Commodores fall in 11 innings, season ends


NASHVILLE — Leads were hard to come by for Vanderbilt in this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional matchup with Mississippi State, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.

After a one-run midgame cushion slipped away Sunday, the Commodores extended the decisive Game 3 with a three-run ninth-inning rally, but had no answer for the visitors’ four-run 11th in a 10-6 season-ending loss.

The victory sends Mississippi State to its 10th College World Series appearance, while stopping Vanderbilt short of its fourth trip to Omaha.

“We were playing uphill,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said after the defeat. “It’s like you’re running a race against someone and every time you go to speed up, they speed up and they’re just a little further ahead.

“You’ve got to credit their kids. I thought we were two evenly matched teams, very similar in a lot of respects. You have to give those kids credit. They came to our place, they were the visiting team two games in a row, and they won fair and square.”

Vanderbilt, pushed to the brink of elimination with a 10-8 loss in Friday’s best-of-three series opener, overcame a pair of two-run deficits in Game 2 before J.J. Bleday’s solo shot in the ninth secured a 4-3 victory.

The hosts threatened early Sunday — picking up a couple of one-out base hits and loading the bases in the first inning before Julian Infante reached on a two-out single in the second — but didn’t dent the scoreboard until Stephen Scott’s opposite-field homer into the left-field seats leading off the bottom of the third.

By then, Vanderbilt was in chase mode yet again, as Mississippi State took advantage of three singles and a sacrifice fly in the top of the third for two runs off Commodore starter Mason Hickman.

An inning later, Vanderbilt took the lead. After Harrison Ray was hit by a pitch and Ethan Paul reached on a strikeout/passed ball, Infante’s flyball to left plated Ray and Austin Martin’s single drove in Paul. Poised for more, the Commodores settled for the 3-2 advantage as Connor Kaiser struck out to end the inning with the bases loaded.

Back-to-back walks from Chandler Day to lead off the sixth, plus a Day wild pitch, allowed the Bulldogs to tie the game at 3-3.

“We pitched relatively well, but we opened some innings for them,” Corbin said.

Vanderbilt had an eighth-inning rally brewing, with a pair of walks ahead of a Scott one-out groundball. After Bleday was walked intentionally to load the bases, Kaiser’s grounder to third base resulted in Austin Martin being called out for interfering with Justin Foscue as he attempted to field the ball.

With momentum, Mississippi State took control in the next half-inning, scoring three runs on a Jake Mangum double, a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch by Jackson Gillis.

The Commodores countered with a Pat DeMarco one-out solo homer, a Ray single and a Paul two-run homer to tie the game. Pinchhitter Ty Duvall chased Elijah MacNamee into the rightfield corner for a deep flyball that he snagged, and after Martin drew a walk, Scott struck out to force extra innings.

“We got some big hits, pieced together a heck of an inning when it looked like it was over,” Corbin said. “The kids were very aggressive. (Philip) Clarke got off the first swing, hit it hard to right field. Then DeMarco got that swing off and got us closer. There was a nice swing on the ball Paul hit. Duvall made MacNamee run.”

An inning later, Vanderbilt squandered a one-out Kaiser double and left two runners on base — bringing its total for the night to 16.

“I think that’s the ‘try hard’,” Corbin said. “You’ve got guys on base and you want to get the hit. You’re trying to compete, trying to finish. Sometimes the ‘try to’ gets in the way of the ability to do it. That’s part of it, part of learning.

“When you play a game like this, you get to the edge and you feel it, and sometimes you squeeze too hard. They’ll understand how controlling adrenalin is so important. We had several chances.”

In the top of the 11th, against Tyler Brown — the fifth Commodore pitcher — Mississippi State put four of its first five hitters on base, including an RBI double by Tanner Allen, and a bases-loaded walk led to Brown leaving in favor of Zach King. Luke Alexander doubled on King’s first pitch, scoring two runs and making it a four-run game.

This time, there’d be no comeback. Paul drew a leadoff walk, before the next three Vanderbilt hitters were retired on infield groundouts to end the contest.

Mississippi State will face Washington, which won in three games at Cal State Fullerton, in Saturday’s College World Series opening-round matchup.

“They’re a tough team,” Corbin said. “There’s no give-in to them. As far as we’re concerned, I’m really proud of our boys. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was a heck of a game to be a part of. It’s a tough time for our juniors. I really wanted this for them.”

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