Chandler Day remembers the moment Vanderbilt’s season turned around.
After the Vanderbilt Commodores got demolished 14-0 by the Auburn Tigers to complete a soul-crushing sweep, Day and his teammates were languishing in their own defeat and were awaiting remarks from coach Tim Corbin.
However, the loud, angry speech that the players might have expected from a passionate coach like Corbin never came.
“When I went into that locker room and they were waiting for me, it was 27 kids looking at the floor,” Corbin said. “That was tough to see, because at that point right there, I knew that they were a little bit broken and I knew I couldn’t go in there with a hammer and a shovel. I just had to kind of build them back up again.”
“He comes in and he says ‘This isn’t going to last forever,'” Day said, who pitched 1.1 innings in that 14-0 loss. “He kind of summed it up to ‘I love you guys, and we’re going to walk out of here with our heads high and we’re going to flip this thing around.’ It was a different approach, I guess, than what you would normally think after a getting swept. Yelling usually occurs.
“If you check Twitter, you’re getting yelled at from getting swept. It was just a heartfelt, everyone was in there, we’re all feeling the same thing. It was kind of a turning point of knowing that we actually need to do something here and then it’s kind of helped us get to where we are now.”
From there on, the season turned on a dime. The team finished the regular season by winning six of their last eight games before turning in an impressive sweep of the NCAA Clemson Regional.
Now, the Commodores face Mississippi State in the Super Regional. One of the many reasons why this team is two wins from Omaha is the emergence of Day as Vanderbilt’s closer, a position that had been in flux throughout the early part of the season. It was a perfect marriage from the player and the team’s perspectives.
“Want. Wanting the ball, and confidence,” Corbin said of Day. “His ability to say ‘I want the ball at the end of the game’ and his ability to replicate performances and feel confident and hit the glove. He’s a different person. He’s gone through real human experiences that a lot of 18, 19, 20-year-old kids haven’t been through.
“It’s been kind of a long climb for him, and sometimes you’re wondering if the climb is going to be shortened. But he’s continued on a path I’m very fond of, very proud of. He’s one of my favorites of all time for a lot of different reasons.”
Aside from his wisdom beyond his years, Day has been lights-out on the mound. He closed out their opening win over St. John’s with one strikeout in one inning of work. Day also finished off Vanderbilt’s first victory over Clemson with a stellar ninth-inning performance.
Day’s standout performance has been just one component of a bullpen that’s been a strong point for Vanderbilt. They’ll need to continue to do that in order to take down a tough Mississippi State team.
“It’s definitely a good thing,” said Drake Fellows, who’s expected to get the start on Sunday. If the bullpen’s working, it’s a really good sign. Our bullpen is pretty deep and we’ve got real impactful people in there. When that thing’s going, it’s hard to hit us.”
Connor Kaiser’s performance for the ages on Sunday overshadowed one of the hottest Commodore bats. Stephen Scott has been hitting dingers at an alarming rate. His two home runs in the beatdown of Clemson were his seventh and eighth in the last 11 games.
The junior has been a workhorse in many different positions, having the ability to DH, play catcher or play in the outfield. That Swiss Army Knife-type player is invaluable to Corbin’s lineup.
“It just talks to the ability of being a baseball player and a guy that’s played multiple sports and the ability to adjust and have mental flexibility,” Corbin said. “I think that’s what you want out of your own kids when they’re growing up and I think that’s what you want out of your baseball players. Just the ability to say ‘You go here, can you do it?’ ‘Yes I can.’
“‘That’s good, you go here.’ ‘I haven’t done it before, but I can do it.’ Austin Martin, Stephen Scott, low-maintenance kids. You’d take 100 of them because they just do what they have to do in order for the team. They always show up with the same personality, same mood. You’re not guessing with them.”
Young, Scrappy and Hungry
When Vanderbilt took down Clemson on Sunday, they did so with a lot of youth. Six position players and two of Vanderbilt’s pitchers that played were freshmen.
In such a high-pressure environment, some freshmen might crack under the pressure.
That’s not the Vanderbilt way.
One of those freshmen was starting pitcher Mason Hickman, who pitched a stellar five innings en route to the win. Day was blown away by his composure.
“Unreal,” he said. “I did an interview in the last Clemson game of the regional and they asked me about Hickman, and I always give him crap because he took my Sunday spot from me. But, it’s amazing to see those guys come in here and just play baseball. They don’t overlook the competition, but at the same time, they know they’ve been doing it their whole life and so they come in here and just play the game. I guess as freshmen, you don’t really know any different. They’re coming in here and just doing their job to the best of their ability. It’s turned out well.”
Friday’s probable pitchers:
Vanderbilt – RHP Drake Fellows (7-4, 3.52 ERA)
Miss St – LHP Ethan Small (5-3, 2.94 ERA)
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 7 pm. The game will be televised on ESPN2.