Three up, three down: Commodores sweep Missouri

Top takeaways from the VandyBoys’ second SEC series win.
VandyBoys celebrate during their game against Missouri, as photographed on March 27, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)
VandyBoys celebrate during their game against Missouri, as photographed on March 27, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)
Ophelia Lu

The No. 7 Vanderbilt Commodores bounced back from a disappointing sweep at South Carolina by winning its midweek matchup against Valparaiso and all three games of its weekend series against the Missouri Tigers. The three weekend wins extended Vanderbilt’s home winning streak to 14 straight. With a season record of 23-6 and a 6-3 conference record, the VandyBoys are in second place in the SEC east. As the Commodores rebounded from their previous conference matchup, here are some takeaways from the series against the Tigers. 

Three up.

Starting pitcher production

Vanderbilt has one of the better pitching staff in both the SEC and the nation. Although the Commodores previously allowed the Gamecocks to score 26 runs over 27 innings, that was not the case against Missouri. Overall, the Tigers scored only two runs, with only one being earned. The weekend rotation looked slightly different against Missouri due to the short turnaround from the previous weekend. Junior Greysen Carter, who had not recorded a start for the Commodores since the season opener on Feb. 16, got the nod from Corbin and Co. for the Thursday start. Carter had a phenomenal night, striking out 11 batters across 8.1 innings pitched, only allowing three hits and not allowing any earned runs. Carter’s performance was a career-best in both strikeouts and innings pitched. Bryce Cunningham went to work for the Commodores in his usual spot on the second day of the weekend series, where he threw a shutout, recording 12 strikeouts across seven innings pitched and allowing just one hit. Carter Holton rounded out the series for the Commodores, going seven innings and striking out eight while holding Missouri to just one run on five hits.

Bryce Cunningham after throwing a pitch, as photographed on March 29, 2024.(Hustler Multimedia/Chloe Pryor) (Chloe Pryor)

The performances from the rest of the pitching staff were impressive, with the Commodores’ staff registering a 0.33 ERA on the weekend while tallying 36 strikeouts over the 27 innings. The ability of Vanderbilt’s starting pitchers to go late into the game has been crucial to their success this season, with the starters accounting for 81% of the weekend’s innings. This is particularly important to a team with a bullpen primarily composed of young players. The Commodores win when they get the most distance from their starters and Carter’s strong weekend adds another option to fill a weekend spot when needed.

Promising freshmen

Going into the season, D1 Baseball ranked Vanderbilt’s freshman class No. 6 in the nation, and we are slowly starting to get glimpses of just how much talent this class has. Camden Kozeal has been a constant presence at the Commodores’ designated hitter position since the season’s start, collecting some of the better at-bats for the Commodores. His ability to differentiate between balls and strikes at the plate and get on base has been impressive, allowing him to gain a .317 average across the 82 at-bats he has taken. While Kozeal has been taking some more games off lately to aid in injury prevention from overuse, he will continue to be a staple name in this Commodore lineup. 

There has also been impressive pitching production from the Vanderbilt freshman class. Most notably, Brennan Seiber has emerged as both a middle and late reliever for the Commodores where he recorded two strikeouts in 1.1 innings of work. Additionally, Miller Green has emerged as an arm that is becoming more reliable as the season progresses. Green appeared in two games of the weekend series for just over two innings combined, where he struck out three batters. When Green first appeared for the Commodores in the opening weekend matchup against Florida Atlantic, he allowed two hits and walked one batter while striking out none. Since that appearance against FAU, Green has struck out at least one batter in all of his nine appearances. Additionally, Green did not allow a hit en route to throwing two scoreless innings on Friday. Ethan McElvain, while he did not appear in the weekend series due to starting against Valparaiso on Tuesday, has also been an impressive arm for the Commodores this season. While the weekday starter position might be McElvain’s for the majority of the season, what he is doing shouldn’t go unnoticed. McElvain is a high-production strike thrower who is electric on the mound and trusts the defense behind him. 

Defensive efficiency

The reliability of the Vanderbilt defense has been crucial to their success all season, where the Commodores currently hold a .979 season fielding percentage. Vanderbilt’s pitching staff will throw strikes, inevitably resulting in contact on the ball. The pitchers, however, are able to trust the infield and outfield to make the plays when the contact happens, and this trust is critical to a team’s success. Against Missouri, the Commodores recorded just one fielding error. Throughout the season, just 18 errors have been committed by the consistent rotation players (Austin, Hewett, LaNeve, Polk, Diaz, Vastine and Davis). The reliability of the Vanderbilt fielders will be an important factor in winning games since, recently, the offense has been unable to generate large cushions for the defense.

