Vanderbilt sends UNC packing
Harrell's three-run homer sparks Commodores to victory
OMAHA, Neb. -- Now comes the really hard part for Vanderbilt.
The Commodores extended their first appearance at the College World Series with a 5-1 victory against North Carolina on Wednesday night.
Their reward is another game against Southeastern Conference rival Florida, which has beaten them in four of five meetings this season.
“We’re not thinking, ‘How the heck can we beat Florida?’ It’s not really in the back of our minds at all,” Connor Harrell said. “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.”
As well they should after their second CWS win against North Carolina.
Taylor Hill and Corey Williams combined on four-hitter and Harrell and Curt Casali homered for the Commodores (54-11), who led 5-0 in the third inning.
Vanderbilt, which lost 3-1 to Florida on Tuesday, would need to beat the Gators on Friday and again Saturday to reach next week’s best-of-three finals.
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Hill (6-1) outdueled Greg Holt (7-2) in a matchup of Washington Nationals draft picks.
Hill, taken in the sixth round, allowed a run and four hits in seven innings in his first outing since June 5.
“He did a good job of neutralizing their offense and got us deep into the ball game where we could put Corey in,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “Connor’s home run was big and followed up by Curtis. We did enough offensively to get by.”
Holt, an eighth-rounder who was making his second start of the season, lasted 2 2-3 innings. He gave up five runs and four hits, leaving after Casali’s homer.
North Carolina (51-16) left nine runners on base for the second straight game and stranded a total of 34 in its three CWS games. The Tar Heels were just 7 for 39 with runners in scoring position.
“That’s probably what will be written about,” Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “We left a lot of people on base out here for three games, but a lot of that has to do with the other team, and we were facing some pretty good arms. It didn’t happen for us.”
The Tar Heels couldn’t advance a runner past first base after they scored in the fifth.
Hill worked out of trouble that inning after Ben Bunting’s bases-loaded RBI groundout left first base open.
Hill intentionally walked All-America Colin Moran with two outs to face Jacob Stallings, who had doubled in his first two at-bats. Stallings fouled off an 0-2 pitch barely outside the left-field line, then swung and missed at a fastball.
“I was just going to give it everything I had,” Hill said. “If he hit it, he hit it. But thank goodness he didn’t.”
Fox said the fifth inning was deflating.
“You’re down four and you have the bases loaded and you’re thinking to yourself one swing of the bat, ball in the gap and we’re right back in the game and we get the momentum in our dugout,” Fox said. “They were in that situation several times while we were out here, and it just didn’t happen for us.”
Williams came on to start the eighth and has pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings in three CWS appearances.
Harrell’s three-run homer, aided by a 23 mph wind, put Vanderbilt up 4-0 in the second inning. It was his second in three games here and ninth of the season.
“I just tried to get my hands extended and get that ball in the jet stream and get it into the seats,” Harrell said. “The ballpark is big, so to get the ball in the air was important.”
The Commodores opened the scoring when Tony Kemp led off the game with a triple into the right-center gap and scored on a sacrifice fly.
North Carolina made it to the CWS for the fifth time in six years after getting knocked out in regionals in 2010.
“You know, we weren’t a very good team last year, and then to turn around like this and have such a great year with 50 wins, it’s a testament to our leadership,” Stallings said. “Obviously, we were happy to get here, but once we were here I think we wish we would have played a little better.”