After an eighth inning rally pushed Arkansas to a comeback victory over Sonny Gray and the Commodores Friday night, Vanderbilt could have licked their wounds and let a solid Arkansas squad take the series win. Instead, the pitching staff made sure that losing streaks remained a foreign concept to this team.
Vanderbilt held the Razorbacks to just two runs over the weekend to take the three-game series, relying on big outings from starters Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill to rebound from Friday's loss. The wins moved the 'Dores to 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference and into a tie with Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East. The #1 Gators lost two of three games to the #6 Gamecocks this weekend, possibly creating an opportunity for Vandy to move into the top spot in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.
The win also gave the 'Dores their second series win over a top 12 opponent on the season, and their first road win since beating San Diego in California. They had previously defeated then-#8 Stanford in Nashville in February. The team has lived up to their preseason hype so far, building off their strength on the mound. A series at #20 Auburn awaits, but the Tigers look vulnerable after being swept by Mississippi State this weekend.
Game 0: Vanderbilt 11, Tennessee Tech 2 - Connor Harrell had a two-run homer and six different players had RBIs as the Commodores routed the Golden Eagles in Nashville. T.J. Pecoraro earned his third win of the season with two hitless innings of relief. Vandy had 21 baserunners over eight innings, but their offense wouldn't carry over to the weekend matchup with Arkansas.
Game 1: Arkansas 2, Vanderbilt 1 - James McCann's two-out, two-RBI single lifted the Razorbacks in the bottom of the eighth inning, dealing Sonny Gray his first loss of the season. Gray struck out 12 batters over eight innings and 121 pitches, but was the hard luck loser in the series opener. Jack Lupo had his first hit as a Commodore, singling and later scoring on a wild pitch to provide the team's offense for the day.
Game 2: Vanderbilt 4, Arkansas 1 - Grayson Garvin took a staunch "no fucking around" stance into his start against the Razorbacks, allowing only two hits in eight innings and keeping Arkansas's batters off balance all day. Garvin has now allowed four hits in 15 innings of SEC play and is quickly becoming the team's second ace on the mound. Jason Esposito had a two-RBI single to lead the team's offense, while Anthony Gomez extended his hitting streak to 19 games in the win.
Game 3: Vanderbilt 2, Arkansas 1 - Taylor Hill and a five-man relief performance shut down the 'Hogs for a second straight day, allowing just one run in the series' rubber match. Hill picked up his second win of the season before handing the ball over to Corey Williams, Will Clinard, Mark Lamm, Kevin Ziomek, Rich Garces, Jeff Samardzija, Kyle Farnsworth, Kenny Powers, and finally Navery Moore to lock down the win. Aaron Westlake blasted his fourth home run of the season, while Gomez had his aforementioned hitting streak snapped on Sunday.
AoG's prestigious awards after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Grayson Garvin. The Commodores needed a big outing to shake off Friday night's loss, and Garvin responded with eight lockdown innings, allowing only four baserunners and striking out six. With the team's offense struggle, Garvin, Gray, and Hill all came through to give Vanderbilt the tools they needed to pull out a series win. Garvin dropped his ERA to 2.45 and WHiP to .84 with the dominant performance.
Navery Moore deserves some recognition for recording two big saves as well. Moore notched saves five and six on the season while striking out four batters in just two innings of work. The fireballing righty has finally found his groove in the bullpen after recovering from Tommy John surgery, and is doing his best to make fans forget about Russell Brewer's departure in 2010.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Jason Esposito. Espo was the only Commodore to record a hit in all four of the week's games, and the default winner of the Haywood Award thanks to a series that saw little action from Vanderbilt's batters. Esposito finished the week with five hits and four RBI, including a two-run single that helped carry the 'Dores over Arkansas on Saturday. Aaron Westlake, Tony Kemp, and Connor Harrell also had solid games during the week, but J-spo gets the nod based on his consistency.
Also notable - Esposito added his 3rd and 4th caught stealing marks on the season. He was only caught four times all of last season.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located in the deep recesses of the Edgefield Sports Bar, still recovering from the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores were faced with adversity in their first true road test of the season, and things looked grim after a deflating Friday defeat tagged Sonny Gray with his first loss. However, this team stepped up in a big way and played to their strengths - pitching - to lock down a big time series win. Though the team's lack of offense could turn into a problem, this team's staff on the mound has lived up to, and possibly outshone, all expectations so far. If they can continue playing at this level, they'll have a veteran-loaded team that is built for postseason success.
The season is still young, however, and there's plenty of time for this team to evolve. Can Gray and Garvin continue to tear up SEC batters? Can the Commodore offense string together hits against conference foes? Will this team ever abandon the bunt in the late innings? Time will tell, but this weekend's performance in Arkansas was a strong indicator of future returns.
vs. Tennessee-Martin, March 29.