Friday looked grim. The Commodores had suffered their first shutout of the season and lost their series opener against lowly Kentucky. Even Sonny Gray's strong start (eight innings, four baserunners, nine strikeouts) couldn't bail out Vanderbilt against UK's Alex Meyer, and the 'Dores watched an opportunity to claim their spot at the top of the SEC slip away.
Two days later, they ended up there anyway.
Consecutive wins on Saturday and Sunday, paired with series losses from Florida and South Carolina, gave Vanderbilt sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference with two weeks left in the regular season. The team's bats came alive to post 16 runs and 25 hits in the final two games after being held to just six baserunners all of Friday night.
The Diamond Dores used a comeback over Sunday's final three innings of play to clinch the series win, coming back from a 2-3 deficit to win 6-3. Tony Kemp, playing with a reported dislocated finger, came home on a sacrifice fly/throwing error combination to knot the game at 3-3 in the seventh, and Vandy followed that with a two-out rally in the top of the ninth that plated three runs and gave Navery Moore the win. The victory, combined with Ole Miss's climactic walk-off win against South Carolina, put Vanderbilt in the driver's seat in the conference standings.
Game 1 - Kentucky 2, Vanderbilt 0: Sonny Gray was dominant, but ultimately lost a pitcher's duel against potential first round pick Alex Meyer. Meyer outgunned Gray by holding a Vandy offense that had scored in double-digits in their previous six games to just five hits. A Thomas McCarthy home run in the second inning was enough to propel UK to victory, and the 'Cats added an insurance run thanks to a wild pitch in the seventh. Tony Kemp shone in the leadoff spot with a 3-4 performance, but the 'Dores couldn't get him home to threaten the Wildcats.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 10, Kentucky 3: Vandy's offense restored itself on Saturday, pounding UK to even the weekend series at a game apiece. Grayson Garvin improved to 10-1 with eight innings of six-hit ball, but the true story here may have been Jack Armstrong's struggles in the ninth. The highly-touted righty faced five batters and walked four of them, making him responsible for two Kentucky runs. Offensively, Conrad Gregor set the tone for the day with a grand slam in Vandy's six-run first inning.
Game 3 - Vanderbilt 6, Kentucky 3: The Commodores' comeback vaulted the team into first place in the SEC and gave the team a momentum-building win heading into this week's showdown with Florida. Taylor Hill's quality start kept Vandy in the game until the team's bats took over in the final three frames. Aaron Westlake saluted the state he loves with his 10th home run of the season in the first inning.
AoG's prestigious batting and pitching awards, after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Sonny Gray. Despite picking up his third loss of the season, Gray answered some of the questions about his control with a nine strikeout, zero walk performance on Friday. More importantly, he has secured his status as a Friday workhorse, needing just 86 pitches to run through a full eight innings. Gray's ability to be dominant over long stretches will be paramount to this team's success in the postseason, as his efforts shutting down opponents also keep the team's bullpen fresh. He's averaging just about seven innings per start for the season.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Tony Kemp. Rumor has it that Kemp's finger is jacked up pretty badly, but a dislocated digit was just about the only thing that could slow the Man of Steal down this weekend. Kemp was 7-9 on Friday and Saturday, accounting for 35% of the team's total hits for the opening pair of games. He finished 9-14 on the weekend with two RBI and three runs scored. The freshman leadoff hitter now boasts a robust .444 on-base percentage, and is tied for third on the team with 42 runs in 45 games. An honorable mention goes to Jason Esposito, who was the only other Commodore to pick up hits in all three games this weekend.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located at the strangely spacious and modern Scranton Airport lounge, where attractive women don't need tickets to get through security. Vanderbilt missed an opportunity to pull two games ahead in the SEC race, but a loss to a future first-rounder with top-ten tools like Alex Meyer isn't something to be ashamed of. The 'Dores now have a little breathing room headed into the final two weeks of conference play.
They'll need every advantage they can get. A showdown with #4 Florida looms, while South Carolina will get an Arkansas team that just toppled the Gators. Sweeps in either series could be longshots, but the results of each series will go a long way in dictating who gets the #1 slot in Hoover for the SEC Tournament. If the 'Dores can take two against UF at Hawkins Field, then they'll be in great position for at least a share of the regular season title. If you're in Nashville next weekend, I highly recommend stopping by the Hawk for some baseball.
Tue. (5/10) @ 5pm -- at Louisville
vs. #4 Florida