Vanderbilt walked off Stanford in dramatic fashion Wednesday night in Omaha. (Vanderbilt Athletics).
Vanderbilt walked off Stanford in dramatic fashion Wednesday night in Omaha. (Vanderbilt Athletics).

College World Series: Vanderbilt tallies another walk-off, beats Stanford 6-5

The Commodores mounted a two-out, ninth-inning rally to best the Stanford Cardinal 6-5 and advance in the College World Series.

June 23, 2021

Surviving.

In what has become the norm for the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores, another late night ended in a dramatic victory as head coach Tim Corbin’s team bested the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal 6-5 in a College World Series elimination game.

Vanderbilt took the field from Omaha, Nebraska, and it appeared as though a lackluster performance would end the defending national champion’s season. But that was not to be, as the Commodores handled Stanford and notched Corbin’s 800th victory at Vanderbilt in the most fitting way possible.

It was a swift turn of the scales late Wednesday night. If you blinked when Stanford’s Brandon Beck retired his eighth batter in a row in the ninth inning, you might have missed a violent swing in emotion from a dugout of dejected Commodores to a rowdy celebration of College World Series survivors.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning—and all hope seemingly lost—Javier Vaz reached base late in an important game once again thanks to a walk. Spencer Jones came to the plate and pinch hit for Jayson Gonzalez, slapping an infield single to shortstop that drew a short throw to first base. Stanford first baseman Nick Brueser was unable to make the pick and the ball got by him, allowing Vaz to advance to third. Freshman All-American Enrique Bradfield Jr. then lined a base hit into right field—his third hit of the night—bringing Vaz to the plate and tying the game at 5-5.

Then, out of nowhere, Beck—the ace of Stanford’s staff—threw a ball over the catcher’s head that brought Jones home and gave the Commodores their second walk-off victory of the 2021 College World Series.

“Going into the ninth inning, we all knew we could do it. We have done some crazy things this year,” Bradfield Jr. said after the game “A lot of the runs we score are with two outs.”

A massive performance from Stanford’s Brock Jones—3-4 with three RBIs—and three crucial errors from the Commodores were not enough for Stanford as the Cardinal were eliminated in gut-wrenching fashion. Christian Little’s (ND, 3-1) first career NCAA Tournament start began in heartbreak but ended in triumph.

“Good for the kids. They didn’t back down. They have been tough. They have showed a lot of resiliency. We have played a lot of one run games,” Corbin said after the game. “Nothing has been easy for the group.”

Head coach Tim Corbin turned to the freshman for the all-important elimination game start despite not throwing him since May 26 in the SEC Tournament.  The young righty lasted just three innings largely due to a porous Commodore defense that showed why they rank just 54th nationally in fielding percentage.

The Cardinal entered the elimination game as one of the best hitting teams in the nation, averaging nearly 10 runs per game throughout the NCAA Tournament, but it was truly the Commodores that propelled them to an early lead.

Jayson Gonzalez tallied his 14th error of the season to begin the game when he bobbled a ground ball from Stanford’s Eddie Park, allowing Park to reach first. Tim Tawa then ripped a single through the hole before Parker Noland caught a line drive and attempted to double up Park at second by throwing behind him. But the throw went wayward as he chucked the ball into left field, allowing Park to advance from second to home and put the Cardinal up 1-0.

Stanford threatened again in the second because of a misplayed fly ball by Isaiah Thomas, but was unable to push any runs across thanks to two big strikeouts from Little. Later, the freshman missed high with a fastball to Jones, who smashed a home run that doubled the Stanford lead. Little’s day ended after he put two more runners on in the fourth inning.

Corbin turned to one of his most reliable bullpen arms, Nick Maldonado, immediately in relief in hopes of some security. After striking out the first batter he faced, a soft grounder to Carter Young at shortstop appeared to be a surefire double play. But the usually sure-handed Young dropped the grounder, thus loading the bases. Maldonado then walked in a run before Jones dribbled a grounder to no-man’s land down the third base line to score another and put Stanford up 4-0.

Corbin’s offense also came out flat, registering just two baserunners over the first three innings, one of which—Bradfield Jr.—got picked off at first base.

“It’s a bit tentative and not aggressive. Not playing to win,” Corbin told the ESPN crew during the game. “If you start loosening up, you can play a little bit. There’s still a lot of game left.”

That was the message between the top and bottom halves of the fourth inning during an intense Corbin pep talk in the dugout. The Commodores were extremely sloppy early, but whatever the skipper said appeared to work, as following the motivational speech, the Commodores showed some offensive life.

“I don’t typically talk to them during the course of the game,” Corbin said of the mid-game interaction. “It was more of a challenge than anything else. It’s their game. It’s theirs to win or lose, you don’t ever want to interfere. But at the same time, I didn’t feel like they were themselves. We needed to snap out of it.”

A leadoff walk from Young in in the fourth set up Dominic Keegan for a two-run homer that cut the Stanford lead in half.

The Cardinal bounced back immediately however, once again thanks to the bat of Jones—a former Cardinal football player. An RBI double to right field scored Adam Crampton to extend Stanford’s lead to 5-2. Incredibly, despite notching leadoff baserunners in four of the first six innings, the Cardinal left eight runners on base over that span and exited the sixth leading just 5-2.

The Commodores continued their momentum from the fourth two innings later. Four singles in the sixth scored Vanderbilt two more runs, cutting the Cardinal lead to 5-4. A pair of singles from Bradfield Jr. and Keegan knocked Stanford starter Quinn Mathews (W, 6-2) out of the game after 5.1 innings, forcing Stanford to turn to its bullpen that boasts an ERA of 5.02. Parker Noland and pinch-hitter Tate Kolwyck immediately jumped on Jacob Palisch, ripping another pair of singles that scored two runs.

The Cardinal turned to its bullpen once more in the seventh inning, trusting their ace Beck on four days rest to finish the contest. And he was on the cusp of doing just that, retiring eight batters in a row before a dramatic ninth-inning rally from a relentless Commodore bunch.

Corbin got solid performances from his bullpen—a tandem of Maldonado, Chris McElvain and Luke Murphy—and the Commodore offense finally delivered in the ninth inning. The group combined to pitch six innings and allow just one earned run while racking up nine strikeouts.

Despite winning just two previous games this season when trailing after six innings, Vanderbilt found a way once again, a credit to the team’s maturity and responsiveness in the most dire situation.

The Commodores will now face off with NC State on Friday at 1 p.m. CDT from Omaha. After losing to NC State 1-0 on Monday, Vanderbilt will need to beat the Wolfpack twice to advance to the College World Series final.

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