June 2, 2012
Tim Corbin was searching for something— anything— to give Vanderbilt new life.
NC State designated hitter Ryan Mathews had just hammered a two-run homer, his 16th of the season, in the top half of the eighth to give the Wolfpack a sizable 8-3 advantage over the Commodores Saturday evening in the NCAA’s Raleigh Regional.
With opportunities fading in a high-stakes game in front of a rowdy, sold-out crowd, Vanderbilt's head coach turned to two freshmen and a senior, and the rest was history.
To spark the offense, Corbin inserted rookie Connor Castellano and poised veteran Riley Reynolds into the lineup with one out in the bottom of the eighth.
“We just thought it was a better matchup to send lefties up there,” Corbin explained.
Castellano got things started when Wolfpack righty Ryan Wilkins plunked him on the hip. Reynolds then drilled a 2-1 pitch into the right-center gap for a double, scoring Castellano to cut the deficit to 8-4.
Just like that, the comeback was in motion. And the Commodores would not go away.
“(Riley's) been hitting the ball well in the (postseason),” Corbin noted. “That double was big for us.”
Vanderbilt scored four more runs in a wild eighth inning to tie the game at 8-8. In the bottom of the ninth, Castellano answered the bell again, ripping the first offering from Chris Overman to center for a one-out single to put the winning run on board.
Castellano took off for second on Overman’s pitch in the dirt to Reynolds, and just beat the tag with a nice slide to the outer corner of the bag. Reynolds advanced Castellano 90-feet from home on a groundout to second.
That set the stage for Tony Kemp’s heroic, two-out walk-off single that sent the rest of the Commodore dugout onto the field in celebration, and silenced NC State’s stunned, red-clad fans.
Rather than take the glory for his game-wininng hit in Vanderbilt’s 9-8 win, Kemp heaped praised on the rest of his teammates— specifically the bench.
“Riley Reynolds had two amazing at-bats,” Kemp said. “You could just go down the line. Everyone competed.”
“Just any way we could help the team," Castellano said of his contribution. "It was a complete team effort."
Corbin admitted that he nearly substituted Castellano into the lineup earlier, but held the freshman back for the later stages of the game. Corbin’s decision ultimately paid off.
“Thank goodness, sometimes your best coaching moves are the ones you don't make,” Corbin said. “Thankfully (Connor) was in the right position at the right time, and he was confident coming to the plate.”
Freshman reliever Jared Miller also rose to the challenge and stopped the bleeding after Mathews’ towering homer to left. Miller held the Wolfpack scoreless for the final 1.1 innings to give the Commodores a chance to catch up.
"(Jared) threw a lot of strikes and his breaking ball was sharp. For a freshman to come in a tight situation and do that and hold them down,” said Corbin, “he did a nice job to keep the game still.
Miller inherited a runner on first with two outs in the eighth and surrendered a double to Andrew Ciencin right out of the gates. With runners on second and third, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound lefty buckled down to strike out Brett Austin, who had already reached base three times, to end the inning with no further damage.
In the ninth, Miller faced the bottom of the lineup, a group that had already hurt Vanderbilt with four hits on the day. Miller allowed a one-out double to Logan Ratledge, but that was it. With NC State threatening to retake the lead, shortstop Anthony Gomez made a heads up play by throwing out an aggressive Ratledge at third on pinch hitter Bryan Adametz’s grounder.
Miller, who has only allowed one run in his last nine relief appearances dating back to April 14, finished the ninth by retiring leadoff threat and speedster Trae Turner. It was the first time the Wolfpack didn’t score since the fourth inning.
Earlier in the game, Corbin used the designated hitter spot to pinch hit with Andrew Harris, utilizing the redshirt junior to bunt with runners on first and third and one out. With two strikes, Harris executed a safety squeeze to put the Commodores on the board first in the second inning.
“I credit our bench players,” Conrad Gregor remarked. “They stayed in the game the whole time. When they got the chance, they were ready to go.”
When it came down to the wire, Vanderbilt’s coaches and players made all the right moves to propel the Commodores into the winner’s bracket. And like Corbin said, even some of the changes they didn’t make worked out, too.
“Your stomach churns on what moves to make at certain times,” Corbin said of the decisions. “Win or lose, I have no anxious moments with this team. I'm very comfortable with them. I love them and trust them.”
(Photo Credits: Jimmy Jones)