Despite an early loss, the Vanderbilt baseball team rebounded strong to finish off a pair of perennial NCAA Tournament contenders this weekend in Los Angeles. The trip represented the first major test for the young squad; with two wins it appears that they'll be in solid shape as the SEC season lies less than three weeks away. The Commodores dropped the trip's opening game 9-2 to preseason #20 UCLA, but came back to beat Southern California and Oklahoma State to improve the team's record to 6-1 for the season.
Game 1 - UCLA 9, Vanderbilt 2: UCLA's Gerrit Cole won the battle of sophomore All-American pitchers, outdueling Sonny Gray and stifling Vandy's bats to in a big win. Cole struck out eight and allowed just four hits in five innings while Gray gave up five earned runs despite six strikeouts in limited innings to pick up the loss. UCLA was able to clean up where Vanderbilt sputtered, as the Bruins left only four runners on base for the game compared to Vandy's 12.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 10, USC 1: The Commodores' bats came alive to blow away the Trojans on their home field Saturday night. Jason Esposito hit a solo home run that is still being tracked by NASA and JUCO transfer Bryan Johns went 4-5 with four RBI to spark Vanderbilt. USC took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning, but couldn't build on that lead as #3 starter Taylor Hill improved his record to 2-0 with six strong innings on the mound.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 7, Oklahoma State 6: Dodger Stadium was the venue for the Cowboy/Commodore showdown in Sunday's Dodgertown Classic match-up. The 'Dores opened up an early lead and then withstood an OSU rally to take the win. Errors nearly sunk Vanderbilt, as two miscues in the fourth inning led to three Cowboy runs and allowed the team to get back in the game. OSU had a chance to take the lead late in the 8th inning after a two-run single put runners on the corners with two outs, but Russell Brewer was able to induce an inning ending pop-up to secure the 7-6 Commodore lead. His shutout ninth sealed the game and earned him his first save of the season.
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 line wasn't spectacular, and he probably let more batters on base (10) than Coach Tim Corbin was comfortable with, but he was the team's most consistent pitcher this past weekend. His stability was the anchor of the team's success against USC, and in throwing six strong innings he was able to get the bullpen some much needed rest after a tough game against UCLA and an extra-innings affair Wednesday versus Austin Peay.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Bryan Johns. Brian Harris had a great weekend, and Aaron Westlake and Jason Esposito turned heads with a couple of deep blasts, but the award goes to Johns as the first year player showed that he's ready for the big time after playing at Howard Junior College last year. Johns had at least one hit in each game this week, batting .571 with two doubles, four runs, and four RBI. Welcome to Division I, Mr. Johns - we look forward to seeing what you can do against the SEC's best.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located next to the Ted Skuchas wing at the Vandy Athletics Hall of Fame. Vanderbilt answered a lot of questions about the team's makeup when they were challenged by talented teams. Despite their young age, the Oklahoma State game in particular showed off the team's poise when it seemed possible that they could crumble. Even without Sonny Gray and Jack Armstrong at the tops of their games, the team pulled through at the plate and with the aid of their role players. Last weekend was a showcase of the 'Dores talent from the top of the roster to the bottom, and should position the team nicely as they aim for a spot in the top tier of SEC teams.
vs. Tennessee Tech, March 2, 4:00 PM