Vanderbilt's winning streak pressed on to 10 games with four victories this week, including a three game sweep over the outclassed Ohio Bobcats at Hawkins Field. The wins pushed the Commodores to #19 in Baseball America's Top 25 poll and to #16 in the USA Today rankings. To date, the team's only loss has come against #10 UCLA - though the team still lacks a marquee victory for the season.
The team kicked off the week with a 9-1 win over Tennessee-Martin that featured freshman Will Clinard's first NCAA victory. They followed that up with a weekend performance in which they trailed for only four of the series' 27 innings. Vandy's dominant pitching continued to be on full display, as the team only allowed an average of two runs per game for the week, dropping their team ERA to 2.15 on the season. Though that will likely pick up once conference play begins, it's an impressive start for a rotation that was thought to have major question marks behind Sonny Gray. Through solid pitching and effective batting, the 'Dores powered through their last tune-up weekend before SEC play and secured their place as a top-tier team in the country's toughest college baseball conference.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 9, Tennessee-Martin 1: Joe Loftus and Andrew Giobbi homered to pick up the offensive load left behind by the injured Curt Casali, while Jason Esposito added three RBI of his own. Clinard earned the victory with four strong innings, while veterans Drew Hayes and Russell Brewer combined to allow just two baserunners in five innings of relief.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 14, Ohio 3: Vanderbilt trailed 3-0 after the top of the second inning before immediately reclaiming the lead and pouring on 14 unanswered runs in the opening game with the Bobcats. Sonny Gray allowed just two hits in six innings after Ohio took the lead, striking out five and walking one in that span. It was a big day for the top of the batting order, as 1-2-3 hitters Brian Harris, Bryan Johns, and Aaron Westlake went a combined 8-11 with nine RBI, six runs, two triples, and a home run.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 7, Ohio 4: The 'Dores needed a come-from-behind effort to save the day against a scrappy Ohio team. The Bobcats took the lead in the seventh inning only to watch Vanderbilt score four runs in the eighth to seal the victory. Connor Harrell, who had a standout game last week against Tennessee Tech, played the hero with a base clearing three-run double to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead. Westlake, Esposito, and Loftus added solo home runs to fuel the Commodores.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 5, Ohio 1: The game was the 12th of the season in which Vanderbilt's pitchers allowed just three runs or less as Jack Armstrong got back on track with 6.2 solid innings of work. Armstrong, Chase Reid, and Corey Williams limited Ohio to just five hits in the game. This time, the middle of the lineup supplied the offense, as Riley Reynolds, Andrew Giobbi, Joe Loftus, and Connor Harrell supplied all the team's RBI in the 5-6-7-8 slots. The win capped off the sweep against the 2-11 Bobcats.
AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards, coming up after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Jack Armstrong. Armstrong wasn't overpowering, but he showed strides towards getting back to his summer league levels of performance with the week's best stat line on the mound. Though his control wasn't where it needs to be to dominate the SEC, four hits through 6.2 innings is a showing with which any team can be happy . Hopefully it's the foundation from which the young right-hander can build an All-American campaign.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Joe Loftus. Aaron Westlake had a pretty good week, but if you homer in three straight games, you're in pretty good position for the CHDPA. Loftus hit safely and had an RBI in every game last week, batting .375 to bump his season average to .288. His five RBI weekend doubled his 2010 total to 10. While he's one of the less heralded offensive players in Vanderbilt's lineup, he's proving that he can be a dangerous contributor from the seventh spot in the batting order.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located next to the Patron stockroom of LenDale White's mansion. This weekend was a great tuneup, but how much can you learn about a team like this when they're going up against an Ohio squad with only two wins on the season? It's great to see big weekends out of Armstrong and Loftus, but it still remains to be seen if these guys can continue to fill supporting roles against the great teams of the SEC. They'll get their first major three-game series test starting Friday when they travel to #21 Alabama, another team with only one loss on the season. If the team's pitching can hold up on the road against a very strong conference rival, then it will be a sign of great things to come. If not, these 'Dores might just be the middling SEC team that many publications thought they were in the pre-season.
vs. Western Kentucky, March 16 - 6 PM, at Western Kentucky, March 17, 3:00 PM
at #21 Alabama