OMAHA, Neb. – With one out in the bottom of the second inning, Vanderbilt was ahead 1-0. With runners on first and second, sophomore Connor Harrell was ahead in the count. With the wind blowing out at 25 mph, the stage was set …
One swing later, Harrell was circling the bases in the wake of his second home run of the 2011 College World Series. And sixth-seeded Vanderbilt had what would be an insurmountable 4-0 lead en route to a 5-1 victory against North Carolina in CWS Game 9 on Wednesday night.
Harrell finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and three RBI as Vanderbilt eliminated the No. 3-seed Tar Heels to set up a rematch against Florida (2 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN). The Gators defeated Vandy 3-1 on Monday.
“The wind was a factor [Wednesday],” Harrell said. “I tried to get my hands extended and get the ball into that jet stream and get it into the seats.”
Vanderbilt entered Wednesday night’s game with six players in the starting lineup hitting .332 or better. Harrell was low-man on the totem pole at .283. No reason to think the No. 8 hitter would take a starring role with the Commodores’ season on the line, right?
However, big-game heroics are Harrell’s calling card. In 2010, he plated the winning run with a squeeze bunt in the 10th inning as Vanderbilt defeated Louisville in the Regional championship game. And that came after his above-the-wall grab in the third inning negated what would have been a two-run home run for the Cardinals.
On Wednesday night, there would be no late-inning heroics. The Commodores’ five runs came in the first three innings, more than enough for starting pitcher Taylor Hill (6-1). He yielded one run on four hits, walked four and struck out four in seven innings. Corey Williams allowed one walk and struck out one in two innings of relief.
What allowed Hill to pound the strike zone – 83 strikes in 125 pitches (66 percent) – were the offensive fireworks from the Vanderbilt offense, which has hit three of the six round-trippers in the inaugural CWS at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I think every [batting practice] we try to take advantage of low line drives,” said Curt Casali, who hit a third-inning home run to cap the scoring for Vanderbilt. “Put good swings on the ball, the ball’s going to fly.
“[Wednesday] me and Connor got some good pitches to hit. We put flat swings on the ball and let the wind do the rest.”
Harrell echoed those sentiments: “That low line drive approach – and let the wind take care of it.” It certainly paid dividends for Vanderbilt, which had three extra-base hits, including a triple by Tony Kemp.
On Friday, the Commodores will try to low line drive SEC rival Florida, which has won four of the five previous matchups this season.
“You do have to change your approach, hitting-wise, just a little bit,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said of the Gators. “You can’t do too much. They match up well against you. When they match up, you have to focus on hitting that we’re going to have to do a better job of going into Friday. But we can do that – we’ve matched up against them before and done very well.
“We’re not thinking, ‘How the heck can we beat Florida?’ It’s not really in the back of our minds at all. We feel we can compete with them. We feel we match up with them well, but we’ll see what happens on Friday. We’re going to come in confident, I guarantee that.”