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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.

Bats come alive as Vanderbilt sweeps Ole Miss in SEC opening series

In their first SEC series of the season, the Commodores swept Ole Miss, the defending national champions.
Jonathan Vastine hitting on March 10, 2023 against Ole Miss (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

The No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores (16-5) opened their 2023 SEC season over the weekend at Hawkins Field, hosting the defending national champions: No. 3 Ole Miss (14-6). As the pitching staff continued to shine, the previously struggling offense came alive to help sweep the Rebels. It was by far the best baseball the VandyBoys have played this season and the perfect way to start a difficult upcoming stretch. With that said, I’m throwing out the “three up, three down” format this week to discuss how this sweep happened and what it could mean for the future.

Owen shuts ‘em out

The top individual performance of the weekend was by Friday starter Hunter Owen, who used 96 pitches to throw a complete-game shutout. After allowing two hits and a walk in the first two innings, Owen retired all of the next 23 hitters he faced. It’s the first complete game by a Commodore pitcher this season and the first nine-inning shutout by a Vanderbilt pitcher since Jack Leiter’s no-hitter in 2021. Owen has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season, working a 2.20 earned-run average (ERA) in his five starts. This performance showed that he’s more than ready to be a starter against the toughest SEC lineups.

The bats come alive

As I’ve said before, the Commodore offense has been the most disappointing facet of the team’s first few weeks. However, the bats finally came to play this weekend. Vanderbilt plated a total of 27 runs against the Rebels — an upper-echelon pitching team — on 36 hits. In Thursday’s opener, the Commodores recorded 4 homers and 17 hits ― both season highs ― to score 12 runs. Saturday was a bit slower as the game was scoreless through four innings, but the Commodores found eight runs through crooked numbers in the fifth and eighth innings, earning Owen the win. A seven-run performance Saturday ensured the sweep in a much-needed offensive series for Vanderbilt.

Bulger’s back

Catcher Jack Bulger’s struggles at the plate have been a quandary for Tim Corbin in the first few weeks of the season. However, the junior put up a five-hit series that included five runs batted in (RBI) and his second home run of the year. Bulger started all three games of the series behind the plate, somewhat of a rarity for catchers. Corbin also put Bulger in the cleanup spot in the lineup for the whole series, and perhaps that sort of consistency will help the junior continue his hot stretch as SEC play continues.

Bullpen blanks

The excellent Vanderbilt bullpen had another outstanding series, allowing no runs through six innings of work. The longer starts by Holton and Owen certainly helped conserve a bullpen that has been taxed by recent games and the injury to Andrew Dutkanych IV. In recent weeks, Bryce Cunningham, Nick Maldonado and Sam Hliboki seem to have emerged as the main high-leverage weekend relievers. That group, along with a few others like Ryan Ginther, will aim to solidify the starters to keep down some of the conference’s top offenses.

Schreck’s impact

RJ Schreck has been recently locked into the third spot in the batting order, and he’s earned that role as the leader of the Vanderbilt offense. Schreck was 4-for-10 against Ole Miss, notching 5 RBI and two more homers. He’s now the team leader or co-leader in all three of the main power numbers: home runs (5), RBIs (17) and slugging percentage (.645). While the transfer portal hasn’t always been friendly to Corbin and Co., Schreck is a prime example of what good can come out of it. He’s a proven starter and slugger who’s slotted perfectly into the Commodore lineup, becoming a true leader within just the first month of the season.

The Commodores will return on Tuesday, March 21, against Lipscomb at 6 p.m. CDT looking for their fifth straight win.

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About the Contributor
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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