Three of the midwest's top college baseball teams, including two 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, traveled to Nashville last weekend to take part in the Music City Classic - Vanderbilt's invitational spring baseball series. Indiana, Kent State, and Illinois State all made the short trips down to the warmer weather of Tennessee to test themselves in out-of-conference play. While the Commodores looked like they would breeze through their competition, they ended up getting a stiff test from an Indiana Hoosier team whose season they ended in the 2009 Regional.
The team started off the week with a convincing 10-1 win over Tennessee Tech. Though the Wednesday game left little rest for the weekend series, the Commodores showed no ill effects. The team breezed through the first two games of the Classic, beating Kent State and Illinois State 7-1 and 9-2 respectively. However, Indiana came in to Sunday's match-up with an equal 2-0 record and intentions on revenge after last year's NCAA Tournament. The two teams battled through 11 innings before the 'Dores pushed through to close out the Hoosiers, 6-5.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 10, Tennessee Tech 1: The Commodores powered through the first two innings and then coasted to the finish in blowing out the Eagles at home. Bryan Harris's lead-off home run set the tone, and Curt Casali closed the scoring with a final dinger to make it an even 10 runs for the 'Dores. Chase Reid looked solid in 4.2 innings, striking out four and allowing just one unearned run. Freshmen Will Clinard and Sam Selman closed up the game, allowing just two hits between them.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 7, Kent State 1: Vandy's offense built on the momentum from Wednesday's game, but they barely needed any. Sonny Gray was masterful on the mound, striking out 10 in seven innings of work and allowing just one run against a 2009 NCAA Tournament team. Aaron Westlake and Bryan Johns led the charge at the plate, accounting for five of the team's six RBI between them. Westlake was just a triple away from hitting for the cycle against the Golden Flashes.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 9, Illinois State 2: The Commodores cut down the Redbirds in their third big win of the week on Saturday, using a solid outing from Taylor Hill and a sick day at the plate from Curt Casali to secure the win. Illinois State could never catch up to a Vandy team that scored in four of the game's opening five innings; ISU trailed 8-0 before getting on the board in the eighth inning. Casali contributed four hits, three runs, two RBI, and a home run, while Hill spun seven scoreless innings before the Redbirds caught up with him with two runs in the eighth.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 6, Indiana 5 (11 innings): The Hoosiers took Vandy to the limit in the final game of the Music City Classic, jumping on starter Jack Armstrong and forcing the 'Dores to play catchup for much of the game. Indiana put up three runs in the first on a three run homer by Alex Dickerson, but Vanderbilt was able to knot the game at 3-3 after the second inning thanks to some crafty baserunning and solid hitting. Indiana was able to take a 5-3 lead in the sixth, only to see Vandy climb back to tie in the seventh inning. Finally, freshman Anthony Gomez singled in fellow first-year Connor Harrell to seal the win and a 3-0 record for the Classic.
AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards, coming up after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Sonny Gray. 10 strikeouts in seven innings is an excellent way to get our attention, Sonny. Though your rotation-mates Chase Reid and Taylor Hill had nice outings, none were as nice as yours. Only eight baserunners and a K:BB ratio of 3.33:1 was enough to seal Gray's second HR Award in just three weeks. Gray is the team's clear number one starter and a solid bet for a first-team All American selection in June.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Curt Casali and Anthony Gomez. Yes, two winners this week, which may be a cop-out, but it's tough to discredit either player. Gomez, the freshman, got fewer at-bats and didn't have the overall impact Casali did (he didn't even play against Kent State), but without his clutch hitting the team might not have had a perfect record this week. Plus, his overall line (6-11, one double, four RBI, one strikeout) was pretty solid.
Not as solid, though, as Casali, who provided the backbone of the Vanderbilt offense with his power. Casali finished with two home runs, six runs, five RBI, and a stolen base to claim co-honors. He currently leads the team in batting average (.486), hits (18), home runs (3), and total bases (30). He'll miss the next two weeks with a hamstring injury, but hopefully will be back in plenty of time to mash through the SEC.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made plaques at the AoG main offices located in the back room of the Beer Sellar bar/restaurant off 2nd Avenue (below the Hooters, but above the river!). This weekend was a showcase of Vanderbilt's abilities, despite playing against less-than-elite levels of competition at home. The one concern the series raised is if Jack Armstrong can get his head together before the SEC season starts. He proved over the summer that he has the ability to dominate NCAA hitters in the Cape Cod League, but so far he's just 1-0 with an ERA of 4.97 on the year while pitching against teams that aren't as talented as the ones he'll face in April and May. If he's going to live up to his preseason All-American status, he needs to right the ship and lower what is currently a .346 batting average for batters facing him.
vs. Tennessee-Martin, March 10, 4:00 PM