten the chance to play, they’ve responded pretty well.”

The first step in keeping the momentum going comes on Tuesday when they take on Western Kentucky.

The post The VandyBoys have their swagger back after winning series vs. Georgia appeared first on Vanderbilt Hustler.

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