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 bounce back, slide past EKU 5-3

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Commodores earned a much-needed midweek victory against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels behind strong pitching and good base running.
Ophelia Lu
RJ Austin stands on base after a hit against EKU, as photographed on Feb. 21, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)

After a deflating loss to Dayton where the Commodores saw a 5-1 lead erased by a 7-run eighth inning, head coach Tim Corbin’s side responded with emphasis, beating Eastern Kentucky University 5-3. The effort was led by strong performances from Andrew Dutkanych IV, RJ Austin and Alan Espinal.

“Every game we play like it’s our last game,” Espinal said after the matchup. “That’s how we approach it.”

The game kicked off with a 1-2-3 inning from Vanderbilt starting pitcher Dutkanych IV, and quickly, the Commodore bats got to work. Austin earned a single and advanced from a Jayden Davis full-count walk. The two simultaneously stole second and third and moved themselves into a dangerous scoring position. A groundout from Espinal would score Austin, and LaNeve finished the job with a double off the left field wall. The VandyBoys didn’t stop there: Davis Diaz drove LaNeve in with another double and was immediately joined on the base path by Chris Maldonado thanks to another walk. 

The score was 3-0 in the blink of an eye and EKU required a pitching change. Lefty starter Isaac Milburn was replaced with righty Rese Brown, who got the Colonels out of the inning without any more damage.

The second frame produced only good defense for both sides, as each team left one man on base and didn’t put any runs on the board. However, the third spelled trouble for Dutkanych IV. A leadoff double and two subsequent walks left runners in a threatening position with just one out. In a bases loaded situation, a calm Dutkanych IV struck out Miguel Larreal looking and got Silas Shaffer to pop out to center. After leaving three stranded, the Commodores went to work on offense. Espinal started with a single and advanced to third after a steal and groundout from LaNeve. Espinal would cross the plate after a Diaz groundout and the VandyBoys extended their lead to four.

Defenses shined once again in the fourth as each squad coerced a 1-2-3 inning out of the other’s offense. After this inning, Dutkanych IV’s day was done. His final stat line read 4.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 3BBs and 6 Ks. Sophomore lefty Levi Huesman would replace Dutkanych IV and quickly retire EKU in the fifth with one walk and three groundouts. Vanderbilt was held scoreless in the bottom of the frame.

Huesman’s second outing was not as smooth as his first. Two singles by EKU put a runner in scoring position, and this time, the Colonels converted. A double from Conner Davis and a subsequent single from Max Williams brought two runs across the plate, and after another walk, Huesman’s day was finished after just 1.2 IP. Alex Kranzler was brought in as relief and was able to stop the bleeding with a groundout to second. 

In the bottom of the sixth, the VandyBoys saw two mound changes for EKU but were nevertheless held scoreless with just one single from Maldonado as consolation. 

Things went from troubling to alarming for Vanderbilt in the seventh. EKU’s Larreal singled on an 0-2 count and made his way around the bases thanks to a groundout and another hit from the Colonels. Suddenly, the home team only led by one and went down on offense 1-2-3 when it was their turn at the plate. The Commodores had to protect their 4-3 lead with two innings left to play.

Luckily for Vanderbilt, Kranzler was up to the task. He struck out two Colonels en route to a quick 1-2-3 inning. The bottom of the frame began with a pinch-hit from freshman Camden Kozeal. The speedy Nebraska native legged out a bobbled grounder by the shortstop and reached base on an error. Junior Jacob Humphrey would pinch run for Kozeal and quickly got to work on the base path. Humphrey stole both second and third while Espinal was at the plate, and the senior DH rewarded him with a single up the middle. The combination of Kozeal and Humphrey added a much-needed run off of pure effort and stretched Vanderbilt’s lead to 5-3. That was all the VandyBoys could do before EKU came up to bat one final time.

To close out the matchup, lefty junior Ryan Ginther came in for Kranzler. The closer gave up a single to right field to kick off the inning but quickly got a popout to get even. A walk followed by a strikeout set the stage for EKU freshman Tait Nunnally: two outs, two men on base and two runs down. Nunnally struck out looking and gave relief to Vanderbilt fans everywhere. There would be no comeback today.

“We just have to be better. That’s all,” Corbin said about the team’s offense after being out-hit by EKU. “We just have to continue to get better.”

Notable performances include Espinal going 2-of-4 from the plate with a pair of RBIs and Kranzler pitching his way out of a near bases loaded situation. The freshman pitched 2.1 innings and earned 2 Ks in that time. Ultimately, though, Huesman (1-0) would be awarded the win.

With the midweek victory, the Commodores move to 3-2 and face Gonzaga for their second weekend series. First pitch on Friday, Feb. 23, is at 4:30 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributors
Sam Curtis
Sam Curtis, Deputy Sports Editor
Sam Curtis (’24) is from Wallingford, Conn., majoring in human and organizational development and French and minoring in data science in Peabody College. He was previously Assistant Sports Editor and Sports Copy Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, he cheers on the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers and Leeds United. Outside of sports, he enjoys traveling and learning about history and philosophy. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Director
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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