Vanderbilt perseveres with pitching at NCAA regional

Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 10:24pm

Thanks in no small part to its starting pitchers, Vanderbilt is not finished in the NCAA baseball tournament.

The Commodores won twice Sunday, once on a four-hit shutout by Caleb Cotham, and extended the Louisville Regional to a winner-take-all contest, 6 p.m. (CDT) Monday.

Vanderbilt (37-26) will face host Louisville (46-16), with a Super Regional appearance on the line.

Both teams have one loss after the Commodores’ 8-4 victory over the Cardinals in Sunday’s second contest. Brian Harris, Steven Liddle and Andrew Giobbi all drove in two runs, and two Louisville errors led to a four-run second, which put VU ahead to stay.

Senior Nick Christiani limited Louisville to three runs on seven hits in six innings, which was the shortest appearance by a VU starter thus far. Two of the first three pitched complete games, and the third, freshman Sonny Gray, struck out 10 in eight innings in a 10-0 victory over Indiana on Saturday, the first elimination contest of the weekend.

"That was really important for us -- to almost get two complete games (on Saturday and Sunday)," coach Tim Corbin said. "Sonny could have thrown a complete game, but we wanted to give some others some work. ... (Christiani) was the right guy at the right time, pitched well, kept us in the ballgame. We did a nice job of stopping a tough team in a tough environment."

Cotham shut down Middle Tennessee State in Sunday’s first game – a 6-0 VU victory – as he struck out eight, walked none and allowed just four hits (three singles and a double). At one point, beginning with one out and one on in the fifth, he retired 11 straight, and after the first inning the Blue Raiders did not get a runner past second.

“As the game went on, my fastball got a lot better and then the slider started getting better, and that really helped me out,” Cotham said. “Throughout the game I was able to throw a decent changeup and keep the ball down, and that helped out.”

It was his second straight complete game. He also went the distance in an SEC tournament contest, which was shortened to seven innings by the mercy rule.

Mike Minor opened the weekend with a complete game of his own. However, he allowed two home runs, including a first-inning grand slam, which accounted for all of the scoring against him in a 5-4 defeat.

“I thought I pitched well enough to win after the first inning, but a four-spot in the first inning is not going to cut it in the postseason,” Minor said. “I gave up (a) home run in the seventh but I have to give (the hitter) credit because he made a good a swing in the zone.”

After that, the Commodores went 20.2 innings before they allowed another run, and starters accounted for all of those except for one. Taylor Hill pitched a scoreless ninth in relief of Gray on Saturday.

“Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week,” MTSU coach Steve Peterson said. “Good hitting is evidenced when pitching slacks off.”

That did not happen to Vanderbilt the last two days.

(All times CDT)

Game 1: 3 Middle Tennessee State 5, Vanderbilt 4
Game 2: Louisville 8, Indiana 2.

Game 3: Vanderbilt 10, Indiana 0 (Indiana eliminated)
Game 4: Middle Tennessee State vs. Louisville, 6 p.m.

Game 5: Vanderbilt 6, Middle Tennessee 0 (MTSU eliminated)
Game 6: Vanderbilt 8, Louisville 4

Game 7: Vanderbilt vs. Louisville, 6 p.m.