Tuesday night's baseball game doubled as a benefit for Nashville flood relief, and boy, did the two teams put on a show. In a rematch of last year's NCAA Regional Final, the Commodores got a measure of revenge as Jason Esposito's walk-off home run gave Vanderbilt the win after 17 grueling innings, 11-10. The Commodores faced defeat twice in the five and a half hour marathon, trailing by two runs headed into the bottom of both the ninth and 14th innings. Both times, however, the 'Dores rallied to knot the ballgame until Espo's bomb sent Louisville home at 11:40 P.M.
After the Cardinals jumped on Chase Reid to take a 5-0 lead, Vanderbilt came back with a six-run third inning thanks to a Brian Harris home run and run scoring doubles from Curt Casali and Andrew Giobbi. Joe Loftus added a RBI single to round out the scoring in the inning. After a Louisville run knotted the game at 6-6, both teams hunkered down in the ninth inning with high quality relievers - VU's Russell Brewer and UL's Gabriel Shaw - to put an end to the scoring. However, neither pitcher could shut down the opposing bats, as Brewer allowed an inherited runner to score as well as one of his own, and Shaw failed to close out the Commodores by allowing two runs thanks to an error by shortstop Adam Duvall.
The extra innings turned into a pitchers' duel, as Brewer and Will Clinard faced off against Louisville's Tony Zych and Andy Flett. Once again the Cardinals took a two-run lead and threatened to end the game in the 14th inning, but the 'Dores evened the game on a Casali RBI double and a Mike Yastrzemski sacrifice fly. As the crowd thinned out and the game wore on, Esposito mercifully ended the game with a towering drive to Memorial Gym in the bottom of the 17th inning.
Seven different pitchers took the mound for Vanderbilt, with Will Clinard having the most success. Clinard looked as though he was struggling with his control in the 14th inning, but came back strong over the final three frames - allowing just one hit - to pick up the win. At the plate, the middle of the lineup drove the 'Dores once again, with Westlake/Giobbi/Esposito/Casali lineup accounting for six runs and six RBI.
Unfortunately, the game was not without some controversy, as Louisville's head coach Dan McDonnell, apparently disrespected by the Commodores' celebration of the win, pulled his players from the post-game handshake line. The celebration was nothing out of the ordinary - the team piled out of the dugout to meet Espo at home plate, similar to what they did after Aaron Westlake's walk-off homer against Auburn in April or how the Boston Red Sox would meet David Ortiz after a walk-off home run (back when he still hit those). At no point did the team go out of their way to disrespect the Cardinals - but McDonnell still felt slighted. Most of the celebration is captured in the video above.
The post-game conflict did little to mar the overall success of the night, which had repercussions across Nashville. On one hand, the game highlighted Vandy's grit and ability to win in a playoff-like situation. However, Tuesday's game also served as a benefit for Nashville flood relief and saw a weekday record crowd of over 3,200 fans in attendance. These fans helped raise over $20,000 in donations to help rebuild Nashville and its citizens. And while only a fraction of those fans stuck around long enough to see Esposito's assault on Memorial gym, it would be tough to consider last night's game anything but a total victory.
*Video credit to VUCommodores.com and BarcaBlog.