The Vanderbilt Commodores came as close to seeing their season end as possible and somehow survived, walking off the Stanford Cardinal, 6-5, in an elimination game at the men's College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Despite committing three errors and subsequently giving up three unearned runs in the first four innings, Vandy strung together four runs over the last four innings to earn a trip to the Bracket 1 finals. Here's how all the madness played out from one of the wilder days of action in Omaha this postseason.
Vanderbilt def. Stanford, 6-5
Before the Commodores could knock off the Cardinal, Vanderbilt had to figure out how to stop beating itself. The first few frames Wednesday showed that would be rather difficult. With 17-year-old freshman Christian Little on the mound, the Cardinal forced their first of three errors, putting two men on base before an easy double-play ball sailed into left field.
Stanford found itself up 1-0 with one out. The gaffes kept coming as Vandy's first baserunner of the day was picked off first base in the bottom of the first inning. The top of the second inning saw a misplayed ball drop into right field for a double. Little was yanked after three innings (four hits, one earned run, three strikeouts) only for his replacement, Nick Maldonado, to issue a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded.
Two Stanford batters later, Brock Jones hit a dribbler back to Maldonado, who rushed a throw to first that pulled teammate Dominic Keegan off the bag as another run crossed the plate.
Down 4-0 with the season on the line, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin rallied his team with an apparent expletive-laden speech in the dugout that seemed to get his players' attention. Asked on the ESPN broadcast if he could share what was said, Corbin declined, noting it wasn't fit for TV.
"It's tentative and not aggressive," Corbin said of his team's play. "Not playing to win."
Vanderbilt responded to the peptalk immediately with Keegan launching a two-run homer to left field to cut the Stanford lead in half. The Cardinal would get a run back in the sixth inning on a Jones double, but the Commodores were ready to respond. Another two-run rally in the sixth inning cut Stanford's lead down to 5-4, and it appeared the SEC powerhouse was ready to pounce in the seventh inning when Stanford coach David Esquer decided to bring in his ace, Brenden Beck, with one on and no out.
Beck entered on three days' rest after tossing 109 pitches in a 10-4 CWS' opening loss to NC State, but none of that wear was noticeable as he proceeded to strike out the side, stranding the tying run on third.
Beck remained in for the rest of the game in a move that may haunt the Cardinal.
After inducing a ground out and fly out to start the bottom of the ninth inning, Beck's control began to waver. After working a 1-2 count on Javier Vaz, Beck threw three straight balls to issue a walk. Three pitches later he gave up an infield single to Spencer Jones that saw Vaz reach third on a throwing error.
Enrique Bradfield Jr. strolled up to the plate with two outs and promptly tied the game on the first pitch he saw with a single to right field that advanced Jones to third.
Beck remained on the mound, looking to pitch his team to the Bracket 1 finals only to miss low with ball one to Carter Young before his second sailed over his catcher's head. The ball reached the backstop as Jones jogged across home for a wild win.
Vanderbilt will face NC State in the Bracket 1 final Friday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN 2. The Wolfpack need to win one game before the Commodores win two in order to advance to the CWS Finals. In Bracket 2, Mississippi State awaits the winner of Virginia-Texas for its final, also Friday at 6 p.m. ET.