Vanderbilt beats Louisville to advance to Super Regional

By David Rutz

For the third Monday in the past four years, the Commodores were in a nailbiter for a berth in the Super Regional.

On this Monday, they finally pushed through. Literally.

A safety squeeze bunt by Connor Harrell scored Curt Casali from third base in the bottom of the 10th inning to win 3-2 over Louisville, setting off a wild celebration by the Commodores at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Vanderbilt will travel to Florida State this weekend to play in its first Super Regional in six years and only the second in its history.

“We pitched very well and played great defense and just hung in there,” said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. “And it is just a credit to what we have gone through this year…just happy, happy for the kids.”

Harrell’s bunt came on the first pitch and rolled underneath Cardinal third baseman Phil Wunderlich’s glove, allowing Casali to slide in head-first and get mobbed by his teammates. Casali had been hit by a pitch by Neil Holland (8-1) and advanced to third on a single by Mike Yastrzemski.

“I saw it get past the pitcher and I was already in celebration mode,” said Harrell, who drove in his first and only run of the Regional.

The Commodores were finally able to shake off the disappointment of a year ago, when the Cardinals won 5-3 in the Monday night game to advance, and even more so from three years ago, when they lost 4-3 to Michigan in 10 innings while hosting a Regional championship in Nashville.

“You knock on the door and you want to bust through the door at some point,” Corbin said.

Louisville coach Dan McDonnell was making his first appearance of the Regional after sitting out his team’s first three games due to a suspension. He has now seen it go both ways after the Cardinals triumphed last season but then had to watch Vanderbilt celebrate this time.

“It’s very tough,” McDonnell said. “I want to congratulate Vanderbilt. They have a great team.”

It was a battle from inning one, with both teams playing airtight defense. Harrell made the play of the weekend in the third inning, robbing Louisville’s Jeff Arnold of a two-run home run to keep the game scoreless. Brian Harris saved the game for Vanderbilt in the ninth with a leaping catch of a line drive to save at least two runs and send it to extras.

“The defense on both sides of the ball,” Corbin said, “no one probably deserved to lose.”

Grayson Garvin made just his second start of the season and threw six innings, allowing only three hits and one earned run. Together, he and Richie Goodenow, both normally used out of the bullpen, held the Cardinals to five hits and one run in 15 innings of work over the last two games.

“It’s heroic,” Corbin said.

It was also dramatic.

The Commodores led 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth and had ace Sonny Gray on the hill to close it out. With two outs and a runner on first, Drew Haynes reached on an infield single, and Arnold jumped on a curveball and lined a game-tying hit to score Stewart Ijames.

Gray walked Adam Duvall before Andrew Clark’s line drive was snagged by Harris to preserve the tie.

Gray, despondent over blowing the save, was pumped up by his teammates in the dugout. Jason Esposito and Casali told him, ‘We got you.’

“That is just what this team is about,” Gray said. “Just picking each other up.”

After Taylor Hill (6-5) mowed the Cardinals down 1-2-3 in the top of the tenth, that’s exactly what they did.

The Commodores took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Casali singled in Joe Loftus with two strikes and two out. In the fifth, they loaded the bases with no one out, but Louisville ace Thomas Royse, making his first start in nearly two weeks, came back to strike out Aaron Westlake, Esposito and Loftus to end the threat.

The Cardinals tied it in the seventh on an RBI grounder by Stewart Ijames, where Ryan Wright barely slid in under the tag of Andrew Giobbi.

The Commodores re-claimed the lead in their half of the inning when Esposito singled with two outs to score Harris, who had walked and was sacrificed to second by Anthony Gomez.

Gray got out of a heart-pounding jam in the eighth, inducing an inning-ending groundout from Wunderlich that bounced off his glove and right to Harris, who threw just in time to get him at first. Wunderlich had taken Gray deep for a three-run home run in the first inning of Saturday’s game.

This was too good a game to be done after nine innings, as it turned out.

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