The little guy likes big games.
Ro Coleman is only a sophomore but the 5-foot-5 designated hitter already has shown that the moment rarely – if ever – is too large for him.
A year ago he only had two at-bats in the NCAA Regional but with the second he delivered a walk-off single that sent the Commodores into the Super Regional.
In this year’s regional last weekend at Hawkins Field he provided a wealth of additional evidence with a .615 batting average and seven runs scored in his team’s three victories. That performance raised his batting average 19 points and put him above .300 (.308, to be precise) for the first time in more than a month. His on-base percentage improved 21 points – to .421.
“I think he’s a kid that stays pretty centered mentally,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I think he has the ability to focus in when things really matter. I trust his thinking. I trust where he is. I trust his soul and his spirit when you’re in the heat of competition.
“I think it goes back to his upbringing. I just think he’s a unique kid. He’s been through some unique experiences. Vanderbilt is completely different than where he’s from. He’s adjusted very well academically, socially and athletically.”
Coleman is from Chicago so this weekend’s Super Regional at the University of Illinois (Game 1 is 7 p.m. Saturday, Game 2 is 8 p.m. Sunday) is a chance to play near his home and show family and friends just how far he’s come.
The closest he ever got to Illinois Field, site of the state championship, while at Simeon High School was the 2012 Illinois super regional (his junior year).
Now that he’s there, he likes this team’s chances to advance.
“I think we’re pretty good,” Coleman said. “We’re a very close team. I feel like with us, we bonded right away. It was a natural feeling between all of us.
“It makes it a lot easier because we’re all pulling for each other. With the bond we have, it feels like we’re all brothers, like I’m out there playing with my family.”
And in this case he’ll be in front of family as well.
“It’s a big trip just having to go back home, see some family,” he said. “They’re going to be out there to watch us play.”
Just another opportunity for him to stand tall.
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
Like so many other players who have come through the program, former Vanderbilt outfielder Connor Harrell will have a strong rooting interest Saturday night when the current Commodores open their Super Regional series at Illinois.
Of course, that contest (first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.) will be the day’s second sporting event in which Harrell, now a prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, has a deep connection.
His family owns Materiality, one of the horses that will face Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes. Materiality finished sixth at the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness in order to rest for this weekend’s final leg of the Triple Crown.
From The Detroit News:
Harrell's grandfather, father and uncles own Materiality, the horse many handicappers are giving the best chance to spoil American Pharoah's bid at the first Triple Crown since 1978.
"I'm pretty excited," Harrell said over the phone this week from Erie, where he was getting set to play Reading in a Double-A game. "Obviously, you're kind of playing the villain, trying to challenge a Triple Crown winner.
"We feel good about it. All of the reviews have been good. It's all systems go."
The Harrell have had a long interest in horse racing but never have had a horse the caliber of Materiality. The family’s Texas-based business, Citation Oil and Gas Corporation, is even named after the 1948 Triple Crown winner.
Harrell, a seventh-round pick in 2013 currently playing for Class AA Erie, told The Detroit News that he met Materiality back in October.
"It's just a dream," said Harrell, who first met Materiality in October. "To have a horse we think is bred for the distance and has enough experience to knock off maybe the best horse in a generation, that's really exciting."
They represent a smaller percentage but just as was the case earlier this week with the Golden Spikes Award, two Vanderbilt baseball players are finalists for one of college baseball’s top individual honors.
Pitcher Carson Fulmer and shortstop Dansby Swanson are among the five finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association announced Thursday. The other finalists are Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi, UCLA pitcher David Berg and Miami third baseman David Thompson.
According to the NCBWA, “Each finalist also represents the ideals of character, leadership, desire, and competitive spirit exhibited by Dick Howser, the All-America shortstop and later head coach at Florida State, before managing the Kansas City Royals to the world championship in 1985. He also is the namesake for Dick Howser Stadium at FSU.”
Fulmer, Swanson and Benintendi are three of the four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award named earlier this week.
The Dick Howser Trophy winner will be announced next Thursday on MLB Network.
Vanderbilt pitcher David Price won both the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy in 2007.
To say Vanderbilt and Illinois traveled a long way to get to this point is not an exaggeration.
The exact distance is right about 3,000 miles.
The Commodores and Illini will meet this weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional series at Champaign, Ill. but more than six months ago they were together in a small Caribbean country, the Dominican Republic.
“[Coach Tim Corbin] brought that up in the classroom the other day,” freshman third baseman Will Toffey said. “I forgot about that. They stayed in the same hotel as us and everything. It’s funny that it ends up like that.”
