The Commodores came into the weekend seeking their first SEC series victory and instead opened conference play with an opener loss and a series loss just a day later. The 'Dores didn't look like their normal selves again until Sunday when they smashed the baseball scoring 12 runs on 14 hits, indulging in a team effort. Before that, however, the bats seemed relatively quiet as Friday night's game went to 13 innings in a one-run loss, and Saturday's contest couldn't be overcome in another one-run victory for Mississippi State.
GAME ONE: Vanderbilt 1, Mississippi St. 2 (13)
Friday, March 18
Jordan Sheffield only allowed one run (unearned) in the first inning, only allowing five hits while he struck out none batters in his six-inning start. It was a good performance as expected for Sheffield, and Matt Ruppenthal came in relief and pitched wonderfully, as well. Ruppenthal scattered three hits over seven stellar innings before the Bulldogs snagged one in the 13th. Will Toffey had two hits in the game and worked a couple walks as well, but the Commodores left 12 runners on base in the extra-inning contest.
GAME TWO: Vanderbilt 4, Mississippi St. 5
Saturday, March 19
Alonzo Jones was the only Commodore with multiple hits but Bryan Reynolds accumulated three RBI in the close loss that was battled into the later innings of the game. Vanderbilt scored in the first before it was answered by two Bulldog runs in the fourth to take the lead, but not for long as the Commodores tied it in the bottom half of the inning. The Bulldogs took the lead again as the ping-pong match continued in the top of the fifth, but the Commodores scored two in the seventh to take the lead for the first time since the first. The Bulldogs answered that with two runs in the eighth, however, to take the lead and bring home the SEC opening series victory. Ben Bowden pitched five innings and allowed three runs on five hits, striking out seven Bulldogs in the process. Collin Snider relieved Bowden for 2.1 innings of scoreless work, while Evan Steele and Hayden Stone came in towards the end and each allowed a run. The hits were scattered along the lineup for the Commodores but they couldn't overcome a 5-4 lead in the bottom couple innings.
GAME THREE: Vanderbilt 12, Mississippi St. 6
Sunday, March 20
The Commodores finally looked like their normal offensive selves again as they took off running in the first inning scoring three runs and five runs in the third inning. The Bulldogs tried to come back, scoring one in the third, two in the fourth and another two in the fifth, but ultimately couldn't overcome the eight runs scored by the Dores. The Bulldogs' last attempt at redemption came in the seventh inning, tallying their total runs to six, but the Commodores returned scoring one in the bottom half of the seventh, and three more in the eighth to win the ballgame 12-6. Jeren Kendall, Bryan Reynolds, Ethan Paul and Tyler Campbell all had two hits, but Jason Delay won that contest with three hits and four RBI for the Commodores.
Mississippi State is not a bad baseball team. I want to put that out first-and-foremost. They're not a bad baseball team. They're actually really good. Vanderbilt is better, but not this weekend. The Bulldogs had to take the 'Dores into 13 innings in order to overcome the pitching performances by Sheffield and Ruppenthal, but ultimately came out on top by a run. On Saturday, the Commodores were a run and a hit behind Mississippi State, and lost 5-4. But on Sunday, the bats had awoken and the Commodores came out on top as they have all season. Is it something to be worried about? Maybe. If the Commodores can't back Sheffield and Ruppenthal consistently, then there may be a problem later on in the season. But do you really think the offense can't back the pitching? At this point, it's not a problem, yet.
Player of the Week: Bryan Reynolds
Although he was generally quiet in Friday's game (as were the rest of the Commodores), Reynolds contributed three RBI in Saturday's 5-4 loss including a home run late in the game, and had a couple of hits and an RBI in Sunday's 12-6 victory. Jason Delay did go 3-for-4 on Sunday with two runs scored and four RBI, however Sunday was marginally better across the board for all of the Commodores compared to the previous two days.
Pitcher of the Week: Matt Ruppenthal
Ruppenthal showed his versatility this weekend as he pitched a career-high seven innings and allowed only one run on three hits and seven strikeouts. He came in for Sheffield and stayed through extras while the offense tried to come alive, and an unfortunate Bulldog bloop single ended the scoring in the ballgame as the Commodores could not overcome a 2-1 lead in the 13th. Nonetheless, should the Commodores ever need a long relief pitcher, Ruppenthal proved that he has the ability to do so, effectively. A pleasant surprise with an unhappy ending for the Commodores which was hardly Ruppenthal's fault.
Vanderbilt plays Middle Tennessee State tonight in Murfreesboro with a game time starting at 6 pm, before going on the road to Missouri for the second series of SEC play. The Commodores will take on the Mizzou Tigers on Friday, March 25, at 6 pm; Saturday, March 26 at 5 pm; and Sunday, March 27 at 12 pm. Saturday's and Sunday's contests will be aired on SEC Network while Friday night's game can be viewed online at SECN+.