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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Jones: 'Dores come full circle

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The game will always come back to you."

I have heard those words repeated on numerous occasions by a wide variety of people associated with the Vanderbilt baseball program. Bedford County native son Jonathan White has written them in his journal entries for the Times-Gazette and any number of his teammates has been quoted in interviews utilizing the phrase throughout the course of the season.

Ryan Flaherty and the Commodores rallied from an opening game loss to the SEC title.
(T-G File Photo by Danny Parker)
It is a credo espoused by head coach Tim Corbin and it has manifested itself in the way his players approach and play the game. Never was that more true than in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., this past weekend where the Commodores (51-11) made an improbable run to the championship by winning five straight games after losing in the first round to Tennessee.

The win was the first time since 1996 that the No. 1 seed has won the SEC tournament and completed team mission No. 2 for the Black and Gold after finishing as runner-up in two of the past three seasons.

There were numerous instances in the tournament where the game came back to the team as well as to individual players as they got up off the mat time after time to be the ones to deliver the knockout blow themselves.

It came back to Jason Cunningham, a pitcher whose spot on the Vandy roster was so tenuous that he was made the team manager in 2006 and then found himself called upon to pitch against Ole Miss with his team facing elimination in 2007.

Cunningham responded with 4 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and no runs to keep the 'Dores in a game that will go down as one of the greatest in the annals of the SEC tournament. His appearance is a perfect illustration of why Corbin's players love to play for him.

He handed Cunningham the ball in a crucial situation despite having only pitched 2 2/3 innings for the season and was roughed up by Tennessee Tech in that outing on April 25.

Corbin had plenty of arms available to him; he has the deepest staff in the nation, but he knew that the Rebels were struggling against southpaws. He put his faith in a guy that has exemplified hard work and perseverance to get the most out of his abilities. It was a reward that Cunningham will never forget.

Cunningham's appreciative teammates waited for him after the game and made a human bridge for him to walk under on his way into the bus. Corbin was one of the first to greet him.

It came back to Ty Davis, who was suspended for the Wednesday game for a violation of unspecified team rules. He paid the price and then was handed the ball to start the second game against the Rebels on Saturday.

Brett Jacobson took the hill in the opener against the Vols after not starting but one game in a month and had not won a decision since March 28. He was a surprise starter after Corbin elected to not start David Price in the opener one day short of his normal rest between games.

The decision gave fodder for all the pundits and talking heads, but it was the right call for a number of reasons, chief among them the health of the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming major league draft.

Price had thrown 131 pitches in 8 2/3 innings five days earlier to lead Vandy to mission No. 1.

For anyone that has not been paying attention, Corbin is a man that pays attention to even the minutest details. Six days rest means six days rest. No more, no less. His decision to stick to his guns shouldn't have been any great surprise.

Tyler Rhoden started the championship game and picked up the win in his first start of the year.

And last but certainly not least, the game came back in a big way to catcher Shea Robin who experienced the ultimate nightmare followed by every kid's most dreamed-of moment in less than two innings of play on Saturday night.

With Vandy trailing Ole Miss by a 3-2 margin in the ninth inning Robin led off with a double and eventually would score the tying run on a sacrifice fly to take the game into extra frames.

His fortunes very quickly reversed themselves when the Rebels loaded the bases and then botched a suicide squeeze play leaving baserunner Cody Overbeck hung out to dry between third and home.

Robin neglected to chase the runner back and instead tossed the throw over third baseman Pedro Alvarez's head into left field, allowing two runs to score and led to a third a few minutes later.

He got his chance for retribution in the bottom of the tenth and delivered a one-out walk-off single to score two to win the game after a Dominic de la Osa home run pulled his team to within a pair. He was named to the all-tournament team after the game.

Guess what phrase he repeated several times in post game interviews?

Jimmy Jones
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