06/23/11 12:31 AM ET
Nats pick Hill delivers CWS win for Vandy
By Robert Falkoff / Special to MLB.com
The Vanderbilt senior right-hander, taken by the Nationals in the sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, rose to the occasion Wednesday night while leading Vanderbilt to a 5-1 victory over North Carolina in an elimination game at the College World Series.
It was win or go home, and Hill showed he wasn't ready to pack his bags. Over seven innings, he limited the Tar Heels to four hits and one run. Hill got some early offensive support as the Commodores burst to a 5-0 lead after three innings, highlighted by Connor Harrell's three-run homer. Then it was up to the right-hander to go as hard as he could for as long as he could.
Hill threw 125 pitches before Vandy coach Tim Corbin called on left-hander Corey Williams, a Twins' third-round pick, to finish it off in the final two innings.
"That's what we train for," Hill said. "Our pitching coach [Derek Johnson] always talks about preparing for the end. Well, today could have been the end. But it's not. We've got another game against a great Florida team on Friday."
Ironically, the key at-bat of the game for Hill came in the fifth against North Carolina cleanup hitter Jacob Stallings, the son of Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings. Hill had labored through the inning, which featured a 13-pitch at-bat by Chaz Frank. North Carolina had scored one and had the bases loaded with two outs when Stallings came to the plate.
After Stallings narrowly missed an extra-base hit with a wicked grounder just outside the bag at third, Hill reached back for his best fastball to the outer half of the plate and Stallings -- who had previously doubled twice -- swung through it for a strikeout.
"When I got the sign for an outside fastball, I just said to myself, 'I'm going to throw it there and if he hits it, he hits it.' I was just fortunate that he didn't," Hill said.
With Vanderbilt's victory, the East Division of the Southeastern Conference is assured of having three teams among the final four. Florida and South Carolina have yet to lose in Omaha. It marks the first time in CWS history three clubs in the final four have come from one conference.
Corbin admitted he had thoughts about going to the bullpen in the fifth, but decided to stay with Hill, who had pitched the Commodores into the Super Regionals with a 13-strikeout performance against Belmont on June 5.
"When he got to [Stallings], we felt it it was his ballgame and he was going to find a way to get himself out of it," Corbin said. "He deserved that. He has pitched so well to get us to this point. Once he flowed through the sixth, we gave him the seventh as well."
Harrell's three-run homer to left off Greg Holt in the second was aided by a strong wind blowing out. Harrell also had a clutch homer to help defeat North Carolina in the opening game of the CWS on Saturday.
"I just tried to get my hands extended and get the ball into the jet stream," Harrell said. "The wind was a factor tonight. It's a credit to Taylor for getting so many ground balls."
Catcher Curt Casali also homered for the Commodores (54-11), who will now focus on avenging an earlier CWS loss to Florida. North Carolina finished its season 51-16 after hitting just .179 with runners in scoring position during three CWS games.
"We just got beat by a better club tonight," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "It's as simple as that. Vanderbilt has a terrific team. I thought Hill pitched really well. It was a good night to have a sinkerball pitcher out there, with the wind blowing out."
The Commodores are in a position of having to beat Florida twice to reach the best-of-three championship finals. That's a daunting task, considering Vandy is 1-4 overall against the Gators this year, including a loss in the SEC championship game.
But the Commodores are hopeful they've saved their best for last.
"Florida is one of those teams that you can't give freebies," Casali said. "It's a tough challenge for us, but we feel like we match up against them really well. It hasn't fallen our way yet, but we're looking to change that. We feel we can compete with them. We're going to come in confident, I guarantee you that."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.