After dropping Friday's opener, Vanderbilt battled back on the weekend to to square things up against #11 South Carolina. The 'Dores came alive behind Tyler Beede to give the freshman his first NCAA win on Saturday and had rallied back from a 4-0 deficit to send Sunday's game to extra innings. Then, just as this team looked to have turned a corner, they couldn't put away a resilient Gamecock squad.
Vanderbilt put a runner on third in both the 11th and 12th innings, but couldn't send home the series-clinching run. When the team's bullpen finally ran out of steam in the 13th, South Carolina's two-run inning was enough to win the weekend series. The loss dropped Vandy to 3-6 in conference play and made their uphill climb to the postseason a bit steeper.
The weekend matchup was a battle of teams that had underperformed in SEC play so far, and Gamecocks proved to be the better team. South Carolina out-scrapped the Commodores in a sloppy series that featured two one-sided blowouts and 14 combined errors. It was a series in which both teams needed to make a statement. Carolina had gone 1-5 in conference play after starting the season 17-2. Vanderbilt was just looking to get close to .500 on the season after a 7-15 start to their spring.
Ultimately, a young Vandy team acquitted themselves well, but not well enough. Sunday's loss will serve as another building block for a team that has had to replace not only its entire weekend rotation, but also the heart of their batting lineup from 2011. In a season whose success will be determined by how much growth and experience this team can log, the Diamond Dores got plenty this weekend. While that didn't translate into a series win, it's another step in the right direction for head coach Tim Corbin's squad.
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 6, Tennessee Tech 0: Joel McKeithan, starting at shortstop while Anthony Gomez played second base, had his best performance as a Commodore to date, putting together a 4-4 performance at the plate and scoring a pair of runs in the Vandy victory. Sam Selman picked up the win by striking out seven and allowing just two hits in five innings on the mound.
Game 1 - South Carolina 8, Vanderbilt 3: The Commodores couldn't recover from Carolina's five-run third inning, dropping their series opener to the Gamecocks 8-3. Kevin Ziomek had some uncharacteristic issues with his control, walking four batters and allowing 11 baserunners in 5.1 innings. Christian Walker, the 'Cocks All-American first baseman, didn't disappoint at the plate, clubbing a pair of home runs.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 12, South Carolina 4: Vandy rebounded to give Tyler Beede his first NCAA win in a Saturday blowout at Hawkins Field. The freshman put together a second straight strong showing, allowing just one run and striking out seven Gamecocks in the win. The Commodores exploded for 16 hits and matched their highest scoring output of the season with 12 runs.
Game 3 - South Carolina 6, Vanderbilt 4 (13 innings): The 'Dores had opportunities in three different innings to bring home the winning run from scoring position, but failed each time in the series-clinching loss to South Carolina. Conrad Gregor, the hero of last week's come-from-behind wins over Georgia, twice made the final out when a single would have likely won the game as Vandy was outlasted by the Gamecocks. The team's bullpen came up huge in relief, spinning seven scoring innings of play, but it wasn't enough to lock down the win.
Check out our prestigious pitching and batting awards after the jump...
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Drew VerHagen. Tyler Beede had the most impressive stat line of any Vandy pitcher this week, but it was VerHagen's work in long relief that gave this team a chance to beat South Carolina on Sunday. The former Oklahoma recruit and junior college transfer pitched 4.2 strong innings to give Vandy plenty of opportunities to pull off the upset in extra innings. He allowed just three baserunners over that span to keep the Gamecocks off the board.
VerHagen's emergence could be a major development for this team. He was given a shot to work his way into the weekend rotation early in the season, but eventually lost out to the team's current trio of Kevin Ziomek, Beede, and Will Clinard. His performance on Sunday proved his versatility, and now he has the team's lowest ERA amongst any Commodore starter. Could he make a play for Clinard's spot in the rotation in the coming weeks? Clinard is a pitcher who thrived as a reliever and who is strong enough to fill any role. Look for VerHagen to take a more significant role in Sunday games in the near future.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Joel McKeithan. Vanderbilt lacked a standout batter this week, so McKeithan takes the award behind his 4-4 breakout game against Tennessee Tech. While he went just 0-2 the rest of the week, it was a strong performance from the sophomore infielder. He'll still need to add power and consistency to play a bigger role for these Commodores, but it was an encouraging result from a young player to start off last week's play.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located down the hall from the Peyton Manning shrine in Bud Adams's mansion. Vandy took a hard loss after last week's inspiring wins, but played a very good South Carolina team competitively and furthered their status as a team the rest of the SEC will want to avoid in Hoover for the conference tournament.
The 'Dores still have plenty of flaws - inconsistent play and sloppy defense being the most glaring - but this weekend's results suggest that the team's offense and defense are starting to reconcile with this team's talent. Tyler Beede and Kevin Ziomek have now both proven that they can put together quality starts against high level teams. If they can dial up those kinds of performances consistently, then the Commodores will have a base from which they can build themselves up, and all the way back to the NCAA Tournament.
vs. Tennessee-Martin, April 3
at Mississippi State