Stephen Scott Powers Vanderbilt To CWS Win
OMAHA — On Wednesday, Vanderbilt left fielder Stephen Scott did a pretty good Austin Martin impression.
You may remember Vanderbilt's 3-1 win again Louisville on Sunday, when Martin, the Commodores' third baseman, hit two home runs, accounting for all three of his team’s runs.
In the 6-3 win against Mississippi State on Wednesday, Scott gave Vanderbilt all of the offense it needed.
In his first at-bat in the second inning, Scott deposited a Peyton Plumlee fastball into the right field bullpen, just past the leap of Elijah MacNamee to give the Commodores a 1-0 lead.
Three innings later, Scott homered in almost the exact same place, except this time, it was a no-doubt three-run blast, punctuated by a bat flip. This one came off reliever Riley Self, and gave Vanderbilt a more comfortable, 6-0 edge.
“The second one, runners on first and third, I was just looking to get a barrel on the ball and hope for the best,” Scott said.
Suffice it to say that it was quite the contrast from the last time we saw Scott in the batter’s box.
Against Louisville, he never looked comfortable. He struck out swinging in his first at-bat and then popped out to infielders the next three times he came up. His 0-for-4 game, combined with hitless games from Ethan Paul and Philip Clarke, had a lot to do with Martin having to do all the heavy lifting on Monday.
The two-homer, four-RBI performance gives Scott 14 home runs and 59 RBIs on the season, and he is hitting .335/.452/.603 overall.
On most teams in college baseball, and for that matter, many teams competing in this year’s College World Series, that would be enough to make him the biggest threat in the lineup. And his production is nothing new. Scott hit 15 home runs a year ago and now has 31 for his career.
With the presence of JJ Bleday, who has 26 home runs this season, and Martin, whose batting average is north of .400 and has been all season, however, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s been something of an overlooked man.
But at the same time, it’s clear that he’s a better hitter overall this year in his senior season. His average is up more than 65 points after hitting .268 a year ago, and while his home run total is about what it was last season, his doubles are way up, from 11 to 20.
After Sunday’s win, coach Tim Corbin chalked up Martin’s power surge to his ability to specifically avoid trying to hit for power, or “recruiting” power, as Corbin puts it, even going so far as to compare it to what Bleday accomplished to unlock his power.
On Wednesday, he suggested that it’s not too dissimilar from what he’s seen from Scott.
“Zone control,” Corbin said of Scott’s biggest improvement. “I just think the ability when they get older is not to overswing and recruit power. I think he’s tempered that. I think he’s more compact, and before he enters the zone with his bat. He’s a strong kid, but he’s shown the ability to hit to both sides of the field. He’s just been consistent throughout the year. This is the most consistent he’s been.”
On the mound, righthander Kumar Rocker went out and provided a fitting follow-up to his no-hitter against Duke in the super regional.
He threw six innings, giving up five hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts, and did so in fairly efficient fashion, as he poured in 63 strikes among his 95 pitches.
Mississippi State, with a quality offense in its own right, was able to put together competitive at-bats, but Rocker was still able to use that devastating breaking ball as a putaway pitch.
The offering, which has often been called a slider, but Rocker himself calls a curveball, accounted for most of his strikeouts, with the notable exception of a strikeout of Josh Hatcher to end the second inning that came on a 96 mph fastball.
Consider Jake Mangum, the SEC’s all-time hits leader, bullish on Rocker and his future.
“He pitched really, really well,” Mangum said. “He’s a freshman. That speaks volumes of his last two starts. The future is really bright for him. He’s a really talented kid, and he’s going to have a great career at Vanderbilt.”
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Even after Vanderbilt went up 6-0 halfway through, there was a feeling that Mississippi State would find a way to get back into the game. That turned out to be the case, and by the time Bulldogs first baseman Tanner Allen doubled home Mangum with two outs in the seventh, it was a 6-3 game.
Enter Tyler Brown. The Commodores’ bullpen ace cleaned up that jam by striking out Dustin Skelton looking, worked around a Landon Jordan pinch-hit single in the eighth with the help of a double play, and threw an unblemished ninth with Mississippi State’s top three hitters at the plate.
Longer outings, such as his 2.1 innings in this game, are fairly commonplace for Brown, who has been a workhorse all season, and there was little doubt that when he entered, he was going to finish.
For Brown, it’s a little bit of redemption after the way last season ended. In a loss in Game 3 of the Nashville Super Regional last year that ended Vanderbilt’s season and sent Mississippi State to Omaha, Brown surrendered four runs to the Bulldogs in the 11th inning. So yeah, you could say that he feels pretty good about what he did Wednesday.
“I wanted to really bad because of last year,” Brown said of his desire to finish the game. “We all know what happened. I feel like I needed to do it for my team, and I was excited just to do it for my brothers that were behind me.”
Vanderbilt’s two wins are a perfect encapsulation of why its offense is so dangerous. In its first game, Martin put the team on his back and lifted it to victory when not much else was working offensively. On Wednesday, it was a similar story, but in Scott, it was a different hero.
Without what would be considered a complete offensive performance, the Commodores are 2-0, and with only three wins to go for the program’s second national title, it seems a safe bet that it’s only a matter of time before that lineup puts a complete game together.