Good thing, because right now red-hot Vanderbilt is pulling out every stop to scratch and claw past opponents in the toughest conference in the country.
That worked again Wednesday night as the Commodores clipped No. 2 seed South Carolina 3-2 in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
Vandy (31-25) generated single runs in three different innings, got two on outs – including a suicide squeeze bunt on a two-strike pitch – and relied on three pitchers to piece together a masterful six-hit performance to advance to a Thursday night showdown with postseason nemesis Florida at 7:30 p.m.
To notch a seventh win in a row, the Dores went unconventional.
With the score knotted 2-2 in the eighth inning, Vince Conde swatted a leadoff double down the left-field line to put Vandy in business.
Tony Kemp laid down a bunt to put Conde at third base for Mike Yastrzemski, who fell behind Gamecocks reliever Tyler Webb 1-and-2. Webb is a lanky left-hander who thrives on breaking pitches and ahead in the count he came at Yastrzemski with a curve down and away.
With Conde breaking for the plate, Yastrzemski pushed a bunt toward first base that Webb fielded but not in time to make a play at the plate and his throw to first was off the mark.
That run was enough, thanks to solid relief from Will Clinard, who worked out of trouble in the eighth and blazed through the ninth 1-2-3 for his fifth save.
"It's all about wanting to be in that situation and not being scared to be put in that situation," Yastrzemski said. "If you practice a play so often, there is nothing to be scared of. It is almost an automatic run when you practice it so much."
Added VU coach Tim Corbin, "I thought that it was the right play at the right time. It was a very good breaking ball to Mike. He was confident and we felt like it was something that we could do. … We figured that he could put it down in that situation."
Manufacturing runs is nothing new for the Commodores since they began their late-season turnaround and Yastrzemski's squeeze was the third of the game.
In the fifth inning, Connor Harrell got Vandy going with a double to left field and he chugged to third base on pinch-hitter Chris Harvey's flyout to center field. That hustle paid off when Conde also lofted a fly ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly that trimmed Carolina's lead to 2-1.
The Commodores drew even the next inning, this time using two hits to produce a run – the only inning Vandy got more than one hit.
Yastrzemski poked a base hit to left-center field to open the frame and moved to second on Anthony Gomez's bunt. After Conrad Gregor struck out, Spencer Navin continued a strong tournament when he rolled a single between first and second base for an RBI, his third in two games.
Not lost in the strong offensive execution was a stout effort by T.J. Pecoraro, Kevin Ziomek and Clinard.
Pecoraro went the first five innings, allowing five hits and walking three. South Carolina (39-16) jumped in front on Tanner English's two-run single in the second inning, with all the action coming with two outs, starting with Grayson Greiner's double.
The Gamecocks made it tough for Pecoraro in two of the next three innings, but they struggled to pad their lead and stranded seven runners in the first five innings and 11 overall.
Ziomek and Clinard both worked out of one jam each as well.
"Those guys got some big outs," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. "It's not all about our players not executing. That's some of it because we had some runners, but they did a good job pitching in some close situations."
Add it all together and Vandy produced its 13th comeback victory this season and set up a showdown against Florida.
The Gators have owned the Commodores lately, with seven consecutive wins – three this season, two at the College World Series, one in the 2011 SEC Tournament championship game and the last meeting in the regular season of last year. Follow @VandyManiacom
Vanderbilt surging in SEC Tourney
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