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.

No. 13 Vanderbilt prevails over Florida in series opener, 10-5

Hitting four home runs as a team, the VandyBoys cruised by the Gators Thursday night.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Bryce Cunningham throwing a pitch against Florida, as photographed on April 18, 2024. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Building off a dominant showing against Lipscomb, the No. 13 Vanderbilt Commodores (28-10, 9-7) opened their series against the Florida Gators (19-18, 7-9) with a 10-5 victory.

“It’s important to bounce back from that weekend,” Davis Diaz said. “We just told ourselves to put it behind us and that it’s a new weekend.”

On the mound for the VandyBoys was Bryce Cunningham, who struggled in his most recent outing against Texas A&M, where he gave up 7 earned runs in 4.0 innings. In today’s start against Florida, Cunningham played exceptionally, striking out 7 batters and only giving up 3 runs in 6.0 innings.

In the opening frame, Cunningham gave up a double to the first batter he faced. From there, he struggled to find quality pitches, giving up a short, choppy single and then a groundout which drove in the game’s first run. Yet, Cunningham settled down, striking out Tyler Shelnut and forcing a pop-up immediately to end the frame. Vanderbilt found no early luck with the bats, going three up and three down with a flyout and two groundouts. 

After rendering Florida hitless, Vanderbilt reached base in the bottom of the second. Alan Espinal earned the Commodores’ first hit of the evening but was ruled out on a fielder’s choice at second after Jayden Davis put the ball in play. A Braden Holcomb single and Matthew Polk hit by pitch loaded the bases but a hit by Troy LaNeve into a double play left the runners stranded.

Cunningham continued his solid start by striking out his third batter of the game and retiring the side without giving up a hit in the top of the third. Florida’s RHP Brandon Neely did not have the same luck though, as with two outs he gave up a double to RJ Austin before Diaz blasted a 2-run home run into left field.

Florida responded as Shelnut sent a soaring home run to left field, tying the game up at 2-2. Cunningham remained determined to regain his composure though, striking out two batters to finish the top of the inning on a positive note. Neely also acclimated after giving up the previous home run, delivering a 1-2-3 frame to close the fourth.

While initially cruising through the frame by striking out two batters, Cunningham hit a bump by walking Michael Robertson and hitting Ty Evans, bringing up Florida’s best bat, Jac Caliagnone. Facing the challenge, Cunningham quickly coerced Caliagnone into a 0-2 count and ended the frame by forcing him into a flyout to Polk on the warning track.

During the bottom of the fifth, Vanderbilt would strike and retake the lead. LaNeve started by getting on base with a double and Jonathan Vastine reached on a walk. This set up a triple from Austin that drove in both runners to make the lead 4-2. Then, Diaz singled to center field to bring in Austin. To cap off the masterful offensive frame, Alan Espinal launched a 2-run home run to center field to give the Commodores a 7-2 margin going into the sixth. 

In his last inning of the day, Cunningham let up a double from Colby Shelton with one out, who was then driven in for a run by a Luke Heyman single. However, following two groundouts, Vanderbilt finished the top of the sixth ahead 7-3.

That was until LaNeve crushed Vanderbilt’s third home run of the day off Neely, ending the pitcher’s day as he was pulled for Blake Purnell. Later on in the inning, in the wake of Vastine and Jack Bulger groundouts, Austin smacked another ball deep into left field for a 2-run home run, pushing the lead to 9-3. Immediately after, Purnell would hit Diaz with a pitch, sparking another pitching change for the Gators.

A lengthy lightning delay later, play ensued with Grayson Smith on the mound for Florida who delivered the final out of the sixth inning. Vanderbilt also brought out a fresh arm, placing freshman Miller Green in control of managing the six-run lead. Getting through the first two batters with ease, Green slipped up. First, he hit Evans and then gave up a 2-run blast to Caglianone to cut the Commodores’ lead to four. 

With momentum building for Florida, Vanderbilt fired back, starting the bottom of the seventh with two walks and a single to load the bases with zero outs. Up at bat, LaNeve lined out to short. Moments later, Bulger flew out to right, allowing Davis to score. The Commodores were unable to widen the margin any further as Vastine struck out swinging.

Vanderbilt escaped the top of the eighth while only giving up one hit whereas Florida held the Commodores hitless in the bottom of the inning. Green secured the first two outs of the ninth, striking out one, then handed the reins to Greysen Carter who struck out the final batter to end the game.

Game two of the series will be at Hawkins Field on Friday, April 19 at 6:00 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributor
David Hernandez
David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst
David Hernandez (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in communication studies. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing basketball, catching up on his favorite shows and mourning the tragedy that is New York sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
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