When the desire to win is strong, baseball players will do whatever it takes to see a “W” next to their name.
For the Vanderbilt Commodores, “whatever it takes” includes some trickery and some Sandlot-style strategy.
In the fifth inning of Vanderbilt’s second seven-inning game of a doubleheader against the Ole Miss Rebels, Ole Miss’ Nick Fortes doubled to score two runs and tie the game for the Rebels. The Commodores were set to face the next batter with two runners in scoring position and no one out.
That’s when Vanderbilt took after its namesake and hustled the Rebels.
After receiving the cutoff throw from the outfield, third baseman Austin Martin gave first baseman Julian Infante a look that only Infante could recognize.
The trick was on. With pitcher Reid Schaller pulled off the mound next to Infante, Martin quickly tagged the baserunner at third base when he briefly stepped off the bag.
Vanderbilt had executed the hidden ball trick.
.@VandyBaseball successfully pulled a hidden ball trick. At the NCAA level.
— Vandy Hustler Sports (@vuhustlersports) April 15, 2018
The Rebels, having been successfully swindled out of a baserunner, would not threaten for the rest of the inning. However, they took the lead in the next inning, and it took a three-run double from catcher Ty Duvall to give the Commodores an 8-7 win to seal a huge series win over a top-five team.
Whether it’s a hidden ball trick or just a clutch hit, the attitude from the Commodores is the same: never say die.
“This group is really tough,” Duvall said. “We work extremely hard and I feel we’re as prepared as anyone that steps on the field. I try to remind the guys of that. No one does what we do, no one works as hard as we do. When you get out there, just do your thing because you’re more ready than anyone.”
That fifth inning was one of many instances on Sunday in which the game, and the series, could have gotten away from the Commodores. In the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, the Commodores were down to their final outs multiple times. In the seventh inning, Martin hit a two-out infield single off the glove of the second baseman that plated the tying run. In the first extra inning that followed, they were down 7-6 when Ethan Paul launched a towering solo shot to tie it. Then, with the bases loaded, an Ole Miss wild pitch brought the winning run across.
Vanderbilt caught breaks. But the age-old idiom remains true: you have to be good to be lucky.
“They outhit us both games I think,” coach Tim Corbin said. “In some ways, you have to, and the hits have to be timely. Really, that’s what it boils down to. You get a timely hit, the two home runs were certainly timely and then Duvall’s hit was timely with the bases loaded and that’s really what you need at the end of the day is just to come up and get big hits and we did. That was great to see.”
The difference between any other team in the country and a Corbin-coached team is effort. Vanderbilt may not win every game, but they will give 110% in each and every one. There has never been a single Commodore that has quit on a game. If they have, it was the last time they were on the field in a Vanderbilt uniform.
However, that doesn’t mean that Vanderbilt can dominate any game. They can win ugly, and in the case of the 2018 Commodores, they have mastered the art of the ugly win. It’s why they’re sitting in the Top 25 with two straight SEC series wins under their belt.
“We’re not always pretty, we’re not always the most cosmetic team in college baseball, but at the same time, you just wanted to see that,” Corbin said. “You wanted to see the passion, grit and the ability to take a punch and then come back. There were a lot of tough moments in the first game, a lot of tough moments in that second game too. But, they withstood the punches and they got back on their feet and answered the bell.”
After an 11-3 beatdown at the hands of the Rebels on Friday night, some might have counted out the Commodores in the series against their toughest opponent since facing the top-ranked Florida Gators. With two shortened games on the schedule on Sunday thanks to poor weather on Saturday, Vanderbilt had plenty of time to put Friday behind them and just believe in themselves.
The Rebels came out hard in both games and gave the Commodores everything they had. But for every punch Ole Miss gave, Vanderbilt hit back twice as hard. Moving forward, that attitude will come in handy as the games get more important.
“This was a tough series against a tough team,” Martin said. “The way that we were able to bounce back after every inning. They just kept coming at us and I was really proud of the team just being able to come back and get these two wins today.”