Monday, June 1, 2009

Christiani comes through in the clutch

by Barca Blog - Nick Christiani had a tough act to follow against Louisville Sunday night.

Vanderbilt was coming off two straight shutout performances by Caleb Cotham and Sonny Gray in NCAA Regional elimination games, and it was up to senior right-hander to help keep the Commodores' season alive.

"We've had great starting pitching and you just want to keep it going," Chrisitani said following VU's 8-4 victory. "You want to be the guy for your team and step up and give them a big win when it counts the most."

Playing in front of a hostile, standing-room only crowd of 4,006 fans in Patterson Stadium, the Linden, N.J., native didn't disappoint. Christiani limited the Cardinals to three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts in six innings to push the Commodores into the regional championship against Louisville Monday night.

Surprisingly enough, Christiani admitted after the game that he "probably felt as out of sync as he had felt all year" in the first two innings. He avoided some major trouble in the bottom of the first when All-American slugger Chris Dominguez just missed a three-run homer that was caught by Joe Loftus at the top of the wall. Pitching coach Derek Johnson then made a trip to the mound to help the four-year veteran settle down.

"I just tried to get in a rhythm after that (meeting)," said Christiani, who picked up his 20th career win, tying him for 10th on Vanderbilt’s all-time list with Mike McLochlin (1988-1990). "I just felt a little slow, a little sluggish, and just picked up the pace and tried to pump the zone with all my pitches and let my defense play."

Christiani was locked in after that. Jeff Arnold singled to lead off the second, but Christiani would respond by retiring 10 consecutive Cardinal hitters before Drew Haynes singled in the fifth. He also pitched out of a bases-loaded no-out jam in the sixth inning, surrendering only two runs.

Christiani's taken the hill in the NCAA tournament before but with different results. In two previous regional starts (2008 vs. Oklahoma, 2007 vs. Michigan), he gave up a combined 10 runs in nine innings of work -- both no decisions. He was also the hard-luck loser after a decent outing with little run support in the SEC Championship loss to LSU last Sunday.

Good things come to those who wait... and no one is more deserving than Christiani.

"I’m really proud of (Nick)," head coach Tim Corbin said. "I just really wanted something good to happen to him. He’s the right guy at the right time. He pitched well and kept us in the ballgame. I thought he only got better after the second inning. He did a nice job of stopping a tough team in a tough environment."

(by the way, check out just how close Dominguez was to a homer in this photo by Jimmy Jones.. click the image to make it larger)

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