The teams were there concurrently for respective offseason exhibition tours against a range of teams, including some in that island’s respected winter league. Vanderbilt’s trip was Nov. 21-28 while Illinois’ was Nov. 22-29 and the teams faced largely the same competition around activities as goodwill ambassadors.
Illinois went 5-2-1 in its eight games during which it relied heavily on its pitching. Its staff combined for 59 strikeouts in 68 innings and a 2.65 ERA while its lineup batted just .219.
Vanderbilt was 5-2 in seven games.
“Their schedule and our schedule were uniquely different,” Corbin said. “So we saw them. We just didn’t spend a lot of time with them.”
It turned out to be the start of a successful season for both.
The Commodores are in a Super Regional for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years. Similarly, the first time they made the College World Series was 2011 – after they took an exhibition trip to Hong Kong the preceding autumn.
Illinois is in a Super Regional for the first time, won the Big Ten regular season title and, at 50-8-1, has the best winning percentage in Division I.
“It probably helps,” Corbin said. “When you travel like that it makes your kids wordly. It’s another event to share with one another. I think those experiences right there are positive and they weigh big when you’re trying to build teams.”
Programs are allowed one such trip every four years and the benefits – at least in this case – of that extra work seem obvious.
“I wish I could do it every year,” Corbin said. “I’m trying to be creative and try to find other ways we can travel during the course of the fall that doesn’t involve a foreign trip because I think it’s such a learning experience.
“I think once you can get young people out in front of other people and develop their social skills I think it has a lot to do with developing their inner confidence. And obviously, inner confidence as a human is important in anything you do, particularly playing a game in the SEC. So I think those experiences go a long way.”
In this case, it’s easy to see exactly how far.
The Oakland A’s might be at the bottom of the standings, but pitcher Sonny Gray has made his way to the top.
The former Vanderbilt star leads Major League Baseball in earned run average following a 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.
Gray threw eight shutout innings in which he allowed two hits and one walk and struck out seven. That dropped his ERA to 1.65 and raised his record to 7-2 for a team that is 22-33, tied for the second highest loss total in the game.
“You get a four-run lead with Sonny Gray, you feel like it's a 15-0 advantage,” outfielder Josh Reddick said, via MLB.com. "You feel like you get one run for that guy, whether it's the first or the eighth, you're going to get a 'W' no matter what. He goes out there with the utmost confidence in himself, and I think it gives our lineup a little bit of a boost in knowing that if we can score one or two, it's going to be a shutout for him.”
MAN AT THE TOP
A look at Major League Baseball’s earned run average leaders (through Wednesday):
Sonny Gray, Oakland – 1.65
Dallas Keuchel, Houston – 1.76
Max Scherzer, Washington – 1.85
Shelby Miller, Atlanta – 1.89
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh – 1.90
Opponents are batting just .186 off Gray, which ranks third in MLB, and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is tied for second at 0.91. In other words, he does not allow many men to get on base.
He has gone at least eight innings in each of his last two starts and four of 12 this season.
His consistency is a product of a willingness to change.
“He's got the confidence and experience now to try to do some new things," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "When he first got here, he was basically fastball-curveball, came with a changeup, then a slider. Now he's able to throw a little bit of a cutter. Now he's able to do it a little on the fly, that's how much confidence he has in himself.”
In less then a week, several members of Vanderbilt’s baseball program will take a significant step toward professional careers when they are selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
It has been less than a year but the first Commodores player selected in 2014 already has taken a step up the pro ranks.
The San Francisco Giants promoted pitcher Tyler Beede to Class AA Richmond on Monday. Beede was 2-2 with a 2.24 ERA and 37 strikeouts in nine starts (52.1 innings) for Class A San Jose this season.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle that move came sooner than expected for last year’s 14th overall selection.
General manager Bobby Evans said the organization might have held off on that move if not for a chain of events that began with starters Kevin Correia and Robert Coello opting out of their Triple-A contracts and leaving Sacramento.
That created two openings there, which the Giants filled by promoting 2012 first-rounder Chris Stratton and Jack Snodgrass from Richmond.
That, of course, created a pair of openings at Richmond, and the Giants felt comfortable sending up Beede, their first-round pick last year.
It probably helped that the 6-foot-4 right-hander set a career-high with 11 strikeouts in his most recent outing Saturday. He also pitched six shutout innings (six hits, one walk, three strikeouts) on May 23, which happened to be his 22nd birthday.
However, it’s not as if the last two weeks suddenly made him promotable. According to MLB.com, Beede is the No. 3 overall prospect in San Francisco’s organization.
The 2015 MLB Draft takes place next Monday through Wednesday. Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson, Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler are projected first-round draft picks and the expectation is that Swanson, a shortstop, will be the first overall selection.
If Dansby Swanson is going to share an experience with just one of his teammates, he prefers it is Carson Fulmer.
Tuesday, he got his wish.
Swanson and Fulmer were named finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes annually to the country’s top amateur baseball player.
Together they comprise half of the finalists. The others are LSU shortstop Alex Bregman and Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi. They were the top four among the 21 semifinalists, as determined by a vote of the award’s committee, which consists of more than 200 members.
That committee will vote again from among the four finalists and the winner will be announced June 23.
The last time one school had multiple finalists was 2007, when Vanderbilt also did it. That year it was pitcher David Price (who won it) and third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Prior to that it happened two other times – Clemson in 2002 (when coach Tim Corbin was an assistant there) and Georgia Tech in 1994.
Swanson (pictured), a junior shortstop, was a Golden Spikes finalist last season as well. This season he leads the SEC in runs scored (69), hits (85), and total bases (160) and is second in slugging percentage (.658) and RBIs (60).
Fulmer, a junior and the only pitcher among the finalists, is second in the country in wins (12) and strikeouts (147). He tops the SEC in ERA (1.92) and opponents’ batting average (.192).
The announcement of this year’s finalists comes a day after Corbin pulled them from the NCAA Regional final victory over Radford at the same time and allowed the Hawkins Field crowd to salute them as one.
“I honestly couldn’t thank Coach for a better person to go off the field with than Carson,” Swanson said. “He’s my best friend and being able to do it with him was emotional.”
Unfortunately for him, only one of them can be the winner.
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
If they’re so inclined (they’re probably not) Vanderbilt baseball players and coaches have a little time to enjoy their NCAA Regional triumph.
Their best-of-three Super Regional at Illinois does not begin until Saturday evening.
Game 1 will be 7 p.m. (CDT) Saturday with Game 2 set for 8 p.m. Sunday. The start time for Game 3, if it is necessary, will be determined later.
“I believe we are really confident about where we are,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “It's that time of the year when the intensity gets built up a little bit more. I think everyone is focused and are going into things the right way, you can't really ask for anything more than that.”
Illinois, the No. 7 national seed, is in the Super Regional for the first time.
The Illini are 50-8-1, which sets a program record for wins in a season. The old mark was 49 in 1982. They have won 25 of 27 homes games this season, including their last 19, which is the longest current home win streak. They are the only Division I baseball team with fewer than 10 losses this season.
Vanderbilt (45-19) is in the Super Regional for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years but has not played a Super Regional series on the road since 2010. That year it lost in three games at Florida State.
The Commodores won the SEC East during the regular season and finished runner-up in the conference tournament. They are the defending College World Series champions.
“I don’t think you as a coach can ever think you have everything in place, but my feeling of this group is that I trust their mentality and their heartbeat and their approach more than anything else,” coach Tim Corbin said. “I think it’s insane that the game sometimes takes swings that you’re not ready for or see coming. … When you’ve been through these things before it hardens your skin a little bit, and you see what’s coming before it hits you. It doesn’t mean you’ll win, but it does help you.”
It is nothing new for Vanderbilt to host NCAA baseball regionals.
The 2015 version that concluded with the Commodores’ 21-0 rout of Radford was something different, though, and it was not simply because of the devastating nature with which the home team closed it out.
Vanderbilt first hosted a regional in 2007, has had five in all including four in the last five years. This was just the second in which it faced each of the other three teams – and the first time it beat all three without a loss.
“We had a big win on Friday and then to have a tougher game and kind of grind it out … and then, of course, (Monday) coming out and that one with an offensive explosion – you don’t expect that but to have that is definitely a big confidence builder going into the Supers,” first baseman Zander Wiel said.
