After a disappointing result last weekend against South Carolina, Vanderbilt baseball faced a big test this weekend against a dangerous but disjointed LSU Tiger squad. 31 runs and 45 hits later, it was clear that the Diamond 'Dores were back on track.
Vandy won all three games at Hawkins Field in convincing fashion and propelled themselves back into a three-way tie atop the Southeastern Conference standings at 14-4 in league play. Potent batting, combined with the team's always-impressive pitching kept the Tigers from threatening to steal a game all weekend. The heart of Vanderbilt's lineup, Mike Yastrzemski, Jason Esposito, Aaron Westlake, and Curt Casali combined for 19 hits, 17 runs, and 15 RBI in the series.
The wins were reassuring for a squad that hadn't had to deal with much adversity throughout the season. The Commodores lost their first weekend series of the season last week, and expectations were high for their return trip to Nashville to face a reeling Louisiana State team. Vanderbilt-LSU looked as though it would be a marquee series as early as a month ago, as the Tigers lived up to their early season ranking with a monster sweep over #6 Cal State-Fullerton and a 16-1 record to start the spring. However, once SEC play opened up, the floor fell out from under the Tigers. The team is just 8-16 since March 18, losing to squads like Northwestern State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Auburn on the way.
Vanderbilt extended LSU's downward spiral with three more losses, dropping the Tigers to 4-14 and a tie for last place in the conference with Kentucky.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 11, LSU 3: Sonny Gray got touched for three runs in seven innings of work but picked up his seventh win of the season to keep the 'Dores from their first losing streak of the season. T.J. Pecoraro was brilliant in relief, working two innings and striking out four batters as Coach Tim Corbin works to break him in against SEC batters heading into tournament play. Mike Yastrzemski had three RBI in the win.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 7, LSU 1: Insert standard Grayson Garvin line here: __________. The junior lefty threw seven dominant innings on Saturday, striking out eight batters in seven innings, walking just one person all day, and allowing only five hits. The 'Dores broke open a 1-1 tie with nine runs over the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings to polish off the Tigers. A balanced attack of singles and doubles fueled the Vandy offense, as the team drove in nine runs on 13 hits.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 10, LSU 7: Vandy's second nationally-broadcast game went better than their first, as the 'Dores opened up an early lead and held on to fend off the Tigers and secure the three-game sweep. The team jumped out to a 7-1 lead after three innings and then withstood a LSU comeback that pulled the visitors within two runs late in the game. Like last week, Coach Tim Corbin burned through a corps of relievers who struggled to record outs, going to four different guys to retire the Tigers in the seventh inning. LSU broke through for four runs - their biggest offensive output of the weekend - but Mark Lamm and Navery Moore shut the team's bats down in the following innings to lock down the sweep.
AoG's prestigious pitching and batting awards are after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Grayson Garvin. "The Garv" shut LSU down in his Saturday start, allowing only five hits and one walk in seven innings of work. The only run he allowed in his outing should have been unearned, set up by a dropped ball in center field, and he did a great job in shutting down one of the SEC's best hitters, Mikie Mahtook. Garvin would be the ace on almost any other team in the country, and he has given the 'Dores one of the best 1-2 punches that college baseball has seen in the past decade when he's been paired with Sonny Gray. In 66 innings so far, he's got 61 strikeouts and only 12 walks to his credit.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Jason Esposito, Curt Casali, and Conrad Gregor. Vandy's offense this week was strong enough to merit a three-way selection for the coveted Haywood award. Espo and Cas both put together weekends where their failed to record fewer than two hits in a game, combining to go 13-28 (.464 avg) with 10 RBI.
Gregor, on the other hand, may be rounding into form as his freshman campaign wears on. The highly-touted Indianan came alive with an 8-13 performance against LSU. Gregor drove in six runs and struck out just once, giving the heart of the Vanderbilt order some added pop out of the seventh spot in the lineup. If Gregor can harness his potential he'll have the opportunity to create lots of offense in the bottom end of the Vandy order. His development, along with Riley Reynolds's resurgence, are two under-the-radar storylines that could have major implications for this team in the postseason.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located in the 300 level of Bridgestone Arena. Vanderbilt faced an important battle against the fading Tigers this weekend and played like champions, failing to fall into a potential trap. LSU is a very talented team but also a complete clusterfuck this season. As a result, Vandy's nationally televised sweep doesn't have the same impact that it could have, but I'm certain that Tim Corbin and his boys understand the importance of taming the Tigers at Hawkins Field.
Next week will bring Tennessee into town, and the Volunteers have showed how dangerous they can be over the last two weeks, taking a game from Georgia and beating Alabama outright. Vanderbilt will need to take care of business not only to keep pace in the SEC standings, but to exact revenge after this season's football and basketball debacles against the 'Dores eastern rivals.
at #41 Western Kentucky, April 26