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.

VandyBoys Series Preview: A Skirmish with South Carolina

Having yet to lose a series this year, Vanderbilt will welcome the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks to Hawkins Field for a three-game set this weekend.
Geetika Komati
Enrique Bradfield Jr. and Chris Maldonado celebrate during a victory against North Alabama on April 11, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Geetika Komati)

The No. 4 VandyBoys have enjoyed a tremendous start to the SEC season, going 11-1 while  outscoring their opponents 127-40. That being said, they haven’t faced the toughest competition. Vanderbilt’s four opponents — Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and Missouri — are a combined 12-36 in conference play with just two series wins between them. That will change this weekend as No. 6 South Carolina is coming to town, marking the beginning of a string of difficult matchups for the Commodores. 

It’s been seven years since the Gamecocks last found themselves in the race for the SEC East crown, but this year’s roster is as good as any in the country. With a dominant pitching staff and a lineup filled with power hitters from top to bottom, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that South Carolina has gotten out to a 29-4 start to the season. 

The driving factor behind South Carolina’s sudden rise to relevance has been contributions from a number of unfamiliar faces. On the mound, freshmen Austin Williamson and Eli Jerzembeck have become two of the team’s most reliable relievers, allowing a combined 8 earned runs with 40 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. 

Sophomore Eli Jones has also become an integral part of both the starting staff and the bullpen after making only six pitching appearances last year. The right-hander has allowed just 20 hits and six walks while striking out 32 batters between two starts and nine relief appearances.

Meanwhile, two of the lineup’s best hitters are newcomers to the program. Former Commodore Gavin Casas has enjoyed a tremendous season after transferring this summer, slashing .284/.444/.784 with 15 home runs in the everyday starting role that he never got at Vanderbilt. 

He is followed in the batting order by phenom Ethan Petry, who has established himself as not just one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of the best hitters in the country, period. His prowess at the plate was on full display last weekend when he launched two home runs in a win over No. 1 LSU, one of which was a grand slam and the other of which was the first long ball allowed by Golden Spikes Award favorite Paul Skenes this season. His .449/.507/.898 batting line is unheard of for an 18-year-old and could spell trouble for Vanderbilt pitching this weekend.

These two may have taken some of the spotlight off of the team’s returners who boast more mundane statlines. Still, they have played an equally important role in South Carolina’s success. Senior shortstop Braylen Wimmer is enjoying another solid season, batting .313 with 16 extra-base hits out of the leadoff spot, while catcher Cole Messina and third baseman Talmadge LeCroy have made major strides as sophomores, batting a combined .311 with 15 doubles and 12 home runs. The bat skills of these three, in addition to Casas and Petry, explain why the Gamecocks are top ten in the country in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs. 

Friday and Saturday starters Will Sanders and Jack Mahoney are also familiar faces who, in their third seasons with the team, remain crucial parts of the rotation. Sanders has struggled at times this year, but is still regarded as a top college arm and the evolution of Mahoney has more than picked up the slack. The two deserve a lot of credit for helping South Carolina to the fourth best team earned-run average (ERA) in the country. 

However, as right-handers, they are representative of a potential problem for the Gamecocks this weekend. Nine of South Carolina’s top ten pitchers in innings-pitched throw from the right side, so if Tim Corbin decides to load up his lineup with left-handed hitters, Vanderbilt could have a matchup advantage all weekend. Look for Enrique Bradfield Jr., RJ Schreck, Parker Noland and Jonathan Vastine to play particularly large roles for the Commodores’ offense.

Still, matching up with Sanders and Mahoney remains a difficult task for the Commodores, given the unknown status of Vanderbilt’s starting pitchers. We saw the ripple effect of Carter Holton’s absence last weekend when the Commodores were forced to use a slew of relievers on Friday, leaving them shorthanded in their first conference loss of the season on Saturday. This weekend, Bryce Cunningham is once again listed as the projected Friday starter and with the Saturday spot listed as “TBA”, it appears that both Holton and junior Hunter Owen are questionable to play. 

If neither can go, Vanderbilt could still salvage something out of the series behind the recent form of Devin Futrell. The sophomore left-hander has allowed just eight baserunners, none of which have scored, in 15.1 innings between his last two starts. His matchup is still up in the air due to an injury to the Gamecocks’ regular Saturday starter Noah Hall. Redshirt junior James Hicks, sophomore Matthew Becker, Jones, and Jerzembeck are all potential options. 

Regardless of who is on the mound for South Carolina, the Commodores will need to put together productive at bats and push runs across consistently if they want to walk away with a series win. As it stands, Vanderbilt is in the good graces of the selection committee, but multiple losses this weekend could raise questions about the validity of its 11-1 start in the SEC. By taking two out of three, the VandyBoys can dispel any of those questions and create a comfortable gap in the standings prior to heading to Knoxville. 

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About the Contributors
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
Geetika Komati
Geetika Komati, Staff Photographer
Geetika Komati ('26) is majoring in economics and music performance and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Livingston, N.J. Geetika loves photographing sports games and getting in on the live action. Apart from the Hustler, some of Geetika's favorite things are traveling, boxing, and cheering on the New Jersey Devils. She can be reached at [email protected].
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