OMAHA, Neb. -- First, it was Hayden Stone. Then, Rhett Wiseman. And finally, Tyler Campbell. Each lifted the Vanderbilt Commodores in their own way Saturday -- and into the CWS Finals.
Stone was the winning pitcher. Wiseman scored the winning run. Campbell drove in the game-winner. And Vanderbilt outlasted Texas 4-3 in 10 innings in a bracket-elimination game in the College World Series.
“There were several happenings on the field where I thought a couple of inches here or there were the difference-makers for us,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.
“From the time I got in, I’ve tried to stay focused, stay in the moment and it’s been all right,” Campbell said.
Campbell was 2-for-3 in Vanderbilt’s 4-0 loss to Texas on Friday, but was 0-for-4 when he stepped in against Longhorns reliever John Curtiss with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th. Campbell chopped a 1-1 pitch to shortstop, then outran a charging C.J Hinojosa’s throw to first to send the Commodores to their first CWS Finals.
“Being able to just stay aggressive and chop the ball down and run a hard 90 [feet],” Corbin surmised. “And again separated by a couple of inches.”
It was Campbell’s third RBI of the season.
“As far as the at-bat, I think I did most of my thinking on the on-deck circle more than once I was actually up,” Campbell said. “So once I got up everything kind of took care of itself, just trying to keep the ball on the ground.”
After Curtiss retired the first two Vanderbilt hitters in the 10th, Wiseman ignited the winning rally with a line single to center. He stole second and, after a walk, moved to third on a hit batter, setting the stage for Campbell, the Commodores’ ninth-place hitter.
Wiseman gave Vanderbilt a boost of momentum in the top of the 10th, when his running, stretching catch of Hinojosa’s gapper to right-center leading off the inning ended a Texas threat before it could begin. Stone worked around a two-out walk to keep the game tied.
“We talked in the scouting report about Hinojosa swung the bat very, very well, and he crushed the ball down the line. But we talked about his ability to drive the ball in the gaps, particularly the right-center field gap. And Rhett was playing standard,” Corbin said. “He wasn’t playing shallow, but he had to run and take off and make a catch over his shoulder. I mean, it was a huge play at the time. And just an emotional tough catch. It was just a great play.”
The significance of the situation wasn’t lost on Wiseman.
“No double situation in that part of the game, top of the 10th,” Wiseman said. “The ball hung up there long enough and we were luckily in position to have a shot at it.”
Stone improved to 3-0 with 5.2 innings of relief, striking out eight. He threw 72 pitches, but the most important one he threw might’ve been the first one. Stone came on after Vandy starter Carson Fulmer walked the bases loaded with one out in the fifth. Stone induced Ben Johnson to hit into a double play and keep the game tied at 2.
“The story of the game for us was that turnaround in pitching,” Corbin said. “Hayden Stone certainly picked up Carson Fulmer in such a big way.
“You put him on the mound and bases are loaded and I say, ‘Here you go again, Hayden,’ ’’ Corbin said. “He said, ‘Yep, let’s go.’ I don’t mean to make it sound simple, but he’s got a very good temperament for that part of the game, and he believes in himself and all the pitches that he throws.”
Although Stone is a freshman, it was a situation in which he was familiar.
“I had been there before,” Stone said. “So it wasn’t really anything new. And I’ve learned that you can’t make the situation bigger that what it really is. All you can try to do is throw a quality pitch in the zone and that’s what I did. I threw him a breaking ball, he got on top of it and we rolled it for two.
And the guy who started the double play was none other than Campbell.
“Starting an unbelievable 5-4-3 double play, which was a big moment in itself,” Corbin said. “You’re talking about a guy [Johnson] who gets down the line very, very well. So for that double play just to be turned … it was a huge play in the baseball game. Pitch, play and finish.”
Stone had his only hiccup in the sixth after Wiseman had given the Commodores a 3-2 lead with an RBI double in the bottom of the fifth. Texas’ Tres Barrera led off with a triple that center fielder John Norwood misjudged. A one-out single plated the tying run, but the Longhorns would muster only one more single off Stone the rest of the way.
And that set up the dramatic finish, from the expected -- birthday boy Wiseman -- “Rhett obviously has played well,” Corbin said, to the unexpected --the little-used Campbell.
“That’s what these moments are about when kids get a chance that have been practicing all year but just haven’t been in games and then all of a sudden their number’s called,” Corbin said.
“It takes a great deal of patience and then when you get in there it takes a great deal of controlled emotions. And Tyler’s been able to do that.
“And everyone is so happy for this kid. I mean, you know, they wanted him to play and just to see him succeed, the team is beyond happy.”
And headed to the CWS Finals.