For one weekend, at least, Vanderbilt finally owned Kentucky. Stellar pitching and an amazing comeback in the final game capped off a three game sweep of the 21st ranked Wildcats in Nashville last weekend. A rally from a 7-0 deficit finished off a 5-0 week, improving the Commodores to 21-4 on the season. The wins bumped the 'Dores from #20 to #17 in the USA Today National Rankings, and knocked the Wildcats out of the rankings altogether.
Despite another tough five-games-in-six-days schedule, the 'Dores rose to the occasion to collect their biggest wins of the season. Their out-of-conference wins brought little resistance as the home team crushed Lipscomb and Wright State in a tuneup for their second series in SEC play. While they rolled to a Friday night victory behind the strong pitching of Sonny Gray, Saturday's doubleheader with the 'Cats proved to be much more difficult.
Vanderbilt was locked in a dogfight in both games, squeaking out one run victories in each. Pitching was the key to success in the first, as the Commodores refused to allow an earned run in a 2-1 win. The late game gave way to more offense, as Kentucky jumped out to a 7-0 lead after the top of the fourth inning and seemed to have the game under control. However, Vandy was able to take advantage of a shaky Kentucky bullpen to bring home the winning run on a bases loaded walk to earn a 9-8 win and the series sweep.
The successful week was particularly inspiring after a sub-par beginning to the SEC season. After an 0-2 start in league play, the Commodores needed a solid week to stay in the top 25. More importantly, the wins proved that this young team can handle adversity, especially in the face of long odds like Saturday's late game. With the wins, Vanderbilt jumped into second place in the SEC East, and currently have the most overall wins of any Southeastern Conference team.
Game A - Vanderbilt 10, Lipscomb 4: Vanderbilt hosted municipal rival Lipscomb in the first game of the week, and location was just about the only thing the two teams had in common. The 'Dores fended off a brief scare from the 6-14 Bisons when they closed the Vandy lead to just 5-4 in the sixth inning, but the home team shot back in the bottom of the inning to put the game out of reach. Chase Reid picked up the win with five solid innings on the mound. Bryan Johns, Jason Esposito, and Connor Harrell all had multiple RBIs in the victory.
Game B - Vanderbilt 18, Wright State 2: The 'Dores extended their dominance over Ohio based teams with a rout of Wright State. The Raiders held tough after two innings, but a 10 run third doomed the over-matched Horizon League squad. The damage was mostly done by Brian Harris, who notched a grand slam in the inning, and Jason Esposito, who added a three-run shot to close out the scoring in the frame. The win was head coach Tim Corbin's 400th overall.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 7, Kentucky 0: Sonny Gray showed why he just may be the SEC's best pitcher with seven shutout innings against a top 25 lineup. Gray's effectiveness, combined with a balanced attack at the plate, gave the Commodores an easy victory to kick off the weekend series. Corey Williams spun two innings of one-hit relief to close out the game, while five different players had RBIs for the 'Dores.
More recaps, plus AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards after the jump...
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 2, Kentucky 1: This game was a pitcher's duel, pitting UK's Taylor Rogers against the depth of the Vanderbilt bullpen. Four different pitchers combined for the 'Dores to allow just 10 baserunners, while Rogers threw seven scoreless innings after a rough start. In the end, a first inning passed ball that allowed Brian Harris to score proved to be the difference as Vandy took a 2-0 series lead in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. Andrew Giobbi provided the team's only RBI in the game.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 9, Kentucky 8: The final game of the series was Vanderbilt's most inspiring performance of the year. Despite facing a seven run deficit, the 'Dores clawed back into the game and snatched victory in the bottom of the ninth inning to polish off the Wildcats. Starter Jack Armstrong continued his up and down season by allowing 10 hits and seven runs in just five innings, but the bullpen limited UK to just one run over the final four innings to allow the home team the chance to win it in the final frame. Vanderbilt took advantage of a shaky Wildcat bullpen that hit two batters and walked two more to score the winning run and seal the series sweep. Andrew Giobbi led the VU offense with four hits and two RBI.
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Chase Reid. Reid picked up two wins in five days, including three innings of stellar work in the Game 2 pitchers' duel against Kentucky, to take home this week's award. He allowed just six hits and no walks (although he did hit two batters) while notching an ERA of 1.25 for the week. Despite coming into the season as one of the less heralded members of the Vanderbilt pitching staff, Reid has been consistently shutting batters down throughout the season, and currently leads the team in both ERA and wins. The junior's emergence has been a big part of why Vanderbilt's pitching has progressed from an unknown commodity to a major asset over the course of the season.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Andrew Giobbi and Jason Esposito. Another tough call, as Esposito was more explosive, but Giobbi was more consistent for the week. Giobbi was the only player to have a RBI in every game in the session, while Esposito had nine RBI and five runs scored despite a pair of hitless games. Giobbi (10-22, six runs scored, seven RBI, one steal) acquitted himself as the 'Dores best hitter in scoring situations, while Esposito (7-21, one home run) is becoming the team's power hitter at the plate. The lineup of Giobbi, Esposito, Aaron Westlake, and a healthy Curt Casali gives the Commodores one of the most intimidating 3-4-5-6 batting sequences in the SEC.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located in the now-defunct West End Lonnie's location. This week showcased a gritty Commodore team that won big games under big time pressure, even without a 100% Curt Casali (1-9, 1 RBI on the week). The pitching came through in a big way in the first four games of the week, and when Jack Armstrong faltered, the bullpen and some hot bats came along to dust him off and get him back on his feet. It would have been easy for this team to continue stumbling after losing their first two SEC games, but they've turned it around to build up a six game winning streak. This is momentum they'll need as they travel to Gainesville to take on #11 Florida in a pivotal SEC East clash.
vs. Wofford, March 30/31 - 6:00 PM
at #11 Florida