Despite sitting at 7-2 in the SEC, Alabama was a bit of an unknown commodity. The Crimson Tide had only two significant wins on their resume - a couple home victories over Arkansas - but led the SEC West by three games coming into last weekend's showdown with Vanderbilt. A strong showing in Nashville would have ignited the 'Bama hype rocket, giving the team instant credibility and the inside track on a hosting gig for the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for the Tide, the Commodores shut down their engines before the shuttle could even leave the launch pad.
Vanderbilt swept Alabama in a three game series that was never close, outscoring the Crimson Tide by an aggregate 29-9 in Vandy's biggest home series since Stanford came to town. The victories brought Vandy's winning streak to 10 games and put them in excellent shape for a humongous showdown at #3 South Carolina this weekend. The Gamecocks, 2010's NCAA Champions, are tied with the 'Dores at 10-2 in the SEC, and the winner of this series will likely become the odds-on favorite to claim the #1 overall seed when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
Vandy's aggression on the mound and patience at the plate paid off dividends in last weekend's sweep. The Commodores didn't give up an earned run until Sunday's game and kept the momentum of last week's blowouts going with some big performances at the plate. Curt Casali and Mike Yastrzemski ate up 'Bama pitching and Anthony Gomez extended his hitting streak to 28 games over the course of Vandy's perfect weekend. If the 'Dores can keep this up in Columbia, they'll become the most feared team in the country.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 9, Middle Tennessee State 1: The only time Vandy trailed all week was for half an inning at the start of the MTSU game. An unearned run put the Blue Raiders up 1-0 in the top of the first, but the Commodores responded with seven runs over the next two innings to put the game out of reach. A committee of T.J. Pecoraro, Sam Selman, Kevin Ziomek, Jack Armstrong, and Navery Moore combined to shut down MTSU, with Pecoraro improving to 5-0 despite pitching just two innings with the start. Jason Esposito had a three-run homer for the 'Dores.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 11, Alabama 3: The middle of the lineup came through for Vandy on Friday, supplying the power needed to pound Alabama in the series opener. Curt Casali's 2011 full-strength showcase continued as the senior dropped three RBI on the Tide, while Yastrzemski and Aaron Westlake each added two RBI of their own. Sonny Gray picked up the win despite a pair of unearned runs, striking out four in six innings.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 7, Alabama 0: Grayson Garvin's man-strength carried Vanderbilt again, as 7.1 shutout innings boosted the Commodores and Garvin's draft stock in Saturday's win. The junior struck out seven and allowed only four hits to earn his sixth win of the season. A patient and diverse attack at the plate drove the team offensively, as the 'Dores rapped out 11 hits. Six different players drove in runs in the victory.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 11, Alabama 6: Tony Kemp's diving superman catch quelled an Alabama rally in the eighth inning while simultaneously making NYD's head explode. No words, just skip to :15 -
AoG's prestigious batting and pitching awards are coming up, right after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Grayson Garvin. Garvin has lived up to the lofty expectations put upon him after last year's summer league performance. He went 7.1 innings deep while shutting out the Tide to clinch the series win on Saturday. His presence in SEC play has been daunting, as the tall lefty is averaging just four hits, six strikeouts, and an ERA of 0.50 in nearly seven innings per start. He's not as overpowering as Sonny Gray is, but his finesse and control on the mound has made him just as valuable. The combination of those two will help ensure that Vandy doesn't see a losers' bracket in the early stages of any postseason tournaments.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Curt Casali and Mike Yastrzemski. A hedge when it comes to handing out awards, for sure, but there were loads of great performances at the plate for the Commodores this week. Anthony Gomez recorded nine hits over four games and scored seven runs. Jason Esposito had a home run, five RBI, and five runs.
However, the honors go to Cas and Yaz, though, who went a combined 12-26 (.462 avg) with 15 RBI and 12 runs scored. Casali has been stellar not only at the plate but behind it as well, giving the Commodores a stable veteran presence in the middle of the order and calling shots. Yaz has seemed to turn a corner this year in SEC play, hitting his stride as the season wears on. His combination of speed and power gives Vandy another legitimate option in the middle of the lineup.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located in the sweltering heat of Steve Tchiengang's un-air-conditioned dorm room/sweat lodge. Vanderbilt proved their legitimacy in the SEC while doing their part to strip Alabama's. The Tide just couldn't hang with the Commodores in Nashville, and it will remain to be seen if they can maintain their position in the West. Even if they slip behind Arkansas they've still got a four game edge over LSU and the confidence to handle teams like Ole Miss and Auburn. 'Bama should remain a dangerous foe in the postseason, especially if they're playing for a hosting bid.
vs. Middle Tennessee State, March 15
at #3 South Carolina (!!!)