Vanderbilt called on a pair of gritty performances in tough games to rebound from last week's disappointing series with South Carolina and post three wins against two tough teams. The Commodores delivered a 1-0 barnburner win over 22-14 Middle Tennessee State, and then capped off the week with a 2-1 series win over #28 Auburn at Hawkins Field. The series win was only Vanderbilt's second of SEC play, and should go a long way towards reestablishing their legitimacy in the Southeastern Conference. The victories should also provide some momentum for the 'Dores as they head off on a six game, in-state road trip against rivals like Tennessee, MTSU, and Austin Peay.
Sunday's game was the first of the season that I was able to attend live, and it did not disappoint. Taylor Hill proved that he's one of the best junk pitchers in the country, keeping Auburn batters off-balance all day with a combination of breaking pitches and off-speed strikes and working deep into the ninth inning. He got stronger as the game wore on, allowing just three hits and no walks after the third inning. Aaron Westlake was the game's hero, as he turned what looked to be the beginning of a slump into a hero's welcome at home plate with the game winner - a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth.
The game was a showcase of calm leadership and confident defense despite the relative youth of the Commodores. Freshman Anthony Gomez turned in a play-of-the-month candidate on a grounder hit so deep into the hole that he was leaping into shallow center field when he got the throw off to first (in time). Taylor Hill's performance has already been spoken about, but sophomore Drew Fann's ability to call the game from behind the plate - along with the obvious rapport the two share - was a key factor in making Auburn's batters look stupid. And senior Brian Harris was the team's offensive leader, coming through with a clutch single to knot the game at 2-2 in the third inning.
Vanderbilt's performance this week showed extreme promise for this season and beyond. The team played with a patient confidence that they'll need to win post-season games, and got the kind of performances that can create legends in high-pressure situations. While several question marks remain, this weekend's series was a strong indicator for the rest of SEC play.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 1, Middle Tennessee State 0: A wild pitch ended up being the deciding factor in Tuesday's pitchers' duel. Anthony Gomez went from second base to home on consecutive wild pitches to score the game-winner in the sixth inning against the Blue Raiders. Drew Hayes went 6.2 innings of shutout ball before eventually turning it over to Russell Brewer, who extended his scoreless innings streak to 18 in picking up his fifth save.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 6: Vandy's offense came alive on Friday, staking the 'Dores to an 8-2 lead after three innings in the series opener. Sonny Gray allowed only one earned run and struck out seven (despite walking five) to earn his first SEC win since March. Connor Harrell and Joe Loftus each homered to drive the home team, and Harrell had five RBI on the night.
Game 2 - Auburn 12, Vanderbilt 2: The Tigers struck back on Saturday, getting to starter Jack Armstrong early and never trailing in a rout at Hawkins Field. Auburn's Cory Luckie held the 'Dores to just five hits as Vanderbilt was unable to recapture the offense they showed on Friday night.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 3, Auburn 2: Taylor Hill was masterful and Aaron Westlake provided the heroics as Vanderbilt handed the Tigers their first Sunday loss in SEC play. The Commodores trailed 2-0 after the top of the third inning, but Brian Harris's two-RBI single knotted the game as the final six innings unfolded as a pitcher's duel. Westlake's home run ensured that the 'Dores would walk off as winners and into the #15 ranking according to USA Today.
AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards, coming up after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Taylor Hill. Hill's progression as a front-line starter has been one of the most promising stories of the season for the Commodores. While he lacks the overpowering strength and potential that teammates Sonny Gray and Jack Armstrong have, his 2010 campaign is showcasing his ability to manage a game and fluster hitters. Hill's arsenal of pitches and understanding of when to throw them made short work of the Tigers, and his efficiency on the mound kept his pitch count down and allowed him to be effective deep into the game. The junior will be a major asset in the postseason due to his ability to keep batters off balance and eat up innings as a starter.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Anthony Gomez. It was a tough week for Vandy's batters again, as tough pitching limited them to just 14 hits and six runs over three games, excluding Friday's rout. Though Connor Harrell had a monster game Friday and Aaron Westlake played the hero on Sunday, this week's award came down to Gomez and Brian Harris for their consistent play and roles in setting up the Commodore offense. Gomez was the only player with a hit in every game as he continued his success at the plate, going 4-11 on the week with two RBI and a run scored. The .364 week actually lowered his season batting average to .462 - the team's leader amongst regular players.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located underneath the Strikeforce cage at the
Nashville Arena Sommet Center Gaylord Entertainment Center Scrappy Doo Memorial Auditorium Bridgestone Arena. It was a great week for the Commodores, as they showed that they could win games even if the offense isn't all there. Vandy will head out on the road for six tough, but winnable match-ups against teams that lack the overall talent profile that the Commodores possess. Coach Tim Corbin should be rallying the troops for a 6-0 trip knowing that three more SEC wins would give Vandy a major advantage for SEC Tournament seeding, along with the satisfaction of sweeping Tennessee at home.
at Lipscomb, April 20 - 6:00 PM
at Middle Tennessee State, April 21 - 6:00 PM
at Tennessee (18-19, 4-11 SEC).