It took nearly two months, but Vanderbilt finally got their first road win of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough in a tightly-contested series loss to Mississippi State this weekend.
The Commodores' hard luck season continued as the Bulldogs rapped a ninth-inning double against Kevin Ziomek to win Sunday's game and drop Vandy into last place in the SEC. The Commodores currently sit outside the newly-expanded SEC Tournament field, and their hopes for a NCAA Tournament bid grew dimmer as the team sunk to 13-19 overall on the season.
The losses in Starksville were a disappointing end to a promising week. Vanderbilt started strong with a 16-2 beatdown of Tennessee-Martin and were looking to rebound from a heartbreaking series loss to South Carolina against a Mississippi State team that had gone 2-4 over their last six games. Instead, the Commodores ended up playing catchup all week and just didn't have the firepower to pull out the wins they needed to rise up the conference rankings.
Ziomek saw his rough streak continue as well. He was tagged for the loss in the series opener after allowing four runs in just two innings of work, then came on in relief to take the loss on Sunday as well. He is now 0-5 since SEC play started, leaving the Commodores winless on Fridays since defeating San Diego over a month ago.
Vandy's pitching problems aren't just limited to the Omega Man. The team is still struggling to find a permanent answer to fill the starting slot on Sundays. Recently, Will Clinard and Drew VerHagen have taken up that role despite also pitching in long relief during the week. Without a stable option for game three of SEC showdowns, the team will continue to search for the consistency that Taylor Hill provided in the past two seasons. Sam Selman, who shut down UT-Martin on Tuesday, could be an option but likely needs more seasoning after a rough start to his season. Sophomore T.J. Pecoraro, who is working in short innings after last year's UCL tear, is another candidate for that role.
Game recaps and the prestigious AoG weekly awards are after the jump...
Game 0 - Vanderbilt 16, UT-Martin 2: Tony Kemp had his first collegiate home run and every Vanderbilt starter reached base at least once as the Commodores routed the Skyhawks in Nashville. Sam Selman struck out seven batters in five innings to record the win. Freshman John Norwood, replacing Kemp late in the game, also recorded his first NCAA dinger with a three-run blast in the eighth inning.
Game 1 - Mississippi State 7, Vanderbilt 4: Mississippi State jumped out to an early 6-1 lead against Ziomek, and that was enough to keep the 'Dores at bay in Friday's opener. The Bulldogs' Chris Stratton continued his streak of hot Friday starts with six strong innings and improved to 7-0 on the season.
Game 2 - Vanderbilt 4, Mississippi State 3 (12 innings): Tyler Beede put together his third straight quality start to help drive the Commodores to a series-evening win on Saturday afternoon. The touted freshman allowed just two hits in six innings to give the 'Dores a chance to win the game. The team led 3-2 in the ninth inning, but T.J. Pecoraro gave up a two-out double that gave the 'Dogs new life. Fortunately, Anthony Gomez's RBI single in the 12th was enough to give Vanderbilt the win.
Game 3 - Mississippi State 8, Vanderbilt 7: Another Gomez RBI single knotted things at 7-7 in the ninth inning, but Mississippi State was able to answer this time, resulting in the series win. Kevin Ziomek gave up a leadoff walk to start the inning, but got a key strikeout and flyout to push the game close to extra innings. However, Darryl Norris's clutch two-out double two pitches later scored the winning run, dropping the 'Dores to 4-8 in conference play.
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Sam Selman. Granted, it came against a weak UT-Martin team, but Selman's two-hit, seven-strikeout performance against the Skyhawks was a bright spot for a rotation that has struggled in 2012. The hard throwing junior tied career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts as he made a pitch for a spot in the regular rotation. However, he's still got a ways to go in order to prove that he can start in the SEC. Vanderbilt needs a stable third option as this season wears on, and Selman's 6.43 ERA is not the mark of a weekend starter.
It's also worth noting that Selman had a similarly strong performance against Rhode Island earlier in the season, but couldn't translate that momentum into the appearances that followed. Can he harness the talent that has made him an intriguing prospect and develop into a stable presence for the Commodores? Tuesday's performance certainly gives this team hope.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Tony Kemp and Anthony Gomez. Vanderbilt's 1-2 combination at the top of the order delivered in a big way, batting .417 total and setting the table for one of the 'Dores highest scoring weeks of the season so far. Kemp started things off strongly, hitting his first collegiate home run Tuesday in a rout against Tennessee-Martin. However, it was Gomez, with at least two hits in each of his past four games, who may have been the most impressive. His RBI single in the 12th inning went down as Saturday's game-winning hit and set the table for strong Sunday showing. Together, Kemp and Gomez combined for six hits on Sunday and it was Gomez's two-out RBI single in the ninth inning that gave the 'Dores a chance to pull off a come-from-behind series win in Starksville.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located deep in Jewpacabra territory in central Colorado. Vanderbilt lost another heartbreaking series, and their time to turn things around is running out. There are just six weeks left in the regular season, and while the schedule gets a bit easier, this team really needed some big wins in Starksville. With 22 games left before the SEC Tournament, Vandy will have to go 15-7 just to ensure a .500 record if they're unsuccessful in Hoover. That's a tall task for any team in the country's toughest baseball conference.
vs. Belmont, April 11