CWS: Friday Vandy Notebook

OMAHA, Neb. – Some time Friday afternoon, Vanderbilt will know whether its 2011 season will live on or come to a close.

However it shakes out, freshman Tony Kemp is likely to have a smile on his face.

After all, the Commodores ebullient left fielder has had a hard time keeping one off there during Vandy's stay at the College World Series.

"Not many people get to play this game or be in the College World Series," Kemp said Thursday as the Commodores prepared for their rematch with SEC rival Florida (1 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park). "It's one of the best experiences you'll ever get to be part of, so I don't know why anybody wouldn't be happy."

Of course playing well doesn't hurt the mood, either.

Kemp is 5-for-11 in three CWS games and has played the role of immediate fire starter in both of Vandy's wins with hits to lead off both games against North Carolina. He scored both times to give the Commodores the immediate lead.

He's also been spectacular, although at times adventurous in the outfield, prompting VU coach Tim Corbin to deem him "one of the best outfielders we've had in a long time."

There's no mystery about how Kemp's older teammates feel about him.

"From day one he's been our leadoff hitter and I don't know too many freshmen who could do that physically and mentally because coming from high school to this level is such a grind," catcher Curt Casali said. "He's been a table-setter for our team all year long and we would never have been here without him."

As valuable as Kemp is between the lines – he enters Friday's game hitting .331 with 58 runs, a team-high seven triples and 17 stolen bases – what he supplies in the intangibles category is just as vital.

"He's always loose," Casali said. "His confidence is something a leadoff guy has to have. He has to go up there and try to wear a pitcher out or give other hitters an idea of what the pitcher is going to be throwing. But he also has to be aggressive at times and Tony has hit a lot of first pitches in this series, too, and that helps because it doesn't let the pitcher get comfortable."

Gray matter
Sonny Gray gets the ball against Florida with the season on the line Thursday and he'll take the mound with a little added incentive.

The Commodores first-round draft pick wasn't sharp in his CWS debut, allowing eight hits, walking five and giving up three runs against North Carolina in his shortest stint since the season opener, 4.2 innings.

Gray downplayed the notion of having something to prove but didn't shy away from saying he was excited to get a chance to pitch against the Gators. He started the regular-season series opener against Florida and notched six innings before a rain storm hit, allowing two hits and two runs.

"They gave it to us a few days ago and we're excited to get on the field against them," said Gray, who is 12-3 with 124 strikeouts and a 2.12 ERA.

"I wouldn't call it redemption for me. I just want to get back out there and put the team in the best position to win. I don't think I had to do anything different – just go out and throw the ball like I can and let my defense make plays."

While Gray won't concede an extra edge, it wouldn't surprise those who know him.

"Every time he goes out there, he's going to compete and him competing is a little different from pitchers who might not have their best stuff," Corbin said. "On a 1-10 scale, Sonny can survive a 5 game because of his ability to compete so hard. The one thing Sonny has done is always followed up a not-so-great game in his mind with a great performance. That's just the nature of the kind of kid he is."

Added Casali, "Sonny is the most competitive guy on our team and whether he has his best stuff or not doesn't dictate how well he's going to throw. He grinds it out however he's feeling or how the game is going. He's going to give you his best shot."

Extra bases
- Corbin said the entire pitching staff except Grayson Garvin is available in today's must-win game.

- Garvin threw 101 pitches against Florida Monday and was saddled with his second loss when Gators outfielder Preston Tucker's three-run home run provided all the runs allowed in a 3-1 loss. He struck out nine to match a career high and allowed only four other hits in six innings.

- Should Vandy win Friday to force the if-necessary game, Garvin would likely get the nod.

- Commodores center fielder Connor Harrell is the only player with two home runs in the CWS so far. He belted a two-run bomb to give Vandy the lead in a 7-3 series-opening win vs. UNC and pumped a three-run blast to pad the lead to 4-0 vs. the Tar Heels on Wednesday. He also leads all CWS hitters with five RBIs.

- VU first baseman Aaron Westlake finally collected a hit in his final at-bat of Wednesday's win after going 0-for-9 before that.

- The Commodores bullpen has been nearly flawless in three games, with Corey Williams, Will Clinard and Kevin Ziomek combining to allow only three hits and no runs in nine innings. Williams has thrown in all three games and has recorded 5.2 innings of shutout ball. Top Stories