A Weekend Affair: Vanderbilt Deals #2 Kentucky Their First Series Loss, Keeps Postseason Hopes Alive

Vanderbilt left Tuscaloosa disappointed last week, having lost two of three against the SEC's worst team. This week, they reclaimed their momentum by chopping down the conference's best team at home.

After losing Friday's opener, the Diamond 'Dores rallied to take two of three from Kentucky and deal the #2 Wildcats their first series loss of the season. The 3-1 week lifted Vandy out of the SEC East basement and gave the Commodores renewed hope for a NCAA Tournament bid in a rebuilding year. With three weeks left in the regular season, Tim Corbin's team has a legitimate shot to pull themselves up into the top half of the country's toughest baseball conference if they can roll this week's momentum to the finish line.

The 'Dores got big performances in areas where they have struggled this season to pull the victory - on the mound and in the field. After T.J. Pecoraro left Friday's game in the 2nd inning, Commodore pitchers allowed just 17 hits in 25.1 innings against a powerful UK offense. The team's defense held strong as well - the team committed just one error in the series after committing five in the previous week.

The wins were huge for a Commodore team that is struggling to get over the .500 mark they'll need to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The 'Dores travel to 22-22 Tennessee this weekend before finishing out the season with seven straight games against ranked teams. That includes a road trip against #4 LSU. Vandy will have to go 7-3 over the final 10 games of the regular season to ensure a winning record for the NCAA's Selection Committee.

That's a daunting task for a young team, but this weekend's wins showcased some big performance from veterans and freshmen alike. Tyler Beede's four-hit, eight-strikeout performance on Saturday put the 'Dores in position to even the series while Spencer Navin played the hero at the plate by driving home the winning run. On Sunday, Connor Harrell's grand slam lifted the team to the series victory at Hawkins Field. Vanderbilt will need more clutch feats like these to get past LSU and Louisville in future matchups.

Game 0 - Vanderbilt 8, Middle Tennessee State 4: Sam Selman won his fourth straight start by limiting the Blue Raiders to two runs over 6.1 innings and striking out seven in the Commodore win. Conrad Gregor, Spencer Navin, and Connor Harrell all homered to start Vandy's week off on the right foot.

Game 1 - Kentucky 5, Vanderbilt 2: Kentucky rattled T.J. Pecoraro early, getting all the runs they'd need off the sophomore in the game's first two innings. While the team's bullpen ame in to hold UK to just four hits in 7.1 innings after Pecoraro's day was done, Vandy couldn't get their offense going in the opener.

Game 2 - Vanderbilt 4, Kentucky 3: Tyler Beede twirled seven innings of shutout ball, but it looked like it would all go for naught when Kentucky rallied to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth inning against Will Clinard. Spencer Navin, who had homered earlier in the game, came to the rescue with a two-out RBI triple that proved to be the difference in Vandy's 4-3 win. Kentucky put two runners on to threaten in the 9th, but Drew VerHagen was able to escape that jam and record his first save as a Commodore.

Game 3 - Vanderbilt 6, Kentucky 1: The 'Cats once again used a late rally to tie things in the 8th inning, but Connor Harrell's grand slam put this one out of reach half an inning later as Vandy pulled off their biggest series win of the season. Kevin Ziomek was solid in 5.2 shutout innings, striking out eight batters in that span.

AoG's prestigious awards are after the jump...


The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...

Tyler Beede. Beede's ascendance continued this weekend, as the freshman held the Wildcats' big bats silent for seven shutout innings on Saturday. He was able to shake off a mediocre outing last week at Alabama to come up big when Vanderbilt needed him the most. Since inheriting the starting role on Saturdays, he has posted an ERA of 2.41 with 35 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. The only thing standing in his path to becoming this team's go-to guy in the postseason is a lack of experience, but Beede handled the pressure like a pro against UK.


The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...

Spencer Navin and Connor Harrell. Navin's play has kept ultra-prospect Chris Harvey off the field and into the DH slot, and the sophomore almost single-handedly drove the team to victory on Saturday. He's now reached base in 20 straight games for the Commodores.

Harrell is a notoriously streaky player, and here's what he did this week: 7-15, two home runs, four runs, eight RBI. Could "HD" be rounding into shape as postseason play looms? Vanderbilt needs a big-time bat to fill the heart of its lineup, and Harrell has the power to provide that. However, he'll need to prove that he can keep this streak up for more than just a couple weeks if this team is going to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

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