Bleday, Raby lead Vanderbilt to bounce-back win

Vanderbilt evened its first home weekend series of the season on Saturday afternoon, defeating UIC 6-2 at Hawkins Field. Following a mistake-littered 5-3 extra-inning loss on Friday night, the Commodores (4-2) made their fair share of mistakes on Saturday but covered their gaffes up with some timely hitting to set up a rubber match with UIC (3-3) tomorrow afternoon.

Sophomore Patrick Raby pitched six strong innings in his second start of the season, allowing just three hits and one unearned run, while striking out six UIC batters and walking just two. Raby surrendered singles to the first two hitters in the second inning of a scoreless game but promptly struck out the next two Flames he faced before inducing a groundout to strand runners at the corners and preserve the scoreless tie.

Vanderbilt struck first in the bottom of the third, as Ro Coleman and Connor Kaiser started the inning with singles before freshman JJ Bleday broke the ice with an RBI single to center. Will Toffey followed with a book rule double over the wall in left center to make it 2-0 Commodores.

Following another scoreless frame from Raby, the ‘Dores struck again in the fourth. Alonzo Jones scored on an errant throw after Coleman stole second, and Bleday slapped a two out, two run double down the left field line to make it 5-0 Vandy and chase UIC starter Jack Andersen. Bleday hit second in the batting order for the first time, following up his game tying double on Friday night by going 3-of-4 with two doubles and three runs batted in.

Not unlike Friday night’s extra inning loss, game two of the series included multiple Commodore miscues, including three errors. Catcher Jason Delay made an unwarranted pickoff throw to third that sailed out into left, allowing the Flames to score their first run in the fifth. Relief pitcher Penn Murfee threw wide of first base on a grounder back to the mound to start the seventh, which led to UIC’s second unearned run of the game.

A throwing error by Toffey afforded the Flames another extra base in the eighth, but did not cost the Commodores a run thanks to some excellent jam work by Reed Hayes, who made his Commodore pitching debut with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. Hayes, a two-way played and transfer from Walters State Community College, stranded all three of his inherited runners on a flyout and pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn a save.

The Commodores will look to win the series and cut down on a weekend’s worth of mistakes Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the series finale. Freshman right-hander Drake Fellows makes his first home start as a Commodore against UIC righty Reid Birlingmair.

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