The mark of a good team is the ability to find ways to win games. The mark of a great team is the ability to win in every way possible.
The Vanderbilt Commodores showed signs of being that kind of great team on Sunday with a decisive 8-3 win in the rubber match of the three-game series against the Georgia Bulldogs. Vanderbilt found their runs through a combination of small ball and the long ball. They jumped in front 5-1 in the fifth inning with four runs through two singles, a double and a fielder’s choice, then added some insurance with a three-run blast by Stephen Scott in the seventh inning.
“Yeah, runners on first and third, we talk about just putting the ball in play and doing your job,” Scott said of his insurance homer. “That’s really what I was trying to do. The guys in front of me had done a great job of getting into scoring position, so then just trying to move the chain.”
Freshman pitcher Mason Hickman had himself a solid outing, throwing 6.2 innings with six strikeouts and three earned runs. He had command of his breaking ball all game long, including on this gem of a curveball for a strikeout.
Y'all definitely need to look at this Mason Hickman curveball. WOOF. pic.twitter.com/AGgLLf3cFK
— Vandy Hustler Sports (@vuhustlersports) April 7, 2018
“For all intents and purposes, he could have maybe walked out of here with no runs, but they hit a couple balls hard but in today’s wind the ball just didn’t travel too much,” head coach Tim Corbin said of Hickman’s performance. “He set the tone early, the pace was good, a lot of strikes and he got deep into the ballgame. Getting deep into a ballgame in the last day of a series is very difficult to do.”
With temperatures in the 30s all game long, players did everything they could to keep warm. Movement was key as multiple players were seen moving around more than normal in the field and in the dugout. There were even snow flurries flying around as the game began.
Corbin didn’t think the players minded too much, though.
“I actually thought they had fun with it,” Corbin said. “If you turn on Major League Baseball you’re seeing a lot of that right now. Dansby and Flaherty playing in Colorado yesterday in 25-degree weather, maybe colder. The conditions are what they are, you’ve just got to deal with them and we’ve always done a nice job of doing that.”
It took four innings for either team to get on the board. With a runner on first and two outs, Georgia’s Adam Sasser blooped a ball into left field that was misplayed by Vanderbilt freshman Cooper Davis. He couldn’t get a read on it, slid just past the ball and couldn’t get an accurate throw home to nail Cam Shepherd running for the plate. The Commodores escaped the inning down by just one run.
Vanderbilt responded in the bottom half of the inning with an Ethan Paul two-out RBI single to drive home Connor Kaiser. Kaiser reached second thanks to a single of his own and a throwing error on a pickoff attempt by the pitcher. The Commodores and Bulldogs entered the fifth inning tied at one.
The fifth inning was a wacky one for Vanderbilt. With one runner on base, Hickman tripped as he tried to catch a popped-up bunt, but Paul was there to field it and get the runner at second. Later, it appeared Alonzo Jones caught a fly ball on a slide to end the inning, but the umpire determined he trapped it and a review confirmed the ruling. Hickman would get out of the inning with the very next batter.
In the bottom half of the inning, Davis reached on an infield single before stealing second and reaching third on an errant throw down. Austin Martin sent him home and gave Vanderbilt the lead with a single to right field on the next play. Jones reached on a bunt single and put Martin on third with no one out. After a Clarke pop-out, Pat DeMarco brought Martin home with another infield single to make the score 3-1.
From there, Vanderbilt began to blow the game open. With runners on the corners, Scott laced a double to right field to score Jones and move DeMarco to third and put the Commodores up 4-1. That was all she wrote for starting pitcher Emerson Hancock.
With a new pitcher in the game, Connor Kaiser executed the safety squeeze with a bunt down the first base line to score DeMarco. However, Scott came in a bit too hot behind him and was thrown out trying to get back to third base. Paul grounded out to first to mercifully end a four-run inning for Vanderbilt.
Corbin was pleased with his team’s ability to score in many different ways.
“You try to give them the tools to be able to do it if the arrangement happens,” Corbin said. “We were just fortunate that we were in that situation and we executed pretty well. We got some legs going, it was all predicated on the leadoff hitter, Cooper, beating out a ball. After that, we did some nice things and got some big hits in there too. Scotty with a double and then opening up the game later with a home run. That was good to see that aspect of our game.”
In the top of the seventh inning, a single to right field and an infield hit gave Georgia two baserunners with two outs. On the ensuing play, Shepherd sent a hard-hit ball to center field where Jones came up too quickly on it and saw the ball hit off his glove and go to the wall. Two runs scored on the triple to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 5-3. An Aaron Schunk fly-out ended the threat for Georgia.
The Georgia comeback attempt would be short-lived, however, as Scott gave Vanderbilt some insurance with a towering three-run shot to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The series win ends a skid for Vanderbilt, which will be big for the team’s confidence as SEC play heats up.
“I just think to play well would help our confidence,” Corbin said. “The kids need some validation, of course, on the scoreboard, but we just needed to play well and do some things that we thought we were capable of doing and they were able to do that this weekend.”
With the win, Vanderbilt claims their third SEC series win and yet another over a Top-25 opponent. They’ll look to win their first mid-week home game since February 28 when they take on Western Kentucky this Tuesday.