NASHVILLE – Sunday's game at Hawkins Field unfolded in memorable and historic fashion for the Vanderbilt baseball team, It started with an offensive explosion and ended with a dogpile.
The Commodores clinched a spot in the College World Series by posting a 12-5 victory over Stanford in Game 3 of the super regional before a sold-out, mostly Commodore-crazed crowd of 3,626. The victory, which was propelled by a five-run first inning and the stellar relief pitching of freshman Hayden Stone, sends Vanderbilt (46-19) to Omaha, Neb., for next week's College World Series, where the Commodores will face Louisville in its opener Saturday.
Vanderbilt will appear in the College World Series for the second time in the program's history. The Commodores also advanced to Omaha in 2011.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Vanderbilt second baseman Dansby Swanson. "We started this all the way back in August with all the guys. We set ourselves out on a mission ... to just get better everyday, and, you know, to become a family. At this point now, we are the closest we have ever been. ... I couldn't be more proud of how we battled, and how we went about our business."
Stone (2-0) worked the final six innings of Sunday's game, limiting Stanford to one unearned run. The right-hander seemingly got stronger as the game went along, holding the Cardinal (35-26) to just one hit over the final three innings. He recorded the game's final out by getting Zach Hoffpauir to pop out to Vanderbilt shortstop Vince Conde.
When Conde made the catch, the Commodores raced out of the dugout and piled on top of each other in the infield while the Vanderbilt fans danced, cheered and high-fived in the stands. The Commodores then made a victory lap around the stadium, saluting the fans after three straight sellouts this weekend.
"I look in the stands and see people that are 75 and 80 years old that get to witness this," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. "That's good for their heart. It's good for the town, it's good for the community, it's good for so many things. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
Conde, Bryan Reynolds and John Norwood finished with three hits each in Sunday's win for the Commodores, who built a 5-0 lead in the first inning and then fought off the stubborn Stanford squad the rest of the way.
The Cardinal -- who was designated as the "home" team after winning a coin toss earlier this week – scored four runs in the bottom of the third inning to cut Vanderbilt's advantage to 5-4, but the Commodores never relinquished the lead, and they eventually rebuilt some cushion by scoring four runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth.
"Stanford is a good team," said Norwood. "They are going to hit. You are not going to stop them from hitting."
Stone essentially did. He limited the Cardinal to one unearned run, allowing three hits and two walks and finishing with eight strikeouts. Stone entered the game after Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler worked three innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on seven hits.
Vanderbilt, which has advanced to the Super Regionals in four of the past five seasons, improved to 5-1 in the NCAA tournament. The Commodores went 3-0 during last weekend's Nashville Regional, then took two of three from Stanford during this weekend's eventful series -- that included a walk-off homer by Stanford's Wayne Taylor in Game 2 -- en route to Omaha.
"We are all just really blessed to be here right now with one another, and just keep wanting to follow," said Norwood. "Hopefully [we can] get a national championship. That's our next step. So, we are not done."
Vanderbilt finished with 15 hits in Sunday's game, and seven Commodores drove in at least one run. Norwood and Conde had two RBIs apiece.
Danny Diekroeger had three hits for Stanford, and Tommy Edman and Alex Blandino had two hits each. Those three hitters, the top three batters in the Stanford lineup, combined to go 7-for-13 with three runs scored and two RBIs.
The Commodores' offense set the tone for the win in the top of the first inning, scoring five runs on six hits. Vanderbilt's aggressiveness on the base paths helped fuel the outburst, as the Commodores stole three bases and executed a squeeze play during the nine-batter rally. Stanford starter Logan James (3-4) lasted just two-thirds of an inning before being lifted, having allowed four runs on four hits.
Dansby Swanson opened the inning with a single up the middle to set up the big rally, which featured run-scoring singles by Conde, Norwood and Jason Delay, along with an RBI double by Zander Wiel. Rhett Wiseman also drove in a run with a safety-squeeze bunt as the Commodores built their early 5-0 lead and ignited the sellout crowd.
Stanford clawed its way back into the game in the bottom of the third, scoring four runs on four hits to trim Vanderbilt's lead to 5-4. The rally was highlighted by a run-scoring double by Alex Blandino and a two-out RBI triple by Wayne Taylor. An error by Vanderbilt's Swanson aided the rally, and two of the four runs were unearned.
After both teams scored a run in the fourth – with Vanderbilt scoring on a two-out RBI single by Reynolds and Stanford answering with a sacrifice fly by Blandino – the two offenses briefly slowed down, and Vanderbilt maintained a 6-5 lead for the next two innings, as Stone continued his steady work on the mound for the Commodores.
The Vanderbilt offense then came alive again in the top of the seventh, when the Commodores generated their second nine-batter rally of the game while scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks to extend the lead to 10-5. Swanson, Reynolds and Conde opened the inning with consecutive base hits, with Conde's single driving in the first run. Wiel added an RBI on a fielder's choice, Xavier Turner had a sacrifice fly and Norwood capped the rally with a run-scoring single.
Vanderbilt added its final two runs in the eighth by capitalizing on a pair of Stanford errors.
Moments later, the Commodores were piling on top of each other on the infield, and the Vanderbilt crowd was nosily celebrating.
"It's like Christmas Day," said Corbin. "It's like when your kids come down and they get under the Christmas tree and start opening the presents, that's what it feels like. I don't have to be a part of that. All I need to do is get in the bunker, the dugout, and watch the kids celebrate. That's all I need. That's all I ever want."