TAKING ON ALL COMERS
A look at the teams Vanderbilt has faced in the five NCAA baseball regionals it has hosted:
Seeds: 1. Vanderbilt, 2. Michigan, 3. Memphis, 4. Austin Peay
• Michigan: 1-2 (L 4-3, W 10-7, L 4-3 10 innings-x)
• Memphis: DNP
• Austin Peay: 2-0 (W 2-1 11 innings, W 11-5)
Seeds: 1. Vanderbilt, 2. Oklahoma State, 3. Troy, 4. Belmont
• Oklahoma State: DNP
• Troy: 1-0 (W 10-2)
• Belmont: 2-0 (W 10-0, 6-1-x)
Seeds: 1. Vanderbilt, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. Illinois, 4. East Tennessee State
• Georgia Tech: 1-1 (L 5-0, W 7-1-x)
• Illinois: 1-0 (W 10-4)
• East Tennessee State 1-0 (W 9-1)
Seeds: 1. Vanderbilt, 2. Oregon, 3. Clemson, 4. Xavier
• Oregon: 2-0 (W 7-2, W 3-2-x)
• Clemson: DNP
• Xavier: 1-0 (W 11-0)
Seeds: 1. Vanderbilt, 2. Radford, 3. Indiana, 4. Lipscomb
• Radford: 1-0 (W 21-0-x)
• Indiana: 1-0 (W 6-4)
• Lipscomb: 1-0 (W 9-1)
The only other time, under the current tournament format, the Commodores faced all three opponents in a regional was 2009 at Louisville The No. 2 seed that year they played No. 1 and No 3 Louisville twice each and No. 4 Indiana once. They beat all three once but also lost once to Louisville and MTSU, the second of which was to the host school in the final game of the regional.
Since then Vanderbilt is 18-4 in NCAA regional games.
“I think the approach has to be very singular and self-centered,” coach Tim Corbin said. “When it gets to playing an opponent it has to be about what you can do as a team and your approach mentally and your approach physically. If you stay on that notion then the training periods will take care of the games, and I feel confident that way with the kids. They go about business well.”
In this case, they did it better than ever.
“Ever since Day One (Corbin) preaches to us we’re not going to play to who the opponent is,” Wiel said. “We’re just playing another shirt. Whoever they are, we can’t change the way we play and we know we have to come out hungry and ready to play our best every time out there.
“To go through all regional opponents, I think it just shows that we did that. We went through all the seeds and it was just a really good all-around performance for a regional, I think.”
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
This time there was no drama. Vanderbilt roared into the Super Regional round with a record-setting performance in a game postponed 20 hours by bad weather but ultimately proved well worth the wait.
VANDERBILT 21, RADFORD 0
What happened: Vanderbilt scored three runs in the top of the first and just kept scoring. It had at least one run in each of the first five innings, including 10 in the fifth and rewrote its NCAA Tournament record book along the way. Among the program highs were runs (21), runs in an inning (10), triples (four) and hits (20). … Leadoff hitter Ro Coleman reached base five times (three singles, one triple one walk) and scored four runs, another Vanderbilt NCAA Tournament record. … Radford’s eight pitchers did not help themselves with six walks and seven hit batters. … The final score equaled the largest shutout in NCAA baseball tournament history (LSU over Louisiana Monroe in 2000). … In the later innings coach Tim Corbin subbed in his entire bench similar to what a basketball coach would so the crowd could acknowledge the most prominent players when they came out.
Player of the game: Zander Wiel (pictured), hitless in the first two games of the regional, went 4-for-6 with two singles, a triple and a home run. He set the program record for RBIs in an NCAA Tournament game with six. He also scored two runs. The six RBIs also made him the team leader for the season with 64.
Unsung hero: Walker Buehler. His teammates staked him to the early lead and the Commodores’ starting pitcher did not mess around with it – while he was in there, that is. He was efficient on the mound with 60 pitches, including 39 strikes, in five innings before he was pulled with things well in hand. He allowed just two hits (both singles) and did not allow a walk. The win was his fourth of the season, which gave him 20 for his career.
They said it
• “It was obviously an offensive show for our guys from the get-go. I don’t think you would ever dream that a game would play out that way, but the kids did a very nice job of swinging the bats early. It looked like they were very much comfortable at the plate.” – Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin
• “You have to really stay mature in those moments to not start clowning around or acting in ways that you shouldn’t. We were just trying to stay focused and be with the guys that don’t necessarily get on the field a lot and try to help them through.” – shortstop Dansby Swanson
• “I don’t know what our guys thought about what I said but when we were down 9-0 I said, ‘Let’s lose 11-5. Let’s get this game under control. Let’s make it respectable. Let’s go out on the right note.’ Your getting beat and it’s just not stopping.” – Radford coach Joe Raccula
• “Embarrassed is definitely a good word for it. Working so hard to get to this point and then not showing up (Monday) is highly embarrassing but at the same time we were playing a great ball club. We knew the way we were going to have to play to beat a club of their caliber, and we didn’t come out and play that way.” – Radford senior outfielder Josh Reavis
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
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