OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Enrique Bradfield Jr. enjoyed the view from second base as the biggest play of the season unfolded for Vanderbilt.
Bradfield had just driven in the tying run against Stanford, and what happened next was nearly unimaginable for a Commodores team that had played from behind all game.
Spencer Jones scored from third on Brendan Beck’s wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowing Vanderbilt to stay alive in the College World Series with a 6-5 victory Wednesday night.
“We’ve done some crazy things this year, down in the last inning, two outs,” Bradfield said. “Nobody’s on to start the inning. We get to two outs, we get a baserunner, another base hit follows. So we knew it was always possible.”
Possible, yet improbable.
The reigning national champions were down to their last strike before the shocking finish against the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, who had been dominant since beginning his rare relief appearance in the seventh.
The Commodores (47-16) were uncharacteristically sloppy against Stanford (39-17) until the middle innings and pulled within 5-4 after being down 4-0.
They avoided their shortest stay at the CWS in their five appearances, all since 2011, and will play North Carolina State in the Bracket 1 final. They would have to beat the Wolfpack on Friday and again Saturday to reach the best-of-three championship series a second straight time.
Vandy won the national title in 2019. There was no CWS last year because of the pandemic.
The first five batters that faced Beck (9-3) struck out, and no one reached base until Javier Vaz walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth.
Jones hit a pinch infield single, and Vaz ended up on third on shortstop Adam Crampton’s off-target throw to first. Bradfield then singled to right to bring home Vaz and send Jones to third.
On a 1-0 count to Carter Young, Beck threw a curveball that slipped out of his hand, sailed high and glanced off catcher Kody Huff’s glove. Huff gave chase, but Jones was able to score easily as the Vanderbilt dugout emptied for a celebration at home plate.
“One of those classic World Series games,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “Of course, it didn’t fall our way. I’ve been part of a few of them, and some have gone my way. That happens in Omaha sometimes. You get in those late innings and you have a magical ending for one team or the other. No regrets on our side.”
The key, Vandy coach Tim Corbin said, was his players’ ability to overcome their poor start to put themselves in position to win.
“We just had to tie it up,” he said, ”so good for the kids. They didn’t back down. They’ve been tough. They’ve showed a lot of resiliency and played a lot of one-run games — regional, super regional, tonight. So nothing’s been easy for the group.”
Bradfield said when he saw the way the ball came out of Beck’s hand, it was game over.
“I know curveballs like that for a catcher, any catcher — doesn’t matter elite or whatever level — are hard to catch,” he said. “When I saw that, I knew it was going to give us a chance.”
Stanford left the bases loaded in the fourth and eighth innings and stranded a total of 11 runners.
Vanderbilt came to Omaha 1-13 when trailing after six innings. The Commodores have been in that situation in both of their wins in Omaha, having come back from a 5-3 deficit to win 7-6 in 12 innings against Arizona on Saturday.
Three of Stanford’s first four runs were unearned, with Vanderbilt committing three errors for the second time in three CWS games after having three errors in only two of their previous 60.
Errors by third baseman Jayson Gonzalez and second baseman Parker Noland led to Stanford’s first run. After Brock Jones’ homer in the third, the Cardinal went up 4-0 in the fourth after Young’s error at short loaded the bases and reliever Nick Maldonado walked in a run before Tim Tawa’s RBI infield single.
Dominic Keegan launched a 400-plus-feet homer to left to cut Stanford’s lead to 4-2 in the fourth, and RBI singles by pinch-hitter Tate Kolwyck and Noland got Vandy within a run in the sixth.
Luke Murphy (4-1) worked the last 1 1/3 innings to earn the win.
“Anything’s possible,” Murphy said. “We’re a tough team. If you haven’t noticed, our last couple of games are one-run ballgames, two-run ballgames. We’ll keep putting up the fight, and I think we’ll have a good chance to keep advancing.”