Vanderbilt drops opening game to Florida after tough ninth inning

The Commodores led for most of the game.

Vanderbilt blew a ninth-inning lead to the No. 12 Florida Gators on Thursday night, as the Commodore pitchers struggled to keep their opponents off the base paths for the latter part of the game. Vanderbilt took advantage of two crucial errors early in the game but allowed five runs in the ninth to give the Gators the comeback win.

The Commodores struck first as the Gators made a throwing error to first base on an Alonzo Jones bunt after singles from Jason Delay and JJ Bleday to open the second inning. Delay scored from second during the play, which Connor Kaiser followed up with an RBI sacrifice bunt to bring in Bleday. A sharp liner from Will Toffey up the middle scored Jones from second, giving Vanderbilt an early 3-0 lead.

After cruising through the first inning, in which he struck out two batters, Patrick Raby made it through just 4.1 innings before being relieved by Matt Ruppenthal. Two weakly hit singles and a walk loaded the bases for the Gators in the third inning, which led to two runs from a sacrifice fly and single right after.

Vanderbilt answered with two runs in the fourth inning off another error with Jones at bat. After hitting a hard grounder up the middle that could have created a double play, the ball bounced off the shortstop’s glove. That allowed for Bleday to get to third, as Jones moved to second. Kaiser and Coleman drove both of them in with infield groundouts, moving Vanderbilt’s lead to 5-2.

The Gators would get one run in the fifth after a leadoff single and a well executed hit and run that put men on the corner. Ruppenthal then entered the game and walked the next two batters, which brought in a run to make it a two-run game. However, he was able to induce a groundout to end the inning with the lead.

Coming up in the bottom of the inning, Jeren Kendall faced an 0-2 count and already had two strikeouts in the game. That changed quickly, as he launched a home run off of Florida starting pitcher Alex Faedo just over the right fielder’s glove, giving Vanderbilt its final run of the game.

“I thought we did a good job against him,” Head Coach Tim Corbin said. “…We put six runs on him, that’s not easy to do.”

However, the scoring would be all for Florida after that. A leadoff double in the sixth would come home after two sacrifice hits. A leadoff single and double soon after would get a run in the seventh to bring the game within one run.

In the eighth inning, Florida got two men on after a single and passed ball strikeout with just one out. Corbin called on closer Reed Hayes to replace Ruppenthal, who struck out the first batter he faced. However, he walked the next batter, loading the bases. Then Hayes threw a pitch that got past Delay, prompting the Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie to sprint home. But the ball bounced hard off the wall right to Delay, who tagged the leaping Gator to end the inning and preserve the lead.

Hayes, who hadn’t let in a run all year, allowed three straight singles to open up the ninth inning, including Ryan Larson’s fifth hit of the game that brought in the tying run. After a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk, Guthrie would redeem himself, lining a single up the middle for the go-ahead run. Jackson Gillis then came into relieve Hayes but let up a three run double to the first batter he faced, improving Florida’s lead to 10-6. Vanderbilt wouldn’t respond with any runs of their own in the ninth, giving the Gators the opening game win.

“We needed to have better pitch execution,” Corbin said . “…I don’t think there were many pitch counts that we won. I thought that they had leverage counts the whole night and when you get leverage counts all night, you’re going to have a lot of balls hit hard like (Ryan) Larson.”

Leadoff at-bats hurt the Commodores throughout the night, as they allowed runners on base in six straight innings, from the fourth to the ninth. The Gators would score one run in three of those innings and five in the ninth to make a comeback, as the Vanderbilt bats couldn’t get it going. Alex Faedo ended the game with six runs allowed, but only two of those were earned, and he struck out seven. Florida’s relief pitchers combined for three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit against them. As a team, Florida outhit Vanderbilt 17 to 9 throughout the night.

“That dooms you, especially (against) a team that really moves their legs and can move the bat,” Corbin said.

Vanderbilt hadn’t lost a game all season when leading after eight innings until tonight. In fact, they had just one loss after leading through six innings. The teams will matchup again tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. with Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright taking on Florida’s Brady Singer.

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