Rebs look ahead after two straight losses at Vandy

Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin issued his team an almost unheard of challenge late Friday night, and the Commodores responded.

How's this for laying it on the line to your team?

The Vandy head baseball coach told his team after Friday night that it was do or die time. His team responded.

Not many coaches would have the, ah...guts to do it, but here's what Tim Corbin told us after his Commodores beat Ole Miss two in a row to take the series in Nashville.

"I told our kids Friday night after we lost that these next two games were the most important games of the season, maybe in the three years I've been here," Corbin said.

Say what? Never heard a coach go that far this early in a season. Maybe not at any point in a season, unless it was a championship game or an elimination game.

"We go on the road the next two weekends, and if we don't win this series (against Ole Miss), we don't get any momentum at home before going on the road. We had to make some things happen and get something going.

"I told our guys that this was a Super Regional. We lost Friday. Then we won Saturday. Sunday was Championship Day. That's the way we approached it."

Late Sunday Corbin was breathing a sigh of relief that his tactics had worked. Give the guy credit. That was a lot to lay on the line and in the laps of 18-22 year olds with seven SEC series remaining. Caps off to a coach for being so bold.

Vandy had some success on the field early Saturday and early Sunday which led them to play like a team possessed. Maybe a team on a mission would be better. Their coach told them to take care of business and they did.

Ole Miss played like a more fragile team. Sometimes road trips will do that to you, especially if it is the second of two road series. The Rebels bused to Knoxville and back last weekend. Then to Jackson and back Tuesday. Then to Nashville and played some of their poorest baseball of the season, especially the past couple of the days, certainly at the plate. Then they bused home. Now they bus to Hattiesburg Tuesday for a night game at USM. My guess is that one will be tough to win, too, all things considered.

Earlier Ole Miss won 9-1 here. There will be 3,000-plus USM fans awaiting another chance to beat Ole Miss at anything. And they have too good a program not to want to even the series at 1-1 with the deciding game in Jackson on April 19. USM is 22-5 this year and has won 10 games in a row.

The Rebels struck out 32 times at Vandy. Commodore pitching is above average and is their team's forte'. But please. Thirty-two times? With the hitters we have?

By about the fourth inning Sunday afternoon, the Rebel hitting was beginning to have a Regional feel and look to it. You remember what that felt and looked like.

Of course, as many have pointed out, it is better to have this kind of thing happen now than in May or June. Totally agree, as long as there's not another one in May and June.

It was almost a case of when the going got rough, especially Sunday, the Rebels dropped their heads. They didn't fight back like this team normally does. When some things didn't happen for them early, it was all but over Sunday. Saturday was different. The Rebels were in control at 3-0 with Stephen Head on the mound. I felt good at that point, but I'd have felt better had we not left the bases loaded twice early.

That the score wasn't 5-0 or 6-0 after four innings instead of the 3-0 that it was left the door open for Vandy. We were up 3-0 after four, but you could tell neither team had seized the momentum.

Then Mark Wright, who had made two excellent catches near the Vandy green monster in left, lost a ball in what sun had poked through by that time, and it bounced out into the field giving Vandy a leadoff triple in the bottom of the fifth. Nothing against Mark. Guys will lose them in the sun and sky over the course of a season.

But it was the opening Vandy had been looking for and they took advantage. We were up 3-0, but the home team was not on the ropes by any stretch. Immediately thereafter came an unusual pitcher's interference that Ole Miss vehemently disagreed with. On the play, Stephen Head ran toward the first base line to get the ball to try to make a play, and the Vandy runner stopped. Didn't run over Head. Just stopped. Ump called pitcher's interference; like what was Head supposed to do, stop and say, "You go ahead, runner. I'll just pick this ball up later."

Tough situation for all concerned, and Vandy got the benefit of the doubt. The Commodores scored two runs before Mike Bianco visited Head on the mound. After he did, Head gave up a three-run home run for a 4-3 Vandy lead on its way to a 7-4 win.

The game, and looking back the series itself, had evened up and was headed Vandy's way.

