Vanderbilt Beats Ole Miss on Walk-Off Single to Win SEC Baseball Championship

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2019

Vanderbilt celebrates with the trophy after defeating Mississippi to win the Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball championship game, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

Vanderbilt is the SEC tournament champion for the third time in program history after beating Ole Miss 11-10 on a walk-off single by Philip Clarke on Sunday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. 

Clarke was one of two Commodores players to finish with three RBI as he delivered the decisive blow in a game during which Vandy trailed by eight runs in the third inning.

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Ole Miss was firmly in control to start the game after a six-run first inning and another score in the second helped the Rebels open up a 7-0 advantage. The lead swelled to eight runs, 9-1, after a two-run single by Grae Kessinger in the top of the third.

Vanderbilt chipped away at the deficit with a two-run third and a five-run fourth inning. Pat DeMarco's three-run homer just beyond the fence in left field capped off the Commodores' offensive explosion in the fifth.

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Here come the @VandyBoys... Pat DeMarco with a 3-run laser to left! 💪 https://t.co/zkdf7zstlO

Cooper Johnson provided the Rebels with some much-needed relief, scoring on an error by Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin. The reprieve only provided a momentary boost, though, as Julian Infante once again made it a one-run game with an RBI single.

Harrison Ray then completed the comeback in the sixth with a double down the third base line and into the left field corner. It was an especially cruel blow for the Rebels after Jacob Adams' error had extended the inning.

Ole Miss didn't get a great start from Zack Phillips, and Tyler Myers was charged with five earned runs in 1.2 innings. Jordan Fowler, Will Ethridge and Austin Miller did well to stop the bleeding and stymie the Commodores offense after Myers exited.

Miller struck out Clarke with runners on the corners to end the seventh and then struck out the side in the eighth.

Vanderbilt also danced out of danger in the seventh after Ole Miss got runners on second and third with one out. Thomas Dillard and Kessinger both fouled out to Martin. The sophomore had some trouble tracking Kessinger's pop fly and had to account for the tarp as he made a diving catch.

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Flash the leather, @Austin_Martin99 👀 https://t.co/wcxWz4gmDI

Miller continued to work into the ninth and opened with back-to-back strikeouts before he issued three straight walks to load the bases.

In a move that's likely already being scrutinized in Oxford, Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco turned to third baseman Ryan Olenek to get the final out. Olenek pitched a total of six innings this season entering Sunday, though he survived a pair of high-leverage situations against Tennessee and Missouri earlier this month.

The gambit backfired immediately as Clarke jumped on the first pitch.

The result all but guarantees Vanderbilt will be the No. 2 national seed in the 2019 NCAA baseball tournament. UCLA, which sits first in every major poll, clinched a Pac-12 title by taking its first two games against Oregon this weekend. The Bruins' finale was rained out Saturday.

Despite the defeat, Ole Miss is clearly still headed to the regional round, but whether the Rebels will host a regional remains up in the air. D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers speculated they'll be among the teams on that bubble.