Freshmen shine as Vanderbilt clobbers Duke 9-1 for opening day victory


The Vanderbilt Commodores play the Duke Devils on Friday, February 16th, 2018. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

Max Schneider, Associate Sports Editor

One up, one down.

The Commodores held a coming out party on Opening Day in college baseball, knocking around the Duke Blue Devils for an 9-1 victory at Hawkins Field. Friday night gave Vanderbilt its 18th straight victory in home openers, dating back to 2001. It was everything Vanderbilt could have hoped for after the seven-month hiatus from in-game action.

Filling in for Patrick Raby in the Friday role, Drake Fellows looked virtually unhittable in just 4.1 short innings of work, letting up just one hit and striking out four. The Illinois native coupled his mid-90s fastball with a sharp slider that baffled hitters throughout the late afternoon. Jackson Gillis was equally impressive out of the bullpen, racking up 3.2 scoreless innings and allowing only one hit.

At the plate, the Commodores were far from shy. Three freshman graced the starting lineup to start the season, and they burst on to the scene, particularly Pat DeMarco, the leadoff man. DeMarco went 3-4 in the game, reaching base four times and scoring twice, quelling Vanderbilt fans’ fears of the loss of Jeren Kendall to the Dodgers, at least for the time being.

“It just felt like [DeMarco] was the right guy and the right person to start the season off in that spot,” said manager Tim Corbin said of his leadoff hitter. “He’s the type of kid that probably fits a lot of positional roles in a lineup, but after that game tonight he’ll probably see that spot again.”

Jayson Gonzalez and Philip Clarke provided even more offense, giving the Commodore freshman six hits in their first collegiate action.

“It’s no doubt contagious,” Clarke said of the team’s hitting. “It’s been that way all fall, all preseason. When one of us gets rolling all of us go and that’s one of the awesome things about this team.”

It was all zeroes through the first four innings, as both the Vanderbilt and Duke hitters struggled to capitalize with men on base. Fellows looked strong through the first three innings, allowing no hits and just one walk, leaning on that slider to get his outs.

DeMarco led off the game with a walk, and quickly stole second to put the Commodores into scoring position in the first inning, but Vanderbilt couldn’t capitalize. A walk to Gonzalez and a single by Alonzo Jones gave the Dores another shot in the second, but Adam Laskey buckled down and retired the side.

Duke picked up its first hit in the top of the fourth on a swinging bunt from Chris Proctor, but Fellows quickly retired Zack Kone to keep the Blue Devils scoreless.

After looking dominant through four innings, things started to unravel for Fellows in the top of the fifth. A leadoff walk and a hit by pitch put Duke in business with no outs. Following a sacrifice bunt by Joey Loperfido, Fellows issued his fourth walk of the game to Jimmy Herron. That was all Tim Corbin needed to see, and he pulled the 6’5 sophomore in favor of the left-hander Gillis. Griffin Conine, a preseason All-American selection by Baseball America, provided the first run of the ball game on a sacrifice fly to left, giving Duke a 1-0 lead in the fifth.

The Commodores wasted no time responding in the bottom half of the inning, and they responded big. Jones lined a single to right for his second hit of the game, and quickly showed off his elite speed with a steal of second. Scott singled up the middle to plate Jones, and just like that, the ball game was tied again. But the rally continued. DeMarco pulled a hard ground ball down the left field line into the corner for a double, scoring Scott. Hunter Davis came into the ballgame to replace Laskey, but fared no better, walking Connor Kaiser before giving up a single through the hole on the right side off the bat of Ethan Paul to score two more for the Commodores. He proceeded to plunk Julian Infante, before inducing Clarke into a double play ball. After two more singles from Gonzalez and JJ Bleday, Duke finally got out of the inning, but not before allowing a five-spot.

Gillis hit Proctor to lead off the sixth, but quickly retired the next three batters to hold the lead. Davis couldn’t say the same for his squad. Scott led off the bottom of the inning with a sharp single to right, and DeMarco followed with a single up the middle, his third hit of the day and fourth time on base in as many plate appearances. Kaiser loaded the bases with a single, which would end a rough outing for Davis. Paul plated Scott on a sacrifice fly off new pitcher Matt Dockman, who induced a pop-up from Infante two give the Blue Devils their second out of the inning and a chance to keep the game within striking distance. That chance was short-lived, as Clarke knocked a bloop single into left to score both DeMarco and Kaiser, giving Vanderbilt a commanding 8-1 lead.

After a 1-2-3 inning from Gillis, Bleday led off the bottom of the seventh with a double down the right field line, but remained stranded on third.

Gillis worked himself out of a jam in the eighth, and Vanderbilt tacked on another run in the latter half of the inning. Ethan Paul singled and advanced to second on an Infante groundout. Clarked followed up with a hard hit single off Loperfido’s glove to give Vanderbilt a 9-1 lead, and the score would remain there.

Freshman reliever Aaron Brown kept the Blue Devils off the board in the ninth to close it out.

Game two of the series will be played tomorrow at noon, with Zach King on the mound.