But at 1-1, the Rebels had a chance to do what all teams want to do on the road in the SEC – take 2 of 3. But a five-hit, three-run bottom of the first after Ole Miss got nothing in the top half of the frame proved to be plenty in a 7-2 VU victory.

The Rebels should have gotten out of the first down just 1-0. The whole field moved toward their respective dugouts, including the Vandy batter at the plate, on what should have been a called third strike. The whole place knew it was a strike.

My take was "That's OK. Let's get them out on the next pitch."

Two Commodore runs later I was still wishing we had that called third strike back.

Sunday's dominance was solidified for the ‘Dores in the top of the third when, with two Rebels on base and freshman pitcher David Price his shakiest of the day with a walk and a hit batter, the Rebels couldn't lay down a bunt to advance the runners.

Then the Vandy centerfielder robbed Zack Cozart of at least one RBI that would have tied the game at 3-3 on a nice diving catch. With two Rebel baserunners scrambling back with no chance at that point, the VU centerfielder lobbed it long to the awaiting first baseman for a double play to end the UM threat as most of the announced crowd of 2,067 erupted.

A Vandy baseball home record crowd of 2,067, that is. Every school in the SEC now is trying to have great baseball. Kentucky is the only one trying and falling short. Every other team is solid. I can say that about Kentucky, because for the second straight year the Wildcats, 0-8 in the league right now, are the lone SEC team the Rebels don't play. Too bad for us – again.

The bad news is the Rebels fell out of first place, now at 5-4. The good news is that the current two top teams have 6 wins – Florida, who we've beaten 2 of 3, and Alabama, who we play next. And the next batch of 6 teams, which we are a part of, has 5 wins each.

The race is definitely on.

I expect a hard look at maybe a bit of lineup shuffling by the Rebel coaches after a puny offensive effort in Nashville.

Bianco said Sunday that Eric Fowler would start Tuesday night at USM, and that would most likely still be the case today.

But I wouldn't be surprised, if Fowler has a good outing, that he slips into the three-man starting rotation this weekend with Bama. Why? Mainly a couple of slightly tired or sore arms that I heard bits and pieces of Sunday. Bianco even said Matt Maloney admitted to being worn down a bit.

"But he said he'd give us what he had," said Bianco, after the Rebel junior went only an inning and a third Sunday.

We'll wait and see if the rotation changes any. That's all just a guess and speculation on my part. So don't buy it completely just yet.

I saw the frustration from the Rebels as the game wore on Sunday. When the bunt attempt to move the runners over failed in the third, I saw at least one player slam his glove to the floor of the dugout. When Vandy hit a sixth-inning home run to make it 7-2, I saw a Rebel player on the field do the same thing – take his glove and slam it on the ground.

For a team ranked so high that's so talented and trying to prove the program is the best it's been in years, it was indeed a frustrating two days in Music City.

I've audibly said for three months that I wasn't going to worry one bit about this team until Tax Day. I'd split the season into two halves – Before Tax Day and After Tax Day.

Tax Day, as we all know too well, is April 15. That's game one of the LSU series in Baton Rouge. But I have to admit, I started to worry just a little Sunday (that's BTD) at Vandy, because it felt like the three-game sweep at Georgia in late April of last year all over again, or the Regional in Oxford in early June.

The main differences are that it's still early, and at least we got one win in Nashville – as opposed to none in Athens last year and none in the Regional here.

This program has built to this year's team. Five years in the making, this should be the team that takes the next step, whatever that ultimately means.

During the course of a 56-game regular season, there will be times like these. The Rebels certainly need to take the Bama series – all three if they can – this weekend against a program Ole Miss has had good baseball success against over the past few seasons.

First, the Rebels need to get the winning taste back in their mouths in Hattiesburg, but that will be tough. USM will be ready. Ole Corky Palmer may even tell his team it's their season. But I doubt it.

You won't find many coaches doing those type things, not early and mostly not ever.

But Vandy's Corbin did late Friday night after a 6-2 loss to Ole Miss. And it worked out for his team just like he'd hoped it would.

OM Spirit Top Stories