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Vanderbilt Closes California with Two Loss Weekend

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The Commodore win streak was snapped by USC and the team suffered another loss to TCU in Dodger Stadium. With weaknesses pointed out and available for improvement, Vanderbilt can only get better going into conference play.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get into this recap, don’t get too worked up over the numbers or the scores.

Vanderbilt went to LA with the distinct knowledge that we will be playing three of the [other] best teams in college baseball in an environment completely unfamiliar to us. While two of those teams, UCLA and USC, are more comfortable playing at home and are ranked #4 and #22 (or around there) by most collegiate baseball rankings, TCU would be the only other non-western team besides us making the trip out there. Also, TCU was ranked in the top 5 with Vanderbilt by at least three other national rankings.

Combining baseball of California, Texas and the South was going to be a fun and different game. Each team would see things they’re not used to. The end results were bound to be different than usual.

This does not mean our Commodores are anything less than what we’ve believed they have become.

GAME ONE: Vanderbilt 6, UCLA 0

March 6, 2015

Vanderbilt started off the weekend well playing the UCLA Bruins behind once again another quality start from Carson Fulmer. Fulmer, who is 3-0 so far this season, allowed only three hits and nine strikeouts across 6.1 innings before Phil Pfiefer came in for relief. Pfiefer pitched the rest of the game almost flawlessly, allowing no hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

It helped that Vanderbilt took an early 2-0 lead in the first, from which they never looked back. Our first three batters got on board, with Swanson getting the first RBI, and an error scoring Wiseman. The Commodores didn’t score again until the 5th inning, when Wiseman lined his second home run this season.

After that, it was smooth sailing for the Commodores, as they scored twice more in the 6th inning and once in the 7th to cap the 6-0 lead. Fulmer and Pfiefer (sounds like a sitcom) kept the Bruins hitless in the last four frames to secure the victory on the Friday night LA game.

GAME TWO: USC 6, Vanderbilt 5

March 7, 2015

There’s nothing you can do about a walk-off home run going the other way. USC topped all three teams this weekend, and they were ranked lowest out of the four. In my opinion, going into the weekend, I started noticing the recognition USC wasn’t getting that had previously mistaken me to nearly overlook them. In my prediction, I saw us losing to USC based on the fact that our mid-weekend performances aren’t up to par with our Friday night performances, and I saw us beating ourselves that game.

But the Commodores battled all the way through the end of the 9th when a two-out, solo home run capped it for Southern California.

It was definitely a battle, however, and the lead bounced back and forth between the two teams. Vanderbilt struck in the top of the first with an immediate response by USC in the bottom half, and it was ping pong after that. The Trojans scored twice in the third, but Vanderbilt answered with a single run in the fourth. That run was answered by another run by USC, but the Commodores tied it in the fifth with two runs. The Trojans took another quick lead in the bottom half, which stayed that way until Bryan Reynolds tied the game up in the eighth, scoring Kendall.

Unfortunately, that was the end of the scoring for the Commodores, and in the bottom half of the ninth, Ben Bowden received his first career loss allowing a walk-off home run. John Kilichowski allowed five runs, three earned, on five hits in just over four innings. Kyle Wright relieved him and silenced USC for nearly three innings.

GAME THREE: TCU 4, Vanderbilt 2

March 8, 2015

The "make or break it" game, as some might have called it, came down to Vanderbilt facing TCU in the coveted Dodger Stadium. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in LA facing two top-ranked teams from out of state.

Walker Buehler pitched the first four innings before allowing his first run, when Pfiefer took the mound and earned his first loss of the season. Pfiefer allowed three runs on five hits over five innings of work, the only damage being done in the fifth and ninth inning. Although Wiseman went 3-for-4 with a run scored, the Commodores couldn’t score in the later frames to take TCU. THe Commodores scored in the fifth and sixth inning, but saw a 3-2 lead by the Horned Frogs that they couldn't overcome. TCU got the insurance run in the top of the ninth, but didn't need it as the Commodores fell 4-2.

Overall...

Don’t freak out. We played better teams this weekend than we’re going to throughout most of conference play. And we played well against them, in unfamiliar territory and a major league stadium for that matter. This weekend could be a blessing in [a very disappointing] disguise, because until now, we haven’t had anybody show us our true weaknesses.

These teams have different styles of playing the game, and they had different strengths to pull out our weaknesses. Going into the midweek games and the first conference play this weekend, the Commodores know exactly what to work on and how to overcome our weaknesses. Once we learned that, once we overcome that, we can take conference play by storm and show everyone why we deserved to be National Champions last year and why we deserve to be #1.

Then, when we play TCU and USC in the postseason, as all of this weekend's teams are likely to make it, we can beat them. And we can show them how they helped Vanderbilt be a better team. (This is my rally speech. I still believe!)

Pitcher of the Week: Carson Fulmer

Even though Walker Buehler had a great midweek two-inning start and a stellar TCU start allowing only one run on three hits over four innings, the game didn’t end as well as we’d like, and Carson gave us our only win this weekend with a phenomenal start. He had nine strikeouts and he now has 20 strikeouts over his last two starts, 14.1 innings. Walker Buehler will earn Pitcher of the Week shortly, once he is back regularly and consistently. Until then, congratulations to Carson Fulmer, who once again provided consistent quality starts for the season.

Player of the Week: Rhett Wiseman

I like Rhett. During the midweek games, some fans have asked me who my favorite player is. I try to remain unbiased, but it's getting harder and harder not to say Rhett. On Friday night, Wiseman went 2-for-4 with a home run. On Sunday, he scored one of the only two runs of the ballgame, and went 3-for-4. Over the last four games, Wiseman went 10-for-17 (.588) As I said, I like Rhett.

Coming up...

Vanderbilt plays two mid-week games against Quinnipiac on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 10 and 11, both at 6:30 at home. The Commodores then open up conference play against Arkansas at Hawkins Field, on Friday, March 13, at 6:30. Saturday’s game will start at 2 pm, and Sunday’s game begins at noon.