Vanderbilt defeats Army 7-2 to win first game of series, improve to 3-2 on season

On the back of a six-run sixth inning and a variety of strong offensive and pitching performances, the VandyBoys bested Army 7-2 to advance to 3-2 on the young season.

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Josh Rehders

Chris McElvain delivers a pitch against Army West Point on Friday, Feb, 25. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Bobby Kent, Staff Writer

Coming off of a 9-0 weather-shortened victory over Evansville on Wednesday night, the No. 5 VandyBoys (3-2) defeated Army West Point (1-3) 7-2 on a bitingly cold and cloudy Friday evening at Hawkins Field. The first game of the three-game series started off slow but ended up featuring an offensive explosion. Despite missed opportunities early, Vanderbilt was on the attack, scoring six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to cruise to victory.  

Spencer Jones, Dominic Keegan, Tate Kolwyck and Parker Noland all recorded an RBI, and Javier Vaz and Jack Bulger both had two hits. Carter Young scored two runs, and six different VandyBoys scored a run. Chris McElvain went 4 2/3 innings, the longest start of any Commodore pitcher this season, and Patrick Reilly shut the door on the remaining innings.

Although it might not seem so from the final score, missed opportunities with runners in scoring position in the early innings hurt the Commodores and allowed Army to stay in the game. 

A Noland groundout and a Kolwyck flyout ended scoring threats for the Commodores in both the second and third innings, each time with a runner on third. 

On the mound, McElvain got the start for the Commodores and looked in control early. He pitched to contact, recording five groundouts within three innings to go along with three strikeouts. 

It was Army who struck first to break the scoreless tie. After McElvain issued a walk off a 3-2 count to Army’s Sam Ruta, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, Nick Manesis lined a single off McElvain’s leg which dribbled into right, allowing Ruta to score. 

For Army, starting pitcher Connelly Early pitched three scoreless frames, walking two and striking out two on 62 total pitches. 

Vanderbilt answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the fourth off reliever Tanner Gresham, as a Noland groundout scored Young from third. 

Army came back in the top of the fifth in what would also be the last inning for McElvain on the mound. 

A walk to Army’s Carter Macias started the domino effect, as he later stole second and advanced to third on a Keegan throwing error. Macias was able to score off a fielder’s choice which resulted in a play at the plate. The initial ruling of out on the tag was overturned by official review and Army retook the lead. 

McElvain exited the game thereafter with a final line of 4 2/3 innings, five strikeouts,  three walks and no earned runs on 87 total pitches. Nelson Berkwich entered in relief, striking out the final batter of the fifth inning. 

“McElvain is a pretty consistent kid. He gets to the zone and keeps a good pace,” head coach Tim Corbin said.

In the bottom of the sixth, Vanderbilt tore the game open, scoring six runs and converting on the missed opportunities of earlier. Young tripled with one out and later scored on a wild pitch as Vanderbilt tied the game. The Commodores weren’t even close to done from there. Enrique Bradfield Jr., who was previously 0-for-3 in the contest, ripped a hard-hit ground ball through the third baseman’s legs to reach on error, scoring two runs to give Vanderbilt a 4-2 lead. 

Jones and Keegan both then worked walks to extend the Commodore advantage to 6-2. Army was finally able to get out of the inning with a flyout after surrendering one more run to bring the score to 7-2. Army used three pitchers in the inning and threw over 40 pitches. 

“Carter had a big ball and then the bunt got things going a little bit and then Bradfield just made hard contact with two strikes pushing the ball the other way,” Corbin said. “Then [Bradfeld’s] ability to get the second base to beat the force just kept the inning going and then we just took advantage of some walks. So it’s not like we hit the ball hard. We got some favors and we took advantage of some things.”

Reilly then shut down the Army lineup in the ensuing innings to secure the win. 

“It was a great job by the whole staff. McElvain got us started. Berkwich with a huge out in the fifth. My goal is just to come out and do whatever I can and get outs,” Reilly said after the game. 

Reilly finished with a final line of four innings pitched, nine strikeouts, two walks and three hits allowed.

“So we got a lot of strikeouts, and we handled the ball decently well for the most part, but the pitchers did a lot of the legwork,” Corbin said.  

With the win, the Commodores moved above .500 for the first time since their opening day win.  The VandyBoys will next be in action tomorrow for Game 2 of the series against Army, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. CST.