Vanderbilt solidified their claim as the best team in the country with a three game sweep at Auburn this weekend, combining explosive late-game hitting with the team's solid pitching to blow the Tigers away in Alabama. One week after struggling to score seven runs in a full series with Arkansas, the Commodores averaged over nine runs per game in a weekend trouncing. The wins were enough to push the 'Dores to #1 in the USA Today Baseball Poll.
Vandy's performance at the plate showcased some late-inning toughness while allowing the team's starting pitching to get away with outings that had shifted from their usual "excellent" to merely "good." Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin, and Taylor Hill all spun less than six innings in their weekend starts and allowed more than a baserunner per inning, but were solid enough to hold the Tigers to just two runs per game. The Commodore bullpen was especially dominant after Friday's game, keeping Auburn scoreless in 7.1 innings of work and giving Vanderbilt the chance they needed to drive in each game's deciding runs.
The wins were key for the 'Dores, as SEC East rivals and nationally renowned foes South Carolina (ranked #3) and Florida (#4) each swept reeling teams in Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. Virginia, who is neck and neck with Vanderbilt in the race for the top spot in the national polls, also put together a three-game sweep, dispatching rival Virginia Tech in the ACC.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 10, Tennessee-Martin 3: Vanderbilt started the game with four runs in the first inning and never looked back, defeating the Skyhawks in a non-league game to open up the week. Sam Lind made a case for more playing time with a three-hit, three-RBI performance, while table-setters Tony Kemp and Anthony Gomez proved their worth at the top of the lineup with four runs scored between them. T.J. Pecoraro improved to 4-0 on the season with three solid innings on the mound.
Game 1 - Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 6: The Commodores cranked out 20 hits and pulled away from the Tigers with seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings to win the series opener Friday night. Sonny Gray didn't have his best stuff, but still hurled 5.1 effective innings and allowed only two runs to earn his sixth win of the season. Riley Reynolds had his best game of the season at the plate, finishing with four hits and three RBI. Kemp and Gomez continued their hot play with eight hits and three runs scored between them.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 2: An eight-run rally with two outs turned a one-run Commodore lead into an 11-2 blowout in the eighth inning of Saturday's game. Mike Yastrzemski's two-out, two-run single started things off and was followed by a Curt Casali double, walks to Conrad Gregor and Riley Reynolds, a two-RBI Sam Lind single, a two-RBI Tony Kemp double, and finally an Anthony Gomez RBI single to round out the scoring. Will Clinard, Kevin Ziomek, and Mark Lamm combined for 3.2 innings of shutout relief to preserve Grayson Garvin's fifth win of the season.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 6, Auburn 2: More late-inning heroics nailed down the 'Dores first ever sweep of Auburn on the road, as four runs in the seventh inning proved to be the difference on Sunday. Gregor and Lind were key players in another offensive outburst, providing the eventual game-winning RBI and scoring an important insurance run, respectively, in the rally. Taylor Hill solidified his hold on the Sunday starter spot with 5.1 solid innings.
AoG's prestigious batting and pitching awards, after the jump:
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Will Clinard and Mark Lamm. Clinard and Lamm are two of the 'Dores most underappreciated pitchers. They don't get the publicity that starters like Gray and Garvin get, nor the high-profile saves that Navery Moore earns, but their importance to this team is paramount to Vanderbilt's success. They proved it once again this weekend, acting as the stable pins that kept things in place until the offense came back around to rescue the Commodores. The pair combined for 8.1 scoreless innings of relief while striking out eight batters this week, and have combined for 29 appearances on the season. Along with Moore, they make up Coach Tim Corbin's trusted inner circle of relief (tm), and are the guys Vandy will be giving the ball to when the pressure is on and this team needs some important outs.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Anthony Gomez and Tony Kemp. Vanderbilt's placesetters made things easy for the team all weekend, reaching base with impunity (reaching base 20 times in 39 at-bats) and generating offense from the top two spots in the lineup. The pair combined for 13 runs and nine RBI on the weekend, and more importantly were the spark that this team needed after last weekend's mini-slump against Arkansas. Both players are currently batting over .350, while Kemp's on-base percentage is a staggering .477. Honorable mention here goes to Sam Lind (6 RBI in 11 at-bats), whose battle for playing time with Riley Reynolds is turning both players into beasts.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located on the sidelines of Vandy spring football practice between the hours of 6:00-6:15 AM. Vanderbilt may have ascended to a #1 ranking with a mediocre offensive showing against Arkansas, but they solidified their spot with an explosion against Auburn. The Tigers may have been residually overrated, but Vanderbilt still earned the biggest sweep in the SEC last weekend, keeping South Carolina and Florida at bay.
Vanderbilt will get a test from another surprising SEC West team this weekend when they host #24 Alabama. The Crimson Tide currently lead their division and have posted series wins over Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Kentucky so far this year. It'll be another chance for the 'Dores to display their dominance, but it will also give 'Bama a chance to prove that they can hang with the big boys in the south.
vs. Middle Tennessee State, April 5.
vs #24 Alabama.