The Commodores had yet to lose a weekend series - until Saturday. Vanderbilt's most grueling stretch of the season so far culminated with their first SEC series, as the 'Dores took on five games in a six day stretch against two solid clubs in Western Kentucky and Alabama. After splitting a pair of games in a home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers, Vanderbilt quickly found themselves winless in the SEC going into Sunday's finale against Alabama. The team put up their most resilient outing of the season to come back from a three run deficit and avoid the sweep with a 5-4 win.
Sunday's game was the only close battle of the weekend, as every other game was decided by three runs or more - including a pair of blowouts in the mid-week tuneups with Western Kentucky. The Commodores went through a minor power outage at the plate in their first Southeastern Conference outings, scoring just eight runs over three games despite having Curt Casali back in the lineup as designated hitter. Errors gave the team fits, as miscues led to five unearned runs over two games in the series and may have been a difference maker in the 4-1 opening game loss.
The 2-3 record for the week dropped the Commodores to #20 in the USA Today poll and #24 in Baseball America's rankings. Vanderbilt will get two days off before another five game stretch starting with home games against Lipscomb and Wright State before #24 Kentucky heads to Nashville in a pivotal SEC showdown. The series will have a major impact on both national rankings and conference standings, as the two teams will be vying for a shot to stand alongside #9 Florida as the kings of the SEC East.
Game 0 - Western Kentucky 17, Vanderbilt 2: Well, the less said about this one, the better. The Commodores suffered their worst home loss in recent memory as they spotted Western Kentucky a 13-0 lead before finally getting on the board in the eighth inning. Three Vanderbilt errors attributed to eight unearned runs in a game so awful the official Vanderbilt box score refused to acknowledge the game's play-by-play. WKU starter Brian Edelen held the 'Dores to just three hits in six innings to get the win.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 17, Western Kentucky 6: Vandy extracted revenge on the Hilltoppers in Bowling Green, exploding for 17 runs - including nine in the first inning. The Commodores jumped all over Taylor Haydel, scoring 10 runs before the starter could even record an out in the second inning. Jason Esposito had a home run and three RBI, while Aaron Westlake had four RBI of his own. Currently, the duo are locked in a battle for the team lead, tied at 20 apiece.
Game 2 - Alabama 4, Vanderbilt 1: Sonny Gray only gave up one earned run, but was out-dueled by 'Bama's Adam Morgan, who shut down the Commodore offense on Friday. Gray had issues with his control - including four walks and two wild pitches - and gave Alabama all the breathing room they needed to squeak out a win. Anthony Gomez, whose fourth-inning error helped put the Crimson Tide in the lead, helped make up for his mistake with an RBI single in the seventh, but it wasn't enough for the 'Dores.
Additional game recaps, along with AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards, coming up after the jump...
Game 3 - Alabama 8, Vanderbilt 2: The normally consistent duo of Taylor Hill and Drew Hayes couldn't keep it together, giving up seven runs in six innings and digging a hole that the stagnant Commodore offense couldn't overcome. Vanderbilt looked like they'd be able to make a game out of this one early, pulling to within 3-2 after the top of the fourth inning, but Alabama responded with runs in the bottoms of the fourth, sixth, and seventh to keep the 'Dores at bay. Connor Harrell had the team's only RBI.
Game 4 - Vanderbilt 5, Alabama 4: The Commodores put up their biggest comeback win of the season, erasing a 4-1 deficit to avoid losing their eighth straight game to the Crimson Tide. Vanderbilt trailed after four innings, but rallied to salvage the weekend, and likely their national ranking, with the win. Jack Armstrong had another successful but unremarkable outing, throwing 6.1 strong innings and allowing nine baserunners. Drew Fann's RBI groundout in the seventh inning proved to be the game winner, as Russell Brewer threw 2.2 strong innings to lock down the save and cement his role as one of the SEC's best closers.
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Russell Brewer. It was a rough week for the Vandy hurlers, and despite solid outings from Jack Armstrong and Sonny Gray, Brewer gets the award despite only 3.2 innings of work. Brewer faced just 13 batters while recording 11 outs, making quick work of Western Kentucky and Alabama batters. He finished Armstrong's efforts against the Crimson Tide with a 2.2 inning save, entering the game with the tying run on base and shutting down 'Bama with crisp pitching and effective control.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Anthony Gomez. Gomez's power numbers for the week aren't particularly eye-catching, but his consistency is. In a week where many of Vandy's best hitters struggled, Gomez came through with a hit in each game, including four multi-hit games (in the fifth game, he went 1-1 after not starting). His final line for the week: 11-17 at the plate (.647 avg, raising his season average to .622), four RBI, two runs, a double, a stolen base, and no strikeouts. That kind of production would be a big-time boost if the freshman nicknamed "Go go" can keep up his high level of performance. Gomez doesn't provide much power at the plate, but excels at putting the ball in play and has above average speed to go with it. He could be a major weapon in the Vanderbilt lineup.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located in the Schnitzel Room at the Gerst Haus next to LP Field. This week gave the Commodores a lot to think about as SEC play presses on and more major challenges loom on the horizon. Having a full strength (or closer to full strength) Curt Casali will help the offense, as he clearly wasn't himself at the plate against 'Bama, but first-year players like Mike Yastrzemski, Connor Harrell, and Bryan Johns will have to step up against the elite teams in the conference for Vandy to make some waves on a national level. Despite having 20 games under their belt, we still don't really know what to expect from this team, although the out-of-conference schedule seems to suggest that their young talent can give them the boost they need to play into a Super Regional and beyond. However, they'll have to start now to ensure their place in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the super-competitive SEC schedule.
vs. Lipscomb, March 23 - 6:00 PM, vs, Wright State, March 24, 6:00 PM
vs. #24 Kentucky