By Trey Williams
Reed Hayes’ all-around athletic ability generated many smiles in the stands when he was a three-sport standout at Science Hill.
He’d scramble around and throw a football 70-plus yards at quarterback and make difficult catches look easy at receiver. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter of a basketball game after arriving late due to playing in an all-star football game the same day. And he’d make long running catches and strong throws from the outfield that at least evoked images of a right-handed Daniel Norris.
Hayes’ versatility played a significant role in Vanderbilt advancing to an SEC-best 12th straight NCAA regional baseball tournament, which it won by defeating top-seeded Clemson for the second time in three meetings at Clemson on Monday night.
Hayes is the Commodores’ closer and bats fifth in the order as a designated hitter.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior arrived in Nashville last year as a rare junior-college signee (Walters State) who’d already been drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 28th round of the 2015 draft. Pitching and batting are a rare combination at the college level, but Hayes wasn’t ruling anything out.
“I didn’t really know exactly what to expect,” Hayes said. “But I knew I was just gonna work every day and try to earn a spot doing both.”
The ‘Dores are reaping the rewards of that effort. He went 2-for-5 with two doubles and two runs when Vanderbilt defeated Clemson 9-4 in the winners’ bracket final on Saturday, and appeared on the mound in both games against the Tigers during the championship round Sunday and Monday nights. Hayes struck out three and walked one in two scoreless innings.
“I feel like we all expected to come in here and win,” said Hayes, who was nonetheless ecstatic about the title.
He’d been nearly as excited after delivering a pair of doubles and scoring twice in Saturday’s win against the Tigers, who had a large crowd cheering them on.
“It was hard to fall asleep,” Hayes said. “I had a lot of energy still flowing.”
Hayes is hitting .281 and he’s struck out 25 in 20 1/3 innings this season. The right-hander has thrown as hard as 98 mph.
“I probably topped out at Science Hill at 87 or 88 (mph), max,” he said. “Both my slider and my changeup have developed a lot since stepping on campus at Vanderbilt and just learning more about pitching.”
Prior to the postseason victories, Hayes’ favorite moment came while getting the save in a 1-0 win against Tennessee.
“Probably the moment that kind of blew me away the most was when I closed the game out against UT,” he said. “The reason I didn’t go there was because they pulled my scholarship at the last second (in 2013). They had a scholarship offer for me set up and I was about to sign with them and they said they didn’t have it anymore. So I decided to go to Walters State.
“This (regional championship) win topped that moment for sure – as a team and for myself. But that moment against Tennessee was a personal thing, I guess you could say.”
Highlights haven’t been scarce. He recorded his sixth save of the season at South Carolina on April 6 and delivered a game-tying, two-out, pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning of a 13-inning win against the Gamecocks the following day.
He drove in four runs and doubled and tripled in a win against Texas A&M and walked and scored in a win against Kentucky. The Wildcats and Aggies are among the six SEC teams that advanced to the super regional (Sweet 16).
Vanderbilt is expected to have two of the top 10 overall picks in the upcoming MLB draft in outfielder Jeren Kendall and right-handed pitcher Kyle Wright. Another talented ‘Dore, Will Toffey, homered twice in Monday’s championship win.
“Jeren is definitely one of the most talented players I’ve played baseball with, just because he has the ability to run so well and he’s got a good arm,” Hayes said. “And then also his power at the plate. And also Will Toffey at third – he’s really good defensively and then he’s been swinging a really hot bat lately and he can run pretty good, too. Will Toffey and Jeren are two of the most talented players I’ve played with.
“And then also Kyle Wright, obviously. I faced him … two times, actually (in the fall). He walked me and he struck me out. He’s got a really quick fastball and then he’s got a good breaking ball to go along with it. I would say he’s as good as anybody I’ve faced so far.”
Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin quickly sized up Hayes’ contributions to his team. “Where he may impact us the most is on the mound,” Corbin said. “He is highly competitive and fearless when he steps on the rubber. His arm strength and his knack for throwing the ball where he wants to are in place. I really like the competitive fibers of the young man.”
Corbin, who always appears classy and compassionate while ending opponents’ seasons, has a fan in Hayes.
“Coach Corbin, I’d say he’s the best of the best when it comes to college baseball coaching and just being a positive influence on everybody he’s around in his life,” Hayes said. “Classy – that’s a good word to describe him. He never takes a moment for granted. He’s always ready to help anybody he can. I like him on the baseball field, and off the baseball field just as much.”
Corbin and his staff have inspired Hayes to get stronger. He looks as much like a linebacker as a quarterback these days.
“I’ve gotten stronger since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve been lifting about three times a week ever since I got to Vanderbilt.”
The Commodores (36-23-1) will try to advance to the College World Series when they visit top-ranked Oregon State (52-4) this weekend in the best-two-of-three super regional.
“I’ve been watching it (College World Series) my whole life,” Hayes said. “We don’t see this (regional win) as the final stop or the final destination for this year.
We’ve got a goal of winning a national championship, for sure.”