NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The way Bryan Reynolds and his fellow freshmen are playing is a major reason why Vanderbilt is headed back to the College World Series for the first time since 2011.
Reynolds said he got lucky when he made a diving catch against Stanford that made national highlight shows and had Tampa Bay pitcher David Price tweeting about defense.
But the Commodores' return to the CWS is more than mere chance.
Reynolds is Vanderbilt's top slugger in this NCAA tournament, and Hayden Stone has a 0.00 ERA working with catcher Jason Delay — both freshmen. Another freshman, Ro Coleman, drove in the winning run in the regional with a pinch-hit, walk-off single.
Junior pitcher Tyler Beede said Tuesday that they've been watching Reynolds, Delay, Stone and the other freshmen playing like this all season.
"So it's nothing that's kind of too surprising to us, but obviously on a bigger stage for freshmen to play like that is certainly great to see," Beede said. "Those guys probably feel like sophomores now."
Reynolds from Brentwood, Tennessee, has been helping lead the Commodores at the plate and in the field. A .343 batter for the whole season, he has upped his production in the NCAA tournament. Now he has a .520 batting average, a .640 slugging percentage and a team-best eight RBI. He went 8-for-12 at the plate in the three-game series against Stanford.
In the field, he has 10 putouts, and his diving catch to rob Stanford's Brant Whiting in the seventh inning was his best highlight. Reynolds said he thought he was going to scoop the ball off a bounce and got lucky when it stayed in the air. He can't recall ever making a play like that in his career.
"That was a cool experience to do that for Stone because he was pitching a heck of a game," Reynolds said.
The right-hander, a fellow Tennessean from Columbia, got the clinching win in his first postseason appearance. All he did was strike out eight in six innings coming out of the bullpen, giving him a team-best 0.00 ERA.
"If you looked at all three of those kids, they handle themselves the same way," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "Very appropriate. They're mature, they're quiet, they go about business well. There's some evenness to their personality, and they certainly are productive."
Other freshmen have played roles as well. Centerfielder Nolan Rogers has started 39 of his 54 games played. Left-handers John Kilichowski and Ben Bowden have joined Stone coming out of the bullpen, though they have yet to appear in a game this postseason.
Corbin said he can't say that he expected his freshmen to have this much success at the beginning of the season because gauging what freshmen will do is tough until they start playing other teams.
Reynolds says he really doesn't feel like a freshman now, especially after all the work last fall with the team. But he came into this season just wanting to help out anyway possible.
Now he's preparing for Omaha and Saturday night's opener against Louisville.
"It's going to be a blast," Reynolds said.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker