Keegan, Rodriguez power Gold Team to win in opening game of Black and Gold Series

Vanderbilt’s young bats shined at the top of the lineup and its freshmen pitchers came on strong in relief Thursday night

Vanderbilt kicked off its 2019 Black and Gold scrimmage with a close 3-2 victory for Gold on Thursday night. (Hustler Multimedia/Brent Szklaruk)

Brent Szklaruk

Vanderbilt kicked off its 2019 Black and Gold scrimmage with a close 3-2 victory for Gold on Thursday night. (Hustler Multimedia/Brent Szklaruk)

Max Schneider, Sports Editor

The temperature is in the low 40s, football season is in full swing and Thanksgiving is rolling around, but it’s never too early for a little baseball.

The Vanderbilt Commodores followed up a 14-inning scrimmage against Michigan last week with their annual Black and Gold Series that kicked off Thursday night at Hawkins field. On the backs of a strong day from catcher CJ Rodriguez and first baseman Dominic Keegan, Gold Team took the opening game of the intrasquad series 3-2.

Tim Corbin’s squad has had its fair share of action early this fall, and he elected to sit a couple of his returning stars in favor of getting some younger guys time in the field. Ty Duvall and Austin Martin, both integral members of last year’s National Championship team, weren’t in the lineup, and instead could be found coaching first base for their respective teams. In their place was an abundance of freshmen.

Four freshmen started for Black and five started for Gold, with the lineups rounded out by virtually all new faces. Harrison Ray was the only returning starting hitter in the lineup for either side.

“I was watching them on TV a couple months ago and now I’m here catching them,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a while so to finally get the chance to come out and do it, it’s been awesome.”

Dueling aces Kumar Rocker and Mason Hickman got the starts for Black and Gold, respectively, and ran into a little trouble early.

After Hickman hurled a scoreless first inning for Gold in the first, Rocker took the mound in the bottom half, and after striking out center fielder Will Duff in the leadoff spot, Rodriguez laced a double to left. Keegan wasted no time capitalizing in the three-hole, lining a single right back up the middle to plate Rodriguez and give Gold an early 1-0 lead.

“They felt really good, felt really centered,” Keegan said of his plate appearances. “First at-bat he gave me a curveball and I hit it up the middle. Just tried to stay on it. He’s great, he’s an excellent pitcher so it’s good for me to face him today to just get better.”

The lead wouldn’t last long, though. Third baseman Parker Noland led off the inning for Black, turning a ball around and shooting it into centerfield, just under the sliding reach of Duff for a double. Catcher Maxwell Romero followed suit, driving a fastball off the right-centerfield wall for a triple, scoring Noland to tie the game at one apiece. Troy Laneve’s sacrifice fly on the ensuing at-bat pushed Black in front 2-1.

Rocker settled down in the second inning with a vintage frame befit of the big right-hander’s abilities. The sophomore and former College World Series Most Outstanding Player struck out the side in order, showing off his breaking ball in each of the three at-bats.

After an equally strong showing from Hickman in the top of the third, Rodriguez and Keegan showed off the bats again in the bottom half. This time it was Rodriguez singling and Keegan lacing a double into the right-center field gap to give Gold second and third with nobody out. After a flyout and a hit-by pitch to load the bases, shortstop Carter Young hit a dribbler to first baseman Spencer Jones. Jones charged the ball, but it just clipped his glove and trickled away to push Rodriguez across home plate and regain the lead for Gold.

From there, they’d never look back. Michael Doolin entered the game to pitch for Gold and Sam Hliboski came in relief for Black. The two freshman right-handers traded scoreless innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth.

“Two freshmen arms settled the offenses down,” said Corbin of his relievers. “I thought they threw the ball well, lot of strikes. They commanded the ball well.”

Sophomore Chance Huff entered in the top of the seventh to close it out for Gold in the first game of the annual three game set at Hawkins Field.

After the game, Corbin seemed pretty pleased with what he saw on the field.

“I just like to see the guys competing against one another,” Corbin said. “Any time you get competition, it’s what you want. From a coaching perspective, it’s great to get everyone out there because once the spring comes, that changes quickly.”

Black will look to even the series in Game Two Friday night at 5:00 p.m. CT.