By Ron Wynn
Vanderbilt’s dream baseball season ended in disaster Sunday as Louisville completed a two-game sweep of the Commodores 2-1 at Hawkins Field. The win gave Louisville (51-12) the NCAA super regional title and a trip to the College World Series beginning this weekend in Omaha. The loss ended what had been Vanderbilt’s finest regular season, and prevented them from making their second visit to the College World Series.
It was a stunner for the sellout crowd of 3,503, who saw one of the nation’s most potent hitting attacks shut down for the second straight game. The Commodores got only five hits and one run in Game 2, finishing the weekend with 12 hits total and a team batting average of under .180 (.176).
Their only run Sunday came on a home run from designated hitter Zander Wiel, who wasn’t even in the lineup Saturday. Weil’s sixth-inning blow averted a shutout, as Vanderbilt was unable to get critical hits throughout the game. It was also the continuation of a strange negative feat in an otherwise excellent year. The Commodores never were able to win a game if they trailed after eight innings.
It seemed they might break that streak Sunday. Xavier Turner had a two-out single off Louisville reliver Cody Ege. That sent John Norwood all the way around to third, giving the Commodores a shot at tying the game with Mike Yastrzemski at the plate. However he struck out swinging to end the game.
But Vanderbilt wasted lots of opportunities. They had the bases loaded with one out in the second, but couldn’t score. They had two on with two out in the fifth and eighth and also couldn’t get anyone home, stranding 11 runners overall.
Louisville took advantage of a subpar outing from previously undefeated pitcher Tyler Beede. He lasted only 1 2/3 innings, mainly due to control. He surrendered five hits and three walks in that time, managing only 28 strikes among 59 pitches. Louisville got key hits from hitters at the bottom of the order. Zak Wasserman and Sutton Whiting both had runs batted in, but the Commodores prevented additional scoring by throwing out two runners on the bases.
Louisville’s Jeff Thompson pitched a superb game. He struck out nine batters and gave up only the Weil homer before giving way to relievers late ikn the contest. Nick Burdi got the first out, and Ege finished the game.
Vanderbilt also got excellent relief pitching, particularly from Carson Fulmer. He ended the Louisville scoring threat by getting a groundout, then pitched an addition five innings of scoreless relief, keeping Vanderbilt in the game.
It was a bitter end for a team that set an SEC record for conference wins (26) and posted more regular season victories (48) than any previous Vanderbilt squad. But the goal from the start of the year was a return to Omaha, and the players were extremely disappointed that they didn’t fulfill their goal, especially when they had all three super regional games at home.
One thing that betrayed Vanderbilt down the stretch was the offense, and it almost completely disappeared in the final two games. Tony Kemp had a spectacular season, and was consensus SEC Player of the Year. But he had only two hits in 10 times at bat during the two Louisville games. The Commodores also had only one extra base hit, the Weil homer. They compensated for it with a lot of stolen bases, but they couldn’t ultimately get the knockout punch that would have won either game. The fact Thompson had 124 pitches and only gave up one run was an indicator of how much the offense slumped over the weekend.
But Louisville is very much a mirror image of Vanderbilt, built on superior pitching, speed and timely hitting. This weekend they were just a bit better in all three areas, the reason they are heading to the College World Series and why Vanderbilt’s year has ended.