The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt prevails over Belmont 4-1 thanks to stellar pitching

The VandyBoys sluggish start on offense was offset by dominant defense and a great start from Christian Little.
Jayson Gonzalez stomps on home plate after a solo home run against Belmont on March 16, 2021. (Twitter/@VandyBoys)

The second-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores welcomed their crosstown rivals, the Belmont Bruins, to Hawkins Field on Tuesday, March 16 for their last nonconference game before SEC play. The VandyBoys successfully defended their home field, surviving a ninth-inning challenge to defeat Belmont 4-1. 

The Nashvillians faced each other for a one=off contest with each team struggling for offensive production. After winning their first away series against Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt struggled to maintain the high scoring offensive momentum that had propelled them to double digits last weekend, but triumphed thanks to great pitching.

“We got two huge pick offs which negated two runners. Plus, that double play to end the game really helped us out when we were slow on offense,” Coach Corbin said. “Pitching also really came through for us.”

Freshman pitcher Christian Little started on the mound for the Commodores, looking to redeem himself after a subpar performance against Memphis. He was absolutely dominant in the first inning, striking two Belmont batters out looking, each with blazing fastballs. 

The Commodores did not take long to welcome their adversaries from just a mile up the road, as they struck first at the plate. Senior left fielder Cooper Davis bunted for a base hit on the first pitch of the game. However, he was thrown out in a rundown on a pickoff attempt. Sophomore shortstop Carter Young flew out to right, leaving Vanderbilt with two outs. Freshman designated hitter Jack Bulger refused to let the inning die, doubling into left field, after which sophomore first baseman Parker Noland battled back from a 1-2 count and drew a walk. Freshman right fielder Isaiah Thomas then loaded the bases with a squibbler to third, and the two-out rally finally paid off when sophomore catcher C.J. Rodriquez walked, bringing in Bulger. Belmont escaped the inning with the bases loaded after another fly out, but the damage was done and the Commodores jumped ahead with a 1-0 lead. 

The top of the second came and went as Little gave up a hit but recorded a strikeout. Through two innings, Little had thrown 25 pitches with an outstanding 72 percent for strikes. 

Belmont made a pitching change after only one inning, but freshman center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. took advantage of the opportunity and immediately got on base after an error. He then promptly stole second and third base only two pitches later. Senior third baseman Jayson Gonzalez brought Bradfield Jr. with a RBI groundout. Davis walked but Young hit into a double play, which should have ended the inning. An official’s review overturned the call, however, and Young was awarded first base. Bulger then singled to center, potentially setting up another two-out rally, but the Commodores were unable to capitalize and could only expand the lead to 2-0. 

Little seemed to lose some steam in the top of third, walking two of the first four batters he faced. He gained it right back though, picking off a runner at first and earning his fourth strikeout. The freshman demonstrated great poise throughout the game, with the third inning being his peak. 

The top of fourth was another unproductive inning for Belmont as Little continued to command the game. He struck out the Bruins in order, using a combination of off-speed pitches and fastballs to retire the side. He finished his outing on a high note, using 55 pitches to record seven strikeouts while only surrendering one hit and two walks. 

“He’s just a step ahead than he was last week. Getting us to the fifth inning was huge for the rotation.” Coach Corbin said about Little’s progression, “But nothing’s given around here, You have to earn every opportunity and he’s putting in the work.”

Sophomore reliever Sam Hliboki replaced Little on the bump to start the fifth. He walked the first batter he faced, eventually allowing him to score after mishandling a grounder hit to the first base side. The defense came through, though, turning a routine fly ball to right field into a double play after a Belmont base running error to stop the bleeding. Exactly halfway through the game, the VandyBoys only held a 2-1 lead and had lost the momentum. 

Hliboki settled in at the top of the sixth, retiring the Bruins in order. He also got his first two  strikeouts of the game. 

The Commodores seemed to get the offensive spark they needed in the bottom of the sixth. Gonzalez led off with a walk and a Davis sacrifice bunt that resulted in all runners safe after the Belmont fielder was unable to make a play on the ball. Bulger drew a walk to load the bases with only one out. However, a one hopper to first forced the first baseman to make the forceout before throwing to second, where the runner had to be tagged. This allowed Gonzalez to score before the last out was made, making it 3-1. 

Senior Hugh Fisher replaced Hliboki in the top of the seventh. Hliboki finished the day with two strikeouts but walked a runner and gave up an earned run after throwing 28 pitches. Fisher looked strong in relief, punching out two Belmont batters. More importantly, he protected the fragile two-run lead. 

Freshman Miles Garrett replaced Fisher in the top of eighth. Fisher struck out two and walked one in his short appearance. Garrett made quick work of the Bruins, forcing Belmont into two groundouts and a fly out while only throwing seven pitches.  

The bottom of the eighth brought another insurance run thanks to a solo home run that was absolutely pulverized by Gonzalez to straightaway center. Although the trend of stranding Commodore baserunners in scoring position continued, as two ducks were left on the pond. Vanderbilt successfully extended their lead to 4-1. 

Sophomore Nick Maldonado was brought in to close it out for the VandyBoys. He struggled initially, putting 2 Bruins on with no outs. An outstanding solo double play by Noland at first base took the pressure off the Commodore closer. Maldonado ended the game with a nasty strikeout, successfully earning his first save of the season. 

The final score showed 4-1, with Vanderbilt earning its 13th win of the season.

The VandyBoys return to action on Friday, March 19 as SEC play begins against No. 16 South Carolina. 

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About the Contributor
Bowman Talbot
Bowman Talbot, Former Staff Writer
Bowman Talbot ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science studying political science and history. When not writing for The Hustler, Bowman can be found exploring Nashville, defending 2019 LSU football as the greatest college football team of all time and watching the New Orleans Saints choke in another playoff appearance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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