Commodores slugger tops off big night with a tip of the cap

Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 2:56am

Curtain calls are a rarity in college baseball.

But on Saturday night, it just seemed warranted.

In the eighth inning of Vanderbilt’s 9-3 victory over Oregon State in the deciding game of a NCAA Super Regional, Aaron Westlake walked to the top step of the dugout and tipped his hat to the standing ovation from the 3,387 in attendance.

Why? Because three-home run nights are just as rare. Westlake punished Oregon State pitching as he had three two-run homers to help the Commodores (52-10) clinched their first trip to the College World Series.

“Three home runs is a special, special night,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “He hit them all over the place and against left-handed pitching too. That is difficult to do. He deserves it, though.”

A night after being walked three times, Westlake got a chance to hit. He didn’t take it for granted.

The left-handed hitting first baseman hit a line drive over the right-field wall in the first inning off left-handed starter Ben Wetzler.

After Anthony Gomez’s two-out single in the sixth, Westlake gave Vanderbilt a five-run cushion with another bomb — this time in right center off lefty Matt Boyd. Then in the eighth, he sent Hawkins Field into a frenzy when he crushed a 2-2 pitch from Boyd. The ball sailed out of the stadium, near the right-field pole, leading to the curtain call.

“I was just seeing the ball,” Westlake said. “It was just the same approach I take every day. Usually when you got guys in scoring position or guys on base, pitchers maybe tend to leave balls up. Whereas if they were in the windup it would be a little different. ... Maybe you make a mistake and I was able to capitalize on them.”

Westlake, who was drafted in the third round earlier this week by the Detroit Tigers, became the first Commodore to hit three home runs in a game since Jeff Martin in 1991.

Prior to this year, the last player to hit three in an NCAA tournament game was Arizona State’s Jeff Larish, who did it in an 11-inning contest against Nebraska in 2005. The tournament record is four, shared by two players.

Westlake’s only other multi-home run game this season was April 30 — a 10-1 victory over Tennessee in which he hit two. He leads the team with 17 home runs this season and has 41 in his four-year career, just seven shy of the school record.

“He hit mistakes. That doesn't take anything away from him now,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “We just left some balls in the middle of the plate to the wrong guy on a couple of occasions there. Saying that doesn't have anything to do with his power and everything. Tremendous hitter. Tremendous hitter.”

He and his players could only tip their caps to Westlake.