When Chandler Day took the mound in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Lipscomb Bisons, the crowd was in stunned silence. With each passing moment, everybody believed that Day was going to do it. He was going to throw the first Vanderbilt no-hitter in 14 years. And with one swing of the bat, it was gone. He had retired 26 batters before Zeke Dodson lined a single up the middle to take away an otherwise perfect night for Day.
It would have been first no-hitter for the Commodores since May 6, 2003, which featured a combined perfect game split among four pitchers. Never the less, Day dazzled, befuddling hitters with a combination of a perfectly-located fastball and nasty curveballs that caused one swing-and-miss after another on balls in the dirt. It didn’t seem to be clear to the fans what exactly was happening until the sixth, but an anxious crowd hung on every pitch. Coach Tim Corbin sent a couple relievers out to the bullpen after the fifth frame, but ultimately decided to ride it out a few more innings and let Day go to work. Those relievers never saw the mound. It was Day’s game.
The 6’4 right-hander looked sharp early, showing excellent command of his fastball and living on the outside corner, limiting the Bisons to weak groundouts. He complimented his mid-90s fastball with an excellent curve that he went to often as his strikeout pitch.
“I got ahead with the fastball, and then I threw the slider down the middle and they would rollover or or a little out and they’d swing through it,” said Day. “I just executed. To execute how I did and perform that way is just really special.”
After two 1-2-3 innings, Day hit a batter and walked another in the next two innings, but Lipscomb remained hitless.
At the plate, the Commodores teed off Bisons’ starter John Pryor from the opening pitch, and while they couldn’t push through a run until the third inning, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. First baseman Julian Infante launched a Pryor fastball to center field in the first, causing the Vanderbilt contingent to jump out of their seats just a little too soon. Lipscomb center fielder Michael Gigliotti leaped over the wall and brought the ball back, hurling a relay to first to double off Stephen Scott in what is undoubtedly one of the best plays in college baseball this season.
After a few more lined shots that refused to drop for the Commodores, they finally struck first in the third, and it almost started with disaster. Jeren Kendall squared to bunt on the first pitch of his at bat with two outs. He pulled back, but not in time to avoid getting nailed. The ball just missed his chin. Kendall looked shaken up, spending the next few moments on one knee, but popped back up and hustled to first. He then proceeded to steal second, and slide under the tag at home to score on a base hit from Scott that he had no business scoring on, removing all doubt that he had any lingering pain.
The Commodores’ offense came out strong again in the fourth, putting together four straight hits to start the inning. Will Toffey led off with a double down the third base, line, and advanced to third on a single by Reed Hayes. Jason Delay then poked one to right-center, driving Toffey and sending Hayes to third. Hayes scored on the ensuing wild pitch, and heads-up base running by Delay allowed him to replace Hayes at third. Ethan Paul kept the offense going, lacing a shot to right center to score Delay and give Vanderbilt a four-run lead. A highlight double play on a grab at first by Cade Sorrells prevented an even bigger inning, but that would prove to be more than enough for Day.
The sophomore tossed another 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, again painting the outside corner beautifully and freezing Lipscomb second baseman Hunter Hanks. Even then, Day knew he had something special going.
“I stared at the mat most of the game,” said the right-hander. “I was locked in. I knew what was happening, but if you talk about it it gets broken up, so we never talked about it.”
Corbin started to sense it too watching his pitcher persevere on the mound.
“In the fifth or sixth I started looking up there,” said Corbin. “I knew we were playing some great ground ball defense and that they’d only had a couple of baserunners. He seemed tired but he always seemed to pitch his way out of it.
The rally continued for the Commodores in the bottom of the fifth as two walks from Kendall and Infante put the offense in business. With just one out, Toffey laid down a perfectly placed bunt that he beat out easily at first to load the bases for Hayes. Hayes, a transfer from Walters State Community College, has been brilliant for coach Tim Corbin this season, functioning as a mainstay in the middle of the lineup in addition to being the team’s closer. His prowess at the plate was on display again, as he knocked a two-run single through the middle, putting the Commodores up six.
After a scoreless sixth, Day trotted back out for the seventh, looking a little tired to start off the inning. He walked the leadoff man in Sorrells, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, but really settled in after that, striking out the side in order, the last pitch a high fastball that look as hard as any he’d thrown all night.
Vanderbilt tacked on a run in the seventh, after a single by Infante and the third hit of the night from Toffey allowed Toffey to score on a wild pitch.
Day looked masterful again in the eighth, retiring the first two hitters on pop-outs. He let up a walk after that, but recovered to get a fly-out and head to the ninth.
Kendall added even more fireworks in the top of the ninth, blasting a three run homer that just dodged the right-field foul pole. It was Kendall’s team-leading eighth long-ball of the year, and it ignited this crowd. But Tuesday night was all about Chandler Day.
The nerves really seemed to get to him in the ninth. Day bounced two of his first three pitches almost halfway to the dirt before walking the leadoff man. Corbin showed faith in his starter, though, letting him try to work through it himself.
“You think, okay he might be at 100 but at this point we’re saying, let him finish it,” said Corbin.
Day induced a pop-up to shortstop Connor Kaiser, who fired to catch a sleeping Lee Solomon at first base for a double play. Day was one out away. The last batter was Dodson, and the crowd was on its feet. Without hesitation, however, Dodson sent a fastball right past Day, ending the no-hitter, and leaving the Commodores feeling ever so close to history, even on the backs of a ten-run victory.
“That’s baseball,” said Day, who looked relatively calm following the outing. “I tried to get ahead with the fastball with two outs, and that’s what happened.”