Vanderbilt (20-12, 6-6) traveled to No. 12 South Carolina (21-9, 7-5) and won the series in dramatic fashion, taking the first two games before dropping the last one. A strong start from Patrick Raby on Thursday led Vanderbilt to a 7-6 victory, while Julian Infante’s extra inning home run was the difference in a 5-3 win on Friday. However, the Gamecocks dominated on Saturday to avoid the sweep. The series came at an important time for Vanderbilt, giving them their second SEC series win before hosting Florida this upcoming week.
Matt Ruppenthal shines in relief in long game
After Kyle Wright pitched six solid innings on Friday, Matt Ruppenthal came in for relief and ended up throwing longer than his starter. In seven innings of relief, in which he earned the win in extra innings, Ruppenthal dominated the Gamecocks, allowing just two hits. He was efficient with his pitches and lowered his ERA to 1.59, the best for all Vanderbilt pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched. The performance shows Ruppenthal’s range on the mound, as the Commodores could shift him into a starter role at some point in the season if needed.
Reed Hayes does it all around
On the mound and at the plate, Reed Hayes continues to prove his value as a versatile player. On Thursday, he closed out the win with Vanderbilt clinging to a one run lead after the Gamecocks scored four runs in the inning prior and sought a comeback. He allowed just a walk and has yet to allow any runs scored against him this season in over 10 innings of work. Then on Friday, Corbin called on Hayes to pinch hit for JJ Bleday with Will Toffey in scoring position with two outs. He then proceeded to single to left field, scoring Toffey and tying the game up. Vanderbilt would go on to win the game and clinch the series with the help of Hayes.
Julian Infante showcases his power
Both Vanderbilt wins were due much in part to the power of Julian Infante. On Thursday, he crushed a home run into the wind that hit the concourse right by the scoreboard in left field. That extra run would prove to be the difference in the game. Infante then sealed the deal more outright on Friday when he hit a two run home run in extra innings on the first pitch he saw in the at bat. He continues to be the team’s most consistent hitter in the lineup, combining pure power with great contact. His batting average is at .356 with an on base percentage of .441 and slugging percentage of .576, giving him the highest OPS on the team at 1.017.
Drake Fellows struggling in the SEC
The SEC continues to be tough on freshman pitcher Drake Fellows, who has yet to make a quality start in conference play. He didn’t make it out of the third inning on Saturday, allowing four runs on five hits, while only striking out one batter. He ran into issues in the second inning, after pitching a perfect first. South Carolina started the inning with two singles, and a home run brought those runs in, giving the Gamecocks a lead they would never relinquish. In the next inning, he allowed a leadoff double that would become a run following two sacrifice hits. He then hit a batter and let up a single, prompting Corbin to take him out of the game. The last strong start for Fellows was on March 12 against St. Mary’s, when he pitched eight dominant innings. His ERA jumped up to 2.79, and there could be some adjustments made in the rotation if he continues to struggle against the conference.
Fellows in Non-conference play (4 games):
3-0, 1.00 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 3 walks, 6.75 innings per start
Fellows in SEC play (3 games):
0-1, 6.94 ERA, 11 strikeouts, 6 walks, 3.88 innings per start
Strikeouts doom Vanderbilt
While the Commodores picked up two wins, they struggled to make contact at times. During the series, they struck out 39 times as a team, while South Carolina did so just 17 times in total. Kendall led Vanderbilt with eight strikeouts and leads the team with 40 on the season. The Gamecocks’ starting pitchers, Clark Schmidt and Adam Hill, each struck out 11 batters, as Vanderbilt looked outmatched at times. Hill didn’t allow a hit during his start but only made it through six innings, as his fastball zoomed right past the Commodore bats. The Commodores have the fourth most strikeouts in the conference with 261, although their opponents have 290.
The fielding needs some improvement
Vanderbilt currently ranks tenth in the SEC in team fielding percentage and a defensive lapse on Friday night almost doomed them. An error by Alonzo Jones put a man on for the Gamecocks to start off the third inning. Then, he cleanly fielded a groundball from the next batter, attempted to tag the runner but missed, and then couldn’t get the ball to Infante for the out at first in time. What could have been two outs turned into a three run inning, the only runs they scored the entire game. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, they went on to win the game. These simple fielding gaffes can be the difference in games the SEC, as runs can be tough to come by against the strong conference pitching.