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Austin Martin Powers Vanderbilt To College World Series Win

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Vanderbilt's Austin Martin (Photo by John Byrum/Getty Images)

OMAHA — Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin has enjoyed a dreamlike sophomore campaign.

Coming into the College World Series, the Commodores’ third baseman was hitting .410/.503/.610, with an even better .424/.500/.610 line against SEC competition. His 18 stolen bases make him a disruptor once he reaches base, and with 38 walks compared to 31 strikeouts, he has proved himself as a competitor in the box.

With 19 doubles and eight homers coming into the CWS, he has also flashed a little bit of power. But on Sunday, in hitting two home runs as part of a 3-1 win against Louisville, he flashed a lot of power and wasted no time in doing so.

On the first pitch out of the hand of Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers, a fastball that just about cut the plate in half at belt height, Martin connected for a missile of a home run well into the left field bleachers.

It was a tone-setting home run for a guy who has made a habit of setting the tone for the prolific Vanderbilt offense.

“That gets everybody going and you know everybody in the lineup can do some damage, and for Austin to lead off with the first pitch for a home run is huge and gives everybody that confidence that they need,” righthander Drake Fellows said.

The Commodores had some chances to add on early. They left two men on base in the first inning, had a runner erased and one left on in the second and left two more on base in the third. Detmers ended up walking a career-high six batters in his 5.2 innings, but for the most part, Vanderbilt was never really able to make him pay.

And when Louisville pushed a tying run across in the top of the fifth on a Henry Davis RBI single, suddenly, Vanderbilt needed a spark.

Martin gave them that, too.

After first baseman Julian Infante doubled with one out in the seventh inning, Martin went down and got a Bryan Hoeing changeup, lifting it deep into left, where it banged off the railing just above the yellow line on the wall for a two-run homer.

By the time closer Tyler Brown finished off the win, Martin’s homers accounted for two of his team’s five hits on the game and all of its runs. Simply put, he was a one-man wrecking crew.

“(Martin) is probably one of the best we’ve faced all year,” Detmers said. “As you can tell, he can basically hit anything anywhere he wants it.”

Vanderbilt didn’t need any more offense than that because Fellows was on his game in a big way. He threw seven innings, giving up seven hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts on just 98 pitches.

After a routine first couple of innings, Louisville began to put together better at-bats against Fellows, leading to the Cardinals pushing their run across in the fifth. But even then, with the bases loaded and one out later in the frame, Fellows buckled down and got a pop out and a groundout from veteran Tyler Fitzgerald and freshman Alex Binelas, respectively, to limit the damage to a single run, setting the stage for Martin’s heroics.

“That’s just good pitches,” Corbin said. “That’s a very difficult group of hitters that he was facing. Fitzgerald is a very good player and a very good hitter, and Binelas, he’s not a freshman. He doesn’t look like a freshman, he isn’t a freshman. But I think just the placement of the fastball—he got in on Fitzgerald and that was a big pop-up, and then it was just the location. The location of the pitch was the key for him, and he was able to do it in a very tough situation.”

Martin’s power surge isn’t a one-game phenomenon, however. With two home runs against Duke in the third game of the super regional, Martin has four homers in his last two games, which also happen to be the two biggest games of his career in Nashville.

It might seem like a surprise that a player who had seven career homers prior to the explosion against the Blue Devils found his home run stroke at this time of year, but for Corbin, it’s not a surprise at all, and in fact, he compares it to the jump in power made by outfielder JJ Bleday.

“It doesn’t really come as a surprise because I think he can get to the middle of the ball consistently, just like JJ,” Corbin said. “But JJ, in time, learned how to get to the ball and not have to recruit power, and because he didn’t recruit power, then power came to him. And I think (Martin) is learning that.”

That thinking was echoed by Martin himself, who downplayed his power surge.

“I don’t try to think about it too much,” Martin said. “I try to separate every at-bat into a different AB. At the end of the day, you just don’t try to do too much when you’re at the plate. The results will happen.”

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Perhaps, however, unlocking his power is just a sign of things to come for Martin, who continues to improve in just about every way.

As a freshman last season, he was a solid player, hitting .338/.452/.414. But all of those numbers are up across the board now, and on top of that, his walks are up from 35 to 38 and his strikeouts are way down, from 46 a year ago to 31 in 2019.

It’s not uncommon for a college player’s biggest jump to come from their freshman to sophomore seasons, but usually, the assumption is that the development is mostly physical.

As far as Corbin is concerned, Martin has made this kind of jump thanks to his development mentally and academically.

“Doing better academically, centering,” Corbin said. “I mean that. Brain, development of the brain. It’s the one reason kids come to college. I think once you start to understand routine, you start to understand mental organization, then you start to understand what success is, and it’s just doing a lot of small things right on a daily basis, and he’s done that.”

And maybe the power is the next thing to come along. Already, going from one homer to 10 this season is a big jump. His doubles have also gone from 14 to 19, and after not recording any triples last year, he has four this year.

Martin has already established himself as a premium pick in next year’s draft and could have a chance to be picked higher than Bleday, who just went fourth overall to the Marlins.

It’s probably too much to hope for a Bleday-like jump in power production from one year to the next, like we saw when Bleday went from four homers in an injury-shortened 2018 season to 26 and counting this year, but given what we’ve seen from Martin over two years, it wouldn’t be a shocking development to see more of what we’ve seen in his two most recent games.

Martin came into the 2018 season as a key piece of a vaunted recruiting class that also featured key contributors like catcher Philip Clarke and center fielder Pat DeMarco.

Nearly a full two seasons later, Martin has clearly emerged as the breakout star of the bunch, and he played like it on Monday on the way to moving the Commodores one win closer to a national title.

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