Three up, Three down: No. 11 Vanderbilt takes command against Florida

The VandyBoys earned a pivotal series win against Florida at home.
Vanderbilt prepares for their game against Florida, as photographed on April 19, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Alondra Moya)
Vanderbilt prepares for their game against Florida, as photographed on April 19, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Alondra Moya)
Alondra Moya

Following a devastating sweep in College Station against No. 1 Texas A&M, the Commodores returned home hungry to regain their footing. First, Vanderbilt blew by Lipscomb 15-4, setting up an important series against Florida at the Hawk. Although not as drastically major as series down the line against No. 20 Georgia, No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Kentucky, the three-game homestand against the Gators was pivotal in the VandyBoys’ efforts to pull themselves together. 

For the most part, they did. Vanderbilt opened the series with a 10-5 victory on Thursday, April 18, following that up with a solid 5-2 win on Friday night. Even though the Commodores dropped the final game of the weekend 6-2, the series win pushed Vanderbilt to a record of 29-11 (10-8 in the SEC) and revitalized hopes of securing a regional host bid. Regardless, here are some important takeaways from the series against Florida.

Three up.

Home cookin’

Nothing beats being at home. That’s evident for the VandyBoys, who are 3-7 on the road but an outstanding 22-4 at the Hawk. In fact, the series win over Florida marks Vanderbilt’s 13th straight home series win, stretching back to last season’s opening series victory against UCLA. The first two wins against Florida capped a 17-game home winning streak for Vanderbilt that was broken by the loss in game three of the series. Truth be told, the Commodores are simply a different team at home, making the push to host a regional even more vital. Eight Vanderbilt batters are batting over .300 with at least 20 at-bats at home, led by Alan Espinal who is batting .419 at the Hawk. On the road, only four Vanderbilt batters break the .300 mark. Vanderbilt has 209 runs at home across 26 games, which averages out to around 8 runs per game. Yet, Vanderbilt has 56 runs on the road across 10 games, averaging out to just 5.6 a game. In the grand scheme, Vanderbilt isn’t the only team having trouble winning on the road. Of the 14 teams in the conference, only three teams are above .500 on the road, that being Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Commodores’ dominance at home is certainly a good sign as nine of their final 15 games will be played in Nashville. However, true contenders have to be able to win away from home, meaning the Commodores eventually need to prevail on the road.

Starters taking charge

The Texas A&M series, albeit brutal all around, was particularly rough on Vanderbilt’s starting pitchers. Bryce Cunningham, Carter Holton and Greysen Carter gave up a combined 16 hits and 15 earned runs in just 10.2 innings. None of the starters made it past 4 frames and were decimated from the get-go by the Aggies’ bats. But, there was a resurgence on the bump for the starters against Florida. 

In game one, Cunningham pitched 6 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 7. In game two, Holton delivered an even better starting performance, striking out 10 and allowing just 2 runs across 7 innings. JD Thompson was elected to be the starter for game three, striking out 6 Gators across 3.2 innings before being ejected for an alleged foreign substance. Cunningham and Holton set the tone for both of Vanderbilt’s victories and showed a great deal of confidence even after the disheartening matchups they had against Texas A&M. Most importantly, the tandem started strong and utilized that momentum to cruise through their outings. Cunningham gave up 2 hits and a run in the first inning but immediately settled down to retire 10 batters in a row. Holton had a perfect game running into the fifth inning, not allowing a run until Florida was able to notch two solo homers in the sixth. With those wins, Cunningham and Holton have moved to 6-1 and 5-2 respectively, representing a key part of Vanderbilt’s formula for success. 

Greysen Carter… the closer?

The aforementioned Carter was moved from the third starter position to the bullpen after back-to-back rough starts against LSU and Texas A&M. Despite that, it appears head coach Tim Corbin has found another significant use for Carter as a closing option. Against Florida, Carter pitched in the ninth inning of each game, logging two saves during the weekend. In the first game, he pitched the final out in relief of Miller Green, forcing Tyler Shelnut to groundout with the bases loaded. In the second game, Carter pitched the entire final frame, throwing 13 strikes on 17 pitches and rendering Florida hitless. During the last game, Carter had a bit of a slide as he gave up two runs in 0.2 innings. 

In general, Carter proved to be a reliable closing option out of the bullpen, toting the usual high-velocity fastball alongside a crafty curveball and changeup. The issue with Carter has been longevity. Between the Cape Cod League and earlier performances in the season, he’s shown to take a dip as the innings go along. While that means his future as a starter may remain up in the air, Carter will be a versatile option for the VandyBoys going forward. If an out is needed late in a game, I’d have no hesitation in allowing Carter to crank up the heat on batters and do what he’s been best at.

Three down.

Unforeseen circumstances

Coming into the Florida series, the VandyBoys were dealing with an injury-plagued pitching staff. Andrew Dutkanych IV is out for the rest of the season after getting Tommy John surgery a month ago, Sawyer Hawks is still nursing an arm injury and there has been no official return for Devin Futrell, who has been out with an undisclosed injury. To make matters worse, Vanderbilt will potentially be missing at least two more members of its pitching staff for the Mississippi State series this upcoming weekend.

First, there is Thompson who, as mentioned previously, was thrown out of the game against Florida for the use of an illegal substance which by SEC rules comes with a hefty four-game suspension. Second, after Thompson was ejected, Ethan McElvain was sent out on the mound, yet never threw an actual in-game pitch as he exited with a back injury while warming up. Corbin noted that McElvain has had a previous back flare-up, but with McElvain’s status unknown, it proves to be another blow to a staff that needs as much depth as possible. 

Offensive inconsistency

As some of my colleagues have written about prior, there have been plenty of questions about the potency of Vanderbilt’s offense, or the lack thereof. Again, this past weekend was another up-and-down showing of the VandyBoys’ offensive potential. In the series opener, the Commodores were firing on all cylinders, scoring 10 runs on the backs of 4 home runs from RJ Austin, Davis Diaz, Troy LaNeve and Espinal. Across the final two games of the series, the Commodores could only muster 7 runs combined, highlighting issues of getting quality hits with runners in scoring position. 

During Saturday’s game, instances like what occurred in the bottom of the sixth were particularly backbreaking. Trailing 4-2, the Commodores had the bases loaded through two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Yet, with two outs, Austin would hit into a fielder’s choice, ending the inning. Not to mention that through the final three innings of that game, six Commodores struck out. Even if we have to settle for the fact that Vanderbilt won’t be a power-hitting team, the VandyBoys still have to be able to get noteworthy contact to play to our strengths. Even though Mississippi State will be one of the few SEC teams that play worse offensively down the stretch than the Commodores, Vanderbilt has to develop some sense of consistency in the batter’s box.

Rough road ahead

Speaking of the next series against the Bulldogs, the road ahead only grows in difficulty. Mississippi State is the lowest ranked opponent Vanderbilt will face going forward, as after that series, the Commodores will have to take on three ranked teams in the weekend series alongside a formidable Louisville team who swept No. 21 NC State earlier in April. Having to play No. 3 Tennessee at home is a definite positive, mainly after being swept last year in Knoxville by the Volunteers. Despite that, going on the road to play No. 20 Georgia and No. 4 Kentucky are major challenges that Vanderbilt will have to overcome. While the home stretch of this year will be demanding, if Vanderbilt can string together wins and play up to its potential, it will deliver quite a bit of momentum going into the postseason.

Vanderbilt continues its homestand against UT Martin on Tuesday, April 23, before beginning its series against Mississippi State on Friday, April 26 at 6:00 p.m. CDT at the Hawk.

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About the Contributors
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].
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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