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Nashville, Tn – The Vanderbilt baseball team is accustomed to celebrating walk-off wins at Hawkins Field — not being the victims of one.
But that was the scenario Saturday, when Stanford’s Wayne Taylor hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Cardinal to a 5-4 victory over Vanderbilt in Game 2 of the Super Regional. The best-of-three series is now tied at one game apiece, and the teams will play the decisive Game 3 on Sunday at 2:00pm, with the winner advancing to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
Stanford (35-25) was designated as the “home team” for Saturday’s game in accordance with NCAA postseason rules. The Cardinal will also be the home team in Sunday’s game after winning a coin toss prior to the start of the series.
Vanderbilt (45-19), which beat Stanford 11-6 in Game 1 of the series, rallied for three runs in the final two innings of Saturday’s contest and tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the ninth when Xavier Turner, batting with the bases loaded, was hit by a pitch with two outs.
But Taylor trumped the Vanderbilt comeback with his dramatic shot in the bottom of the ninth to set up Sunday’s game and end Vanderbilt’s four-game winning streak against the Cardinal. (Vanderbilt swept a three-game series against Stanford in the regular season).
“I thought it was a heck of a college baseball game,” said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. “It really was. We were just on the opposite side of it. But that doesn’t minimize the effort of our kids. … You have to hand it to (Stanford). We didn’t give them anything; they earned it.”
Vanderbilt is seeking its second appearance in the CWS. The Commodores reached Omaha for the first time in 2011.
Saturday’s game marked the second time during the postseason that Vanderbilt has shifted to the visiting dugout at Hawkins Field. It also happened during last weekend’s Regional game against Oregon. Although, in that contest, it didn’t matter much, as Vanderbilt rolled to a 7-2 win.
On Saturday, however, it mattered.
After rallying from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game at 4-4 by scoring two runs in the eighth and another in the top of the ninth, the Commodores — and the sellout crowd of 3,626 — appeared primed for extra innings. But with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Taylor launched his homer into the right-field seats off Vanderbilt’s Adam Ravenelle (3-2) to end it. The Stanford players poured out of the dugout to celebrate while the Commodore faithful sat in stunned silence.
It was Taylor’s fifth homer of the season, and Stanford’s second walk-off homer in their past three games. The Cardinal beat Indiana, 5-4, in the final game of last weekend’s Bloomington Regional on a two-run shot by Tommy Edman in the bottom of the ninth.
Taylor finished 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, and catcher Brant Whiting was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Stanford closer A.J. Vanegas earned the win despite a rocky outing. He allowed one run on one hit and four walks in his two innings.
For Vanderbilt, Zander Wiel and Rhett Wiseman finished with two hits each and Xavier Turner drove in two runs. The Commodores left 11 runners stranded in the loss, including leaving the bases loaded in the ninth.
“I thought we were going to win that ballgame,” said Corbin. “There wasn’t any way we weren’t going to win that ballgame. I thought we were just a hit away. … The game is sometimes separated by inches. It’s just tough sometimes. That’s the way it goes. But I really liked the way we played though. We played clean baseball and didn’t give them anything.”
When the day began, Vanderbilt seemed to be zooming toward Omaha. The Commodores had their hottest pitcher on the mound and momentum at their backs.
But Carson Fulmer, who hadn’t lost a game since joining the starting rotation in mid-April, surrendered a career-high four runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. He finished with four walks and a career-high nine strikeouts.
Fulmer came into the game with a 6-0 record and a 1.08 ERA in his six starts since joining the rotation. He had allowed only five earned runs over 41 2/3 innings in his six starts, and had surrendered five hits or fewer in four of the six games.
“(Stanford) competed very well,” Fulmer say. “When something happens, you kind of look back, and you (say) `I should have thrown a fastball there, a curveball there.’ When it’s all said and done, you can’t think about that. You can’t regret what you threw.”
Fulmer did not factor in the decision Saturday, thanks to the Commodores’ comeback.
Trailing 4-1, they mounted a rally in the top of the eighth, scoring two runs by capitalizing on four walks. Dansby Swanson’s leadoff single was the only hit of the inning for the Commodores, who scored one run on Turner’s fielder’s choice, and added a second run when John Norwood drew a bases-loaded walk to pull within 4-3.
Vanderbilt tied the game with two outs in the top of the ninth, when Turner was hit by a two-strike pitch with the bases loaded, forcing home a run. But the Vanderbilt rally ended there, as Wiseman grounded out to end the inning with the bases loaded.
That set the stage for Taylor’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth. Batting with one out and the bases empty, he connected on a 1-1 pitch to end the game — and extend the series.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top (today), but I feel as a team we are in the right mindset,” Fulmer said. “We are ready to go, and ready to come back tomorrow and get a `W’.”