No. 17 VANDERBILT 8, ILLINOIS STATE 7 (13 Innings)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Vanderbilt was looking for anybody to break through with a hit against Illinois State reliever Kenny Long and found their man in little used Jack Armstrong. Armstrong, a pitcher with three previous plate appearances during the season, roped a base hit to right off Long in the bottom of the 13th inning to score Andrew Giobbi and lead the No. 17 Commodores to a 8-7 walk-off win over Illinois State in the first game of the NCAA Louisville Regional at Patterson Stadium Friday.
Long matched a career-high with 6.1 innings of relief while limiting the No. 2-seeded Commodores to three hits over six innings before running into trouble in the 13th. Long's seven strikeouts are the most ever by a Redbird in an NCAA Tournament game, but the sophomore pitcher was tagged with the loss when Armstrong broke the tie in the game's final at-bat.
The Redbirds, seeded third in the Regional, had their chances after Matt Mirabal tied the ballgame at 7-7 with a solo shot in the top of the seventh inning to extend his hitting streak to a team-best 14 games. Illinois State had eight base runners in the final six innings, including runners in scoring position with just one out in the top of the 12th and 13th innings. Vanderbilt turned two double plays to end both of Illinois State's final pushes.
Brett Kay, Mirabal and Jake Thornton each had multiple hits for Illinois State. Mirabal added two runs scored and caught all 13 innings. Ryan Court was 1-for-4 officially with one run batted in, but also contributed defensively with three diving efforts to save base hits and was instrumental in turning one of Illinois State's two double plays.
The game had the feel of two distinct contests, the one in which the Redbirds jumped out early only to lose the lead, and then a second one that both bullpens dominated.
In the first act, Illinois State scored three runs after sending eight to the plate in the top of the first inning against Vanderbilt starter Taylor Hill. Illinois State's first three batters reached safely, then after a pop out, Court's deep shot to centerfield was mishandled and all three runners scored.
Redbird starter Corey Maines worked out of a two-out, bases loaded jam to hold Vanderbilt scoreless in the bottom of the first, then worked around a double in a scoreless second before five walks in the first three innings caught up with him. Maines walked three in the third, including two with two outs and one with the bases loaded as the Commodores pushed across two and cut the lead to a single run.
Illinois State answered immediately with three runs in the top of the fourth as Evan Kohli, Zach Amrein and Kay each wrapped hits around a sacrifice fly by Chad Hinshaw. Kay's ground rule double to right scored Amrein and chased Hill. Thornton knocked his second hit of the game to drive in Kay and completed the scoring in the top of the fourth.
The back-and-forth action continued into the fourth with Vanderbilt plating another two runs and chasing Maines from the game. Illinois State held a 6-4 lead through five innings but a two-run home run by Aaron Westlake tied the contest and a solo shot by Joe Loftus gave Vanderbilt its first lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Mirabal's third home run of the season with one out in the top of the seventh marked a shift into the game's second act. Long was devastating to Vanderbilt's hitters, particularly Westlake, who reached in his first four plate appearances and scored three runs. The left-handed pitcher struck out the left-handed slugger twice and retired him a third time on a fly out in the 12th.
On the other side, Vanderbilt's relievers were equally impressive as Chase Reid, Richie Goodenow and Drew Hayes combined for 5.1 scoreless innings of relief after a solid relief effort from first reliever Grayson Garvin. Reid struck out five Redbirds in three innings and Hayes earned the win after wriggling out of the two difficult late situations and Armstrong's game-winning hit.
Brian Harris and Giobbi each led Vandy with three hits while Anthony Gomez and Jason Esposito added two hits. Westlake and Loftus had two RBI.
Top-seeded Louisville matched-up with No. 4 St. Louis in the nightcap. The Redbirds will meet the loser of that contest at 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday morning. Illinois State's game can be heard live on the air at WJBC-AM 1230, with live stats at GoRedbirds.com and a free live video stream at www.UofLSports.com.