OMAHA, Neb. -- For defending national champion Vanderbilt, no team would come the Commodores' way that they hadn’t already seen within the past year.
The Commodores faced TCU on Friday night for the second time in the College World Series and the third time this season, winning the game 7-1 to advance to the CWS Finals.A heavily veteran Vanderbilt roster, with 15 players returning to the championship series, has coach Tim Corbin at ease before the team plays for its second consecutive national title.
“They have a unique way of just keeping their eye on target and never getting off balance,” Corbin said. “And I think when you have an older group, they understand what the coaching staff wants and they implement it themselves.”
Corbin mentioned after the team’s first College World Series game against TCU that the teams had played a championship-style game in a 1-0 Vanderbilt win. Tuesday’s win would be the second consecutive one-run game the Commodores would play in the CWS, but they gave themselves some breathing room in Friday’s matchup. Vanderbilt took an early lead and, behind a stellar performance from pitchers Walker Buehler and John Kilichowski, held TCU to just one run.
The comfort of a multi-run lead didn’t quite settle in during the game for Corbin, but the team sees its 7-1 win before a three-day hiatus leading to the first championship series game on Monday as a positive.
“I think it's great,” said Bryan Reynolds, who was 3-for-4 with a triple in Friday night’s win.
“Last game our bats were held down a little bit and then to come into this game, kind of get them going it's good momentum going into the next series and the days off are obviously nice to just recharge.”
Knowing that the cast of characters in the other side of the dugout would be the same, Vanderbilt also found themselves in some similar situations on Friday.
Zander Wiel came to the plate with a runner in scoring position three times on Friday, going 1-for-3 with an RBI in those at bats.
Jason Delay had two nearly identical fly balls to centerfield with a runner on third and less than two out. The first was good enough for a sacrifice fly, but the runner, Wiel, had broke for the plate early and was called out on an appeal. The second was hit slightly deeper than the first and was good for an RBI sacrifice fly.
This type of continuity plays well for Vanderbilt, especially with the level of trust Corbin has in his players.
“I've said all along I do feel like a parent that's in the back seat letting your kids drive the car because you trust them,” Corbin said. “When you trust a group of kids, it's the greatest feeling a parent can have. And that's how I feel. I told them three weeks ago, complete peace with them. I am. They do things right.”
The two teams on the other side of the bracket vying for a spot in the CWS Finals are Florida and Virginia.
Florida, one of Vanderbilt’s Southeastern Conference rivals, defeated the Commodores in the SEC tournament final on May 24. The SEC final was the fourth game that the two teams played against each other in 2015.
Virginia was saddled with the runner-up tag during Vanderbilt’s 2014 championship run, losing two one-run games in the CWS Finals.
Regardless of the familiar opponent, the Commodore players are enthusiastic about the familiar setting.
The significance of the moment shined through immediately when Rhett Wiseman took a fastball to the neck when trying to lay a bunt down in the second at bat of the game for Vanderbilt.
Wiseman remained in the game and eventually hit a long home run to the right field seats in the fourth.
“College World Series, baby. Would have to kill me to take me out of that game,” Wiseman said in the post-game press conference, sporting a baseball-sized welt on his neck.
Vanderbilt’s CWS Finals opponent will be determined by the winner of Saturday night’s game between Florida and Virginia.