The nightmare scenario when a team is trying to play its way back through the loser’s bracket to win a NCAA regional is that the lack of pitching creates a situation in which the opponent can simply overwhelm inexperienced arms with its offensive potency.
That was Indiana State’s fear entering its do-or-die contest against second-ranked Vanderbilt. The Commodores can slap around the best pitchers college baseball has to offer, after all.
But that’s not what happened at Hawkins Field late Sunday night. Against all odds? Runs were at a premium between the Sycamores and Commodores.
ISU’s band-aid pitching staff did the best it could. Deep into the game, ISU was tied or within a run of the Commodores. But the dam eventually broke. A two out, sixth-inning grand slam by Vanderbilt’s Ty Duvall highlighted a five-run Commodores’ sixth inning. The Sycamores’ best season since 1990 came to an end with a 12-1 loss to the powerful Commodores.
Vanderbilt will host the Super Regional against Duke next weekend. ISU ended its season with a 43-18 record.
ISU got a fantastic starting effort from little-used Zach Frey. The junior had only thrown 51/3 innings entering the game and had an 8.44 ERA. Frey, however, flummoxed the Commodores. He lasted 31/3 innings, struck out five, and allowed just two hits. Though one of those hits was the game-tying home run, Frey gave the Sycamores a chance.
Unfortunately for the Sycamores, Vanderbilt starter Mason Hickman was even better. Hickman (2.20 ERA) was masterful. In seven innings, Hickman struck out nine and allowed only three hits, two of them by Roby Enriquez.
The first of Enriquez’s hits did give the Sycamores an early edge. With Hickman’s changing speeds throwing ISU’s hitters off early on, Enriquez dialed in on Hickman’s stuff and slugged a solo home run to right to put the Sycamores up 1-0.
Frey kept Vanderbilt off the board until the fourth. On the second pitch of the inning, Vanderbilt designated hitter Phillip Clarke smoked a solo home run to right to tie the game. It was just the second hit Frey allowed.
Frey gave way to Geremy Guerrero, who pitched 21/3 innings of relief, also allowing just two hits.
However, one of them was also a solo home run. Julian Infante, who had three doubles against the Sycamores on Saturday, smacked a long home run to left field to put Vanderbilt up 2-1.
ISU continued to hold the Commodores off for a time. At the start of the sixth, ISU left fielder C.J. Huntley started a 7-4-3 double play with a catch against the wall and a laser throw to the infield to double off Ethan Paul at first base.
However, the sixth then took a turn for the worse.
Guerrero was removed for Austin Cross. He gave up an infield single with Pat DeMarco going to second on a throwing error. After an intentional walk, Cross fell behind 2-0 to Harrison Ray, he was removed for ISU’s Tyler Grauer.