OMAHA, Neb. — Fans outside of TD Ameritrade Park waited to sing “Happy Birthday” to Vanderbilt outfielder Rhett Wiseman, who had turned 20 just minutes earlier at midnight. But after the night Wiseman had, this was no work office birthday party of mumbling co-workers. The Vanderbilt faithful that stuck around, boisterously bellowed the tune for Wiseman.
The sophomore outfielder walked in his first plate appearance Saturday night. He singled and swiped a bag in his final plate appearance, setting up his game-winning score on Tyler Campbell‘s bases loaded infield single.
In between, Wiseman had an RBI double off the right field wall that put the Commodores up 3-2 in the fifth inning and then there was the catch.
Given the stakes of the game and the timing of it, Wiseman had the defensive play of the 2014 College World Series so far.
In the 10th inning, he made a tremendous lunging catch deep in the right-centerfield gap and then slid to a stop on the warning track just shy of the signage on the outfield wall. The incredible play likely robbed Texas shortstop C.J. Hinojosa of a leadoff triple that would have set up the go-ahead run.
Basically, the sophomore did everything he could Saturday night to lead Vandy to a 5-4 victory over Texas to send the Commodores on to the championship round of the 2014 College World Series.
But after the game, the first thing Wiseman wanted to talk about was sophomore teammate Tyler Campbell.
“Honestly, my favorite part of that game was Tyler Campbell coming up in there in the last inning,” Wiseman said. “If I tell you that every single person on the team knew he was going to win the game right there, it was every single person.”
“He has 14 at bats before this weekend. All of a sudden, he gets inserted in the College World Series, gets two hits yesterday, makes two great plays in the field yesterday, comes out tonight and makes the biggest play of the game in the 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded, one out as soon as Hayden [Stone] came in. And then he gets the game-winning hit, busts his butt down the line for the win.”
Campbell, who is only in the lineup because starter Xavier Turner was suspended for an NCAA rules violation and sent home from Omaha, is now second on the team in hitting during the College World Series with a robust .375 average after knocking his third hit for the game-winner.
Of course, the guy Campbell trails is the guy effusively praising him. After going 2-for-4 Saturday night, Wiseman is now batting .429 with a .529 on base percentage and a .571 slugging percentage.
Vanderbilt desperately needed both of their contributions to advance to the championship series after a back-and-forth dogfight with Texas.
The Commodores took an early lead on John Norwood‘s RBI fielder’s choice in the first inning when Zane Gurwitz made a great diving stop down the third base line, but was unable to turn a double play. Vanderbilt had the opportunity to bust the game open. Instead, Texas starter Parker French was able to strand the bases loaded.
Texas went to the bullpen in the third inning, bringing in Morgan Cooper. Again, the Commodores had the chance to build its lead, but managed just a single run and that came with the assistance of two errors.
The Longhorns weren’t going to wait around for Vanderbilt to get a single run in every other inning. In the fourth inning, Hinojosa led of with a double down the left field line. A swinging bunt and one of Vanderbilt starter Carson Fulmer‘s six walks loaded the bases. Fulmer got a big strikeout of Tres Barrera, but first baseman Kacy Clemens sent a ball up the middle for a two-run single to tie the game.
Texas had its big chance in the fifth inning when Fulmer loaded the bases with three walks. Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin turned the ball over to freshman reliever Hayden Stone.
“The story of the game for us was that the turnaround in pitching. Hayden Stone certainly picked up Carson Fulmer in such a big way,” Corbin said.
“I’ve learned that you can’t make the situation bigger than what it really is,” Stone said. “All you can try to do is throw a quality pitch in the zone and that’s what I did. I threw him a breaking ball, he got on top of it and we rolled it for two.”
The fleet-footed Ben Johnson chopped one to third base and Campbell went around the horn for the 5-4-3 double play to end the inning and threat.
Wiseman’s rocket off the right field wall in the next half inning made it 3-2 Vanderbilt, but a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play on a two-strike squeeze bunt attempt ended the frame with another Vanderbilt opportunity missed. Texas didn’t waste any time, striking back immediately. Barrera led off the inning with a triple and evened the score on a Gurwitz grounder through the left side.
Behind the relief efforts of Cooper and Travis Duke for Texas and Stone for Vanderbilt, zeros started piling up on the scoreboard until free baseball was assured.
That’s when the Wiseman-led drama of the 10th inning broke the hearts of Texas and sent the Commodores to their first ever championship series with the potential of becoming the school’s first men’s sport to ever win a national championship.
After Wiseman’s single with two outs, Texas closer John Curtiss walked pinch hitter Ro Coleman and hit Karl Ellison to load the bases for the hero Tyler Campbell.
Campbell didn’t hit the ball hard. He didn’t square it up, but he did just enough at the plate and dug down the line, smelling a potential game-winning RBI infield single.
Hinohosa charged the shallow chopper and fired on the run, but the speedy Campbell just barely beat the throw, giving Vanderbilt and reliever Hayden Stone (5.2 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 8 K) the win.
The Commodores advance to their first ever championship series, starting Monday night, where they will play a talented Virginia squad.
Texas’ season is over. The Longhorns finish 46-21 on the year after winning the Houston Regional and Austin Super Regional. After some fans had been discontent with Augie Garrido after the team struggled the last couple of years, Garrido was masterful throughout the postseason as a tactician orchestrating and motivating the Longhorns to being one of the final three teams remaining in the College World Series.
Here’s CBD photographer Shotgun Spratling‘s top shots from the 2014 College World Series Saturday night’s matchup at TD Ameritrade Park: