NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With the way the first two games between Vanderbilt and Stanford had gone, the Commodores’ 5-0 lead after the top of the first didn’t feel totally secure. After all, the team trailing early in the first two games had come back to make a close game out of a near-certain blowout.
According to form, Sunday’s Game 3 of the Nashville Super Regional at Hawkins Field was no different. What was different this time, though, was Vanderbilt’s response in its 12-5 series-clinching winAfter the Cardinal had twice cut Vanderbilt’s lead down to one, the Commodores kept their poise and kept the Cardinal at bay. Vanderbilt reliever Hayden Stone stranded a runner on third in the fourth inning to keep the Commodores ahead 6-5, and they never looked back.
“We know Stanford is a good team and they are going to hit,” Vanderbilt outfielder John Norwood said. “We’re not going to stop them from hitting but it’s all about us. … It’s a reality. We stayed with one another and kept plugging away.”
This was a Stanford team that was used to fighting back. It struggled during the early portion of the Pac-12 schedule, and needed a strong finish to make the NCAA tournament. This was a Stanford team that needed to win back-to-back games against Indiana to advance from the Bloomington Regional and did so on a walk-off two-run home run in the series finale.
This was a Stanford team that, once it arrived in Nashville, fought back from a 10-0 hole in the first game to bring the tying run to the plate in the fifth inning before falling short. This was a Stanford team that, in Game 2, saw its 4-1 lead evaporate before hitting a walk-off home run to force Sunday’s game.
But Sunday was a different story for the Cardinal. Their fight just ran out.
It took Vanderbilt until the seventh for that persistence to pay off. The Commodores scored four in the inning as things started to go awry for the Cardinal.
With a run already haven scored during the frame, Stanford’s Omaha dream started to lose its foundation. Alex Blandino’s error on a throw home allowed Bryan Reynolds to score, and opened the floodgates for the Commodores’ big breakthrough.
By the time the inning had ended, Vanderbilt had done damage to the tune of four runs and gave the Vanderbilt portion of the 3,626 people in attendance the real sense that they were on the verge of a trip to Omaha.
“They kept the pressure on us,” Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. “They kept hitting the ball and doing a good job. They played a great game.”
Another series of errors in the eighth -- including two in one play that allowed Reynolds to score from first on a botched pickoff play -- made the final two innings just prep work before the Omaha preparations could begin. Well, for most people anyway.
“We saw [Stanford] come back the other night and early [Sunday] as well,” Stone said. “I didn’t feel comfortable until the last out was made.”
When that final out was made -- a popup to shortstop Vince Conde -- all that stress melted away. The players piled atop Stone, who had pitched the final six innings while only giving up one unearned run. They sprayed each other with soda before taking a lap around Hawkins Field.
It was fun for all associated with the program, even for Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. On Friday, he said he didn’t really know how to have fun, outside of spending time with his wife. But, continuing with the day's theme, Sunday was a different day.
“It was fun,” he said. “It was like Christmas Day. This is how I look at it: It’s like when your kids come down and get under the Christmas tree and start opening presents. That’s what it feels like for me.”