Tyler Campbell was probably the last player on Vanderbilt’s roster you would pick to punch the Cardiac Commodores’ ticket to its first College World Series final and send Texas packing.
Campbell arrived in Omaha as a seldom-used player for Coach Tim Corbin.
The sophomore from Portland, Ore., was 4-for-22 on the season. He played in only 15 games, got two starts. But when starting third baseman Xavier Turner was suspended due to an unspecified NCAA rules violation, Corbin turned to Campbell in the two most important games of the post-season.
No sweat. The sophomore was informed he would be starting the night before Game 1 against Texas. It was a game the Commodores lost, blanked by the Orangemen 4-0.
In a winner-take-all game Saturday night, Campbell was still holding down the hot spot and it was his bat that gave Vanderbilt the 10th inning 4-3 decision.
Corbin preaches to his players to be ready. He is not afraid to use any of them. They know they better be prepared.
“That’s what these moments are about, when kids have been practicing all year and not getting in games,’’ Corbin said. “Then their number is called. Everybody is so happy for this kid. They wanted him to play and just to see him succeed. The team is beyond happy.’’
Going to the bottom of the 10th inning, Texas closer John Curtiss made quick work of the first two Commodores. Then Rhett Wiseman, who sprinted to the right field warning track to make a season-changing catch in the top of the 10th, delivered a single to keep hope alive.
“The ball hung up there long enough,’’ Wiseman said of his catch. “Luckily we were in position to have a shot at it.’’
Wiseman stole second base to put yet another Vanderbilt runner in scoring position. Corbin inserted pinch hitter Ro Coleman and the 5-5 freshman from Chicago drew a walk from Curtiss.
Curtiss then hit catcher Karl Ellison, loading the bases.
Appropriately enough the game was laid in Campbell’s hands. He chopped a grounder toward shortstop. C.J. Hindjosa raced in, grabbed the slow roller and threw to first in one motion.
Campbell beat the throw and the rest is history.
Historic in that it will be Vanderbilt’s first time to play in the championship series, a best two-out-of three against Virginia. Game 1 is Monday night.
But credit Corbin for putting this team together as just that – a team. Their best pitcher was Tyler Beede, first round pick of the Giants in the June amateur draft. But Beede lost his confidence late in the season and was not himself in postseason play.
Turner was a big loss due to the timing and losing his bat and fielding ability.
Corbin let them know every one of them was needed. It was not just coach-speak. He believed in them. Who else would step up and offer Ro Coleman a scholarship out of Chicago’s Simeon High School?
And as the season rolled on, the freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup matured. They gained confidence, in themselves and each other.
Ellison, Saturday’s pinch hitter Nolan Rogers and outfielder Bryan Reynolds are freshmen. Wiseman and second baseman Dansby Swanson is a sophomore. Saturday night starter Carson Fulmer is a sophomore. Columbia’s Hayden Stone came in out of the bullpen, another freshman.
It was Stone that kept the Longhorns at bay. He pitched the final 5 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, and one run. He didn’t allow a run in the seventh through the 10th innings. Fulmer threw the first 4 1/3 innings and allowed two earned runs.
If Campbell had not delivered in the 10th inning, these teams may still be playing. But Campbell hooked the ‘Horns and the Cardiac Commodores move on.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at email@example.com.