Two decades ago, the Vanderbilt Commodores walked off Ole Miss to win the program's third SEC Tournament title. Late on Wednesday night, with another set of players and distinct set of conditions, the VandyBoys once more sent Ole Miss house from The Hoover Met shocked. The fifth-seeded Rebels entered the ninth inning with a 4-3 lead, but timely hitting and sound base running the fourth-seeded Commodores into a thrilling success.
CJ Rodriguez started the rally by blooping a leadoff single into left field.
Dominic Keegan then stepped to the plate with runners on second and first base. An Ole Miss passed ball throughout Keegan's at-bat allowed Bradfield Jr. to progress to third. Subsequently, Keegan delivered. He slapped a line drive into right field to score Bradfield Jr. and also at 12:33 a.m. CDT on Thursday morning, Vanderbilt secured the second round success.
"If you can not compete in this league, then you're probably not going to last very long. We have had a great deal of great conflicts with a lot of SEC teams throughout the entire year," head coach Tim Corbin said after the match. "The ones that you remember are those such as tonight when you play a very stubborn group."
An hour-long rain delay pushed this second round match late at night, but it didn't disappoint. The Rebels elected to begin All-SEC lefty Doug Nikhazy in their first-round elimination game against Auburn. Thus, head coach Mike Bianco sent sophomore Derek Diamond (ND, 3-4) to the mound to deal with the Commodores' high-powered crime.
Corbin said following the game that it appeared like a muscle cramp or spasm and he was taken out of the game as a preventative measure.
Both pitchers got off to quick starts in the very first inning. Little enrolled two of the seven strikeouts from the first using violent busting balls that measured in the low-80s on the radar. Diamond struck out the negative for three of his eight strikeouts by dotting the zone with an assortment of pitches.
As the rain began to fall once again in the next inning, Little briefly struggled with his control.
His battles continued into the fourth, but he surrendered just two hits to the Rebels during his first four innings while striking out seven and using only 60 pitches.
Offensively, the Commodores came away with just one hit in the first three innings--a two-out only from Enrique Bradfield Jr. in his second at-bat of this match. But Corbin's squad managed to break the 0-0 tie in the bottom of the fourth due to three consecutive strikes from the middle of the order.
After Spencer Jones ripped a double to left field, Troy LaNeve maintained his bat hot using a double of his own off the right-field wall. That advanced Jones to third before Tate Kolwyck sent him home and put Vanderbilt up 1-0 with an opposite field .
The Rebels and Commodores went down in order in the fifth, but that could be equally starters' last whole framework. Little and Diamond each notched one out in their half of the sixth inning before being pulled.
After his 71st pitch of the night, Little came grimacing from what Corbin labeled a"cramp or spasm." He was relieved by mature Hugh Fisher after allowing only 3 hits and striking out seven Rebels in a career-high 5.1 innings-pitched.
"[Small ] He had been throwing a lot of strikes, he had been up in the count," Corbin noted. "I thought he pitched extremely well and managed to land the secondary pitches."
Fisher inherited one baserunner from Little and after walking the first batter he faced, surrendered an opposite-field three-run house run to Ole Miss' Tim Elko. That put the Rebels up 3-1 until Luke Murphy entered the game to complete the inning.
Diamond was relieved from Jackson Kimbrell afterwards he walked Jones with one out in the sixth. The Ole Miss starter allowed only one run on four hits while striking out eight Commodores across 5.1 innings.
Similarly to Fisher, Kimbrell struck issues of his own upon entering the game. Kolwyck's second RBI single of the afternoon scored Jones and cut Vanderbilt's deficit in half an hour. And following Parker Noland hustled outside a safety-squeeze bunt, Rodriguez pinch-hit for Romero Jr.. The Commodore catcher grounded into a fielder's choice to score LaNeve, which tied the score before Jayson Gonzalez struck out to end the inning.
After completing the sixth inning, Murphy (W, 2-1) remained in the game to pitch the final three frames. He retired the Rebels with simplicity from the ninth and seventh, but at the eighth, Elko--the SEC's Scholar Athlete of the Year--struck again. This time, he ripped a solo home run to deep left-center to put the Rebels on top 4-3. But that score wouldn't hold. In total, he pitched 3.1 innings and struck out six while allowing only 1 run. He earned the win after Keegan's walk-off single in the ninth.
Little, Fisher and Murphy held the Rebels to just seven hits all evening and struck out 14 batters combined. But for the rocky inning, Vanderbilt's pitching was consistent and strong.
"Just a fantastic ballgame for us in terms of coming back and being able to resist their big hits," Corbin said. "I thought we pitched very well."
With the win, the Commodores will seem to advance to the quarterfinals on Thursday. But standing in their way will be No. 1 seed Arkansas, who trounced the Georgia Bulldogs 11-2 in the second round on Wednesday. The first pitch is tentatively scheduled for 8 pm CDT.