NCAA Regional: Commodores advance to super regionals, beat Georgia Tech 14-11 in extra-inning thriller

After 11 innings, the Commodores emerged victorious thanks to an Isaiah Thomas grand slam.

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Isaiah Thomas played the hero on Sunday, ripping a grand slam in the 11th inning to propel Vanderbilt to victory. (Twitter/@VandyBoys).

Justin Hershey, Sports Editor

The No. 1 Vanderbilt Commodores completed the Nashville Regional sweep early Monday morning as they bested No. 2 Georgia Tech for the second consecutive night, this time in extra innings by a final score of 14-11.

The Commodores threw four gut-punches on Sunday evening—scoring multiple runs in the fourth, fifth, eighth and 11th innings. The Yellow Jackets responded twice, with a five-run fifth inning and a clutch two-out, ninth-inning home run to tie the game. But it was Vanderbilt that threw the final punch in the narrow victory.

Isaiah Thomas threw that punch—an 11th-inning grand slam that catapulted the Commodores into the super regionals. Jack Bulger got the inning started for Vanderbilt, and after two walks, Thomas stepped to the plate and blasted Vanderbilt’s fourth home run of the evening onto Memorial Gymnasium in left field.

With the win, Vanderbilt advances to the super regionals for the fourth consecutive season. Beginning Friday, June 11, they will face East Carolina, the winner of the Greenville Regional, in a three-game series at Hawkins Field with a College World Series bid on the line.

The Commodores battled a familiar face on Friday, as Vanderbilt transfer Chance Huff (1-0, 10.29 ERA) made his first start of the year for the Yellow Jackets. Huff went 3.1 innings—his longest outing of the year—but struggled with his command early and made a crucial mistake to begin the game: walking Vanderbilt speedster Enrique Bradfield Jr.

The All-SEC center fielder immediately made the former Commodore pay. He stole second—his first of four swipes on the day—and advanced to third on an errant throw-down from catcher Kevin Parada. Bulger then drove him home with a sacrifice fly to put Vanderbilt up 1-0. It marked Georgia Tech’s fifth unearned run in two games against the Commodores this weekend. 

But Georgia Tech was quick to respond. 15 days after his last start, Vanderbilt freshman Patrick Reilly (4-2, 4.46 ERA) started the game for head coach Tim Corbin. The righty went 4.2 innings while striking out six and allowing four earned runs. Reilly struggled with his command for much of his outing, throwing just 53 percent of his 98 pitches for strikes.

After securing two quick outs to begin his day, he walked the bases loaded before allowing former Commodore Justyn Henry-Malloy to rip an opposite field 2-RBI single. Stephen Reid then blooped a single to center field to give the Yellow Jackets a 3-1 lead through just one inning.

But Vanderbilt exploded for six runs over the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Following a 1-2-3 second inning from Reilly, Bradfield Jr. once again reached base safely in the third inning after being hit by a pitch. He proceeded to steal both second and third before Dominic Keegan roped an RBI double into left field.

In the fourth, Troy LaNeve launched his sixth home run of the year, a solo shot that tied the game at three and ended Huff’s day. Lefty Luke Bartnicki replaced him, but found little success against a feisty bottom of the Commodore order. 

Parker Noland began a two-run rally with a single and stolen base before Jayson Gonzalez walked. Bradfield Jr. then stepped to the plate for his third at-bat in four innings and slapped a 2-RBI double to give the Commodores a 5-3 lead. 

Vanderbilt continued to tack on runs, taking a 7-3 lead in the fifth thanks to a pair of RBI-singles from LaNeve and Thomas. But despite having the bases loaded and no outs, they failed to further add to their lead. LaNeve attempted to tag on a shallow fly ball and was thrown out, resulting in a double play for Georgia Tech before Gonzalez struck out.

Once again, the Yellow Jackets responded. Reilly had settled into a groove after a 39-pitch first inning, but his day ended on a sour note as Georgia Tech got to him once again in the bottom of the fifth. A solo home run from Luke Waddell and an outfield error from Isaiah Thomas forced Corbin to turn to Chris McElvain in a 7-5 game.

McElvain entered the game and proceeded to walk one and allow a three-run home run to Reid which gave Georgia Tech an 8-7 lead.

After botching a chance to tie the game in the seventh inning, Vanderbilt threw a third punch in the eighth inning with a pair of solo home runs off of Georgia Tech’s Joseph Mannelly. Gonzalez and Keegan both launched solo shots to push Vanderbilt ahead 9-8.

But that score would not hold. After retiring five batters in a row, Luke Murphy surrendered a solo home run to Drew Compton with two outs in the ninth. The homer forced extra innings and gave Thomas the opportunity to play the hero in the early hours of Monday morning. Carter Young then scored Vanderbilt’s final run of the night on a Gonzalez RBI single to make the score 14-9.

As Luke Murphy attempted to close out a solid four innings of work, he injured his calf on a pitch with two outs in the 11th. Ethan Smith relieved him and allowed a two-run home run to Parada to make the score 14-11. It took two more relievers—Hugh Fisher and Nick Maldonado—but the Commodores finally got the job done.