Three down.

Filling the first base position

While still early in conference play, this Vanderbilt team has seen its share of injuries. Sophomore first baseman Chris Maldonado was announced to have a season-ending shoulder operation before SEC play started. Since then, Corbin has struggled to find a replacement for Maldonado on both sides of the ball. While sophomore RJ Austin has been able to move into the position and adjust with more practice because of his utility and experience as a player, the reality is that he is better suited for other positions. His craftiness and reliable hands make him more of another middle infielder than a first base player, as he has struggled to cover the bag multiple times this season. Austin is more valuable to this team in the outfield, where he was starting before Maldonado got injured, than at first base. However, Austin needs to remain in the lineup because of his reliability on the offensive side of the ball. Freshman Matt Ossenfort started the first two games of the series for the Commodores this weekend and looks to be a promising addition to this lineup at the first base position. Finding another first baseman and being able to move Austin back to the outfield, where he has more experience and is more reliable, has the potential to make this already good Vanderbilt team even better. Additionally, this move will allow more flexibility in the lineup, where out of Polk, LaNeve, Hewett, Austin, Humphrey and Bulger, Corbin and Co. will likely play the three best hitting outfielders from game to game. 

Bullpen shrinking in arms 

The pitching staff has also seen some injuries lately. In Tuesday’s postgame interview, Corbin revealed that sophomore Andrew Dutkanych IV had Tommy John surgery and will be out for the rest of the season. Before his surgery, Dutkanych only appeared in five games this season, seemingly the start of a rebound after a previous injury sidelined him last year as a freshman. In those five appearances, Dutkanych struck out 14 batters, allowing seven hits and seemed to be settling into the weekday starter role. While fellow sophomore JD Thompson filled the weekday starter role in the absence of Dutkanych, he has also been sidelined since his appearance against Indiana, reportedly suffering an injury to his throwing arm. Corbin noted that Thompson is throwing and should return to action soon. Still, McElvain seems to be the first choice to fill the weekday starter position, which makes him unavailable for the weekend in a relief spot. Additionally, transfer reliever Sawyer Hawks is dealing with injury and has not appeared in a game since March 12 against Indiana. 

While Vanderbilt only had to go to the bullpen for three players this weekend, this will not always be the case in the remainder of its season games. In the first two SEC weekend series, five pitchers from the bullpen were used against Auburn, and seven were used against South Carolina. Getting pitchers healthy and ensuring the bullpen can go the distance in games where the starting pitching may not be as dominant will need to happen for the Commodores to win their weekend matchups.

Getting runs across the plate

This weekend, Vanderbilt struggled to get runs across the plate. Since their series against South Carolina, the Vanderbilt offense has only scored 21 runs as opposed to their opponents 30 and has struggled to get runs across the plate. Before getting swept by South Carolina, the Commodores were on a 14-game win streak where they had outscored opponents 131-57. Since then, the offense has been sluggish. Against Missouri, the Commodores recorded just 22 hits while striking out 21 times. The Vanderbilt offense will have to find their way out of the slump they seem to be in to create a more considerable margin of error for the pitching staff and get back to the offensive production that secures wins in the SEC.

The VandyBoys will return to action on Tuesday, April 2, for a midweek matchup against Western Kentucky at 6:00 p.m. CDT at Hawkins Field. Then, they will head to Baton Rouge, La. for a weekend series against an LSU team that has struggled in SEC play thus far.

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About the Contributors
Grace Hall
Grace Hall, Deputy Sports Editor
Grace Hall (‘26) is from Belfast, Maine, and is majoring in public policy studies in the College of Arts and Science. Grace is also the vice-president of the Vanderbilt Club Field Hockey Team. When not writing for The Hustler you can find her watching the Boston Red Sox or Celtics, reading or at a concert. You can reach her at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
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].
Chloe Pryor
Chloe Pryor, Staff Writer and Photographer
Chloe Pryor (‘26) is from Fort Smith, Ark., and is double majoring in psychology and communications studies. When not writing for The Hustler, you can fund her reading, drawing or running late for class. You can reach her at [email protected].
Alondra Moya
Alondra Moya, Staff Photographer
Alondra Moya (‘26) is majoring in child development in Peabody College. When not shooting for The Hustler, you can find her spending time outside, at the gym or watching stand-up comedy. You can reach her at [email protected].
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