NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Extending a regular-season trend into the postseason, the Vanderbilt baseball team continues to capitalize on its homefield advantage — even when the Commodores are the “visiting” team.
Propelled by the strong pitching of Carson Fulmer, the top-seeded Commodores rolled to a 7-2 victory over No. 2-seeded Oregon on Saturday night in the winner’s bracket semifinals of the Nashville Regional before a crowd of 2,841 at Hawkins Field.
Fulmer limited Oregon to two runs on three hits over eight innings, and Bryan Reynolds had three hits and two RBIs to guide Vanderbilt (43-18) into Sunday’s 7 p.m. championship game, where the Commodores will face the winner of Sunday’s noon matchup between Oregon (43-19) and Xavier (30-28).
It is the sixth consecutive season — and the eighth time in the past nine years — that Vanderbilt has made the regional finals.
With Saturday’s win, Vanderbilt improved to 28-9 at home this season. But this one was a little different than most of the others. After losing a coin toss that determined which team would be designated as the home team, the Commodores found themselves stationed in the visitor’s dugout, and didn’t have the benefit of having the final at-bat.
But the circumstances didn’t seem to bother the Commodores — and certainly not Fulmer (6-1).
Facing an Oregon team that exploded for a season-high 20 hits in Friday’s 18-1 win over Clemson, Fulmer limited the Ducks to two triples and an infield single, and finished with two walks and five strikeouts while improving to 6-0 in his six starts this season.
He threw 79 of his 122 pitches for strikes before being lifted after the eighth inning. Adam Ravenelle worked a perfect ninth inning to nail down the win.
The Commodore offense supported the strong pitching with a 13-hit attack that featured five doubles, including two by Rhett Wiseman.
Wiseman finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and was one of five Commodores who drove in at least one run. In addition to he and Reynolds driving in two apiece, Vince Conde, Zander Wiel and John Norwood had one RBI each.
But once again, it was the Commodore pitching that stole the show.
After Tyler Beede threw eight scoreless innings and struck out a career-high 14 in Friday’s 11-0 win over Xavier in the Commodores’ tourney opener, Fulmer followed suit with his strong work against the Ducks.
He faced just one batter over the minimum in the first four innings, and made big pitches in the middle innings when Oregon threatened to put together any sign of a rally.
Fulmer, who joined the rotation on April 19 after opening the season in the bullpen, has been brilliant as a starter. He has allowed just three earned runs over 41 2/3 innings (1.08 ERA) in that role.
The Commodores’ offense backed him up in a big way Saturday.
After leaving two runners stranded in scoring position in the first inning, Vanderbilt scored the game’s first run in the top of the second. Wiseman led off with a double to right-center, and Norwood followed with a double to left to bring in Wiseman. It was Norwood’s 21st RBI of the season, and his fourth hit of the tournament in six at-bats.
After using the booming back-to-back doubles to score their first run against the Ducks, the Commodores started killing them softly in the fifth inning. Using an infield single, two Oregon errors and a wild pitch, the Commodores put together a five-run rally to build a 6-0 lead and chase Oregon starter Jeff Gold (10-3). Wisemen capped the Commodore surge with a two-run double.
Four of the five runs the Commodores scored during the pivotal fifth inning were unearned.
Steven Packard drove in both runs for Oregon. Gold took the loss, surrendering six runs — only two earned — on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.