This weekend, much like this season itself, did not start well for the Vanderbilt baseball team. However, if Saturday and Sunday's results hold true, then we can expect a much better finish for this young Commodore squad.
Vanderbilt rallied in back-to-back games to pick up their first SEC series win of the season, defeating Georgia twice to rise to 2-4 in conference play. The 'Dores got solid pitching and some meaningful offense to record their best wins of the season at Hawkins Field. While a pair of victories over the Bulldogs won't be enough to right the ship, they'll give this team a foundation to build from after a 7-15 start to their season.
Things didn't look so rosy at the start of the week. Vandy was coming off a three-game rout against top-ranked Florida and had only beaten underwhelming squads like Oakland, Rhode Island, and Siena heading into SEC play. That slump continued with a 5-3 home loss to Evansville on Wednesday. The team matured quickly with a pair of come-from-behind wins to close out the weekend and hopefully turn the corner in what has been a disappointing season so far. Vanderbilt has been doomed by mental mistakes despite a wealth of talent in 2012.
Could these gritty wins be just what the team needed to instill the confidence that will win SEC games? This week's action will give us a better idea.
Game 0: Evansville 5, Vanderbilt 3 - Vandy started slow and ultimately couldn't overcome the Purple Aces' 4-0 lead in an upset defeat Wednesday evening. Keenan Kolinsky lasted just three innings in his midweek start and was outpitched by Evansville's Ryan Billo, who allowed only five hits in six strong innings on the mound. The 'Dores defensive woes were an issue again as the team committed five errors in the loss.
Game 1: Georgia 1, Vanderbilt 0 - Kevin Ziomek gave up just one hit in his Friday start, but Curt Powell's solo home run in the fourth inning was enough to carry Georgia to a series-opening win. The "Omega Man" struck out six Bulldogs in 5.1 innings of play and Drew VerHagen threw 3.2 innings of scoreless relief behind him, but it wasn't enough as an anemic offensive showing doomed the Commodores. Vandy put two men on base in the bottom of the ninth with one out, but were unable to rally for the win.
Game 2: Vanderbilt 5, Georgia 4 - Vandy trailed 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth, but Blake Dieterich's control issues gave the 'Dores plenty of baserunners and the opportunity to pull off a big time comeback. Conrad Gregor took advantage, rapping a two-out walkoff single to pull the series even at one game apiece on Saturday. The Vandy pitching staff also got a huge boost when sophomore T.J. Pecoraro made his 2012 debut for the team. Pecoraro, who missed last year's College World Series run due to Tommy John surgery, allowed one hit and struck out two batters in 1.2 innings of work.
Game 3: Vanderbilt 5, Georgia 3 - The 'Dores pulled off another comeback, this time trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, to clinch the series win in Nashville. Vince Conde's two-RBI triple was a huge piece of Vandy's two-out rally to earn the win. Drew VerHagen earned the win despite 2.2 shaky innings on the mound where he allowed seven baserunners.
AoG's weekly awards, the most prestigious in all of baseball, are after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Tyler Beede. Beede may have given up eight hits in five innings, but he also flashed the control that made him a first-round pick in last summer's MLB Draft. The true freshman struck out eight Bulldog batters while walking just one in his best outing of the season. Vanderbilt is counting on Beede to put together more performances like this as he rounds into shape as the team's #2 starter behind Ziomek (who also put together a solid performance this week). Beede still needs to strengthen up to be a top starter in the SEC, but Saturday's game was a major step forward for the youngster.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Conrad Gregor. "Conrad the Terrible" had hits in all four Vandy games this week, and came up big in the clutch when the weekend rolled around. His walkoff single lifted the 'Dores to victory on Saturday, and his RBI single on Sunday helped spark the team's two-out rally in the series clincher. After a slow start, the sophomore is now batting .295 and has 15 RBI on the season.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located far, far away from the Final Four in New Orleans thanks to some terrible refereeing. Vanderbilt finally looked like the top 25 team that they were supposed to be when this season started. While the team still made some mistakes (seven errors this week), the team dug down to find the mental toughness they'll need to be successful in the SEC. Conrad Gregor helped drive some clutch play that led to a salvaging pair of wins.
This team still has miles to go in order to even get to the NCAA Tournament, but Saturday and Sunday were strong steps forward for the Commodores. Vanderbilt is in the midst of a tougher rebuilding year than anyone wanted to imagine in February, but players like Gregor, Ziomek, Mike Yastrzemski, and Spencer Navin are doing their best to keep this team in the thick of things. Things won't get much easier with a South Carolina team that's desperate for a win coming to Nashville next weekend, but it will give this team the opportunity to show that last weekend's resurgence was for real.
vs. Tennessee Tech, March 27