Three up, three down: VandyBoys go winless in Athens

Vanderbilt Baseball falls under .500 in conference play after being swept by Georgia.
Vanderbilt baseball huddles ahead of the third and final game of its series against Georgia, as photographed on May 5, 2024. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Vanderbilt baseball huddles ahead of the third and final game of its series against Georgia, as photographed on May 5, 2024. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Vanderbilt Athletics

This past weekend, Vanderbilt traveled to Athens, Ga., to play the No. 19 Georgia Bulldogs in a weekend SEC series. This matchup came after a series loss to Mississippi State and a narrow mid-week victory over Tennessee Tech that saw the Commodores walk it off in extra innings. Georgia run-ruled the Commodores in the Friday and Saturday games, in seven and eight innings, respectively. Although the Commodores survived a full nine innings in Sunday’s game, the Bulldogs still walked away with a win, earning a series sweep off the back of a prolific offense. 

After the series loss, the Commodores dropped out of the top-25 for the first time this season and fell to No. 5 in the SEC East. With seven regular season games remaining, it seems unlikely the Commodores will meet the 17 conference win mark, which would likely eliminate them from NCAA Regional hosting consideration. However, Vanderbilt will likely qualify for postseason play unless it suffers a massive collapse through its remaining games. That said, let’s look at this week’s three-up, three-down for the VandyBoys. 

Three up.

New players stepping up

After a combined batting average of .181 for Vanderbilt in the first two games of the series, Commodore fans watched anxiously to see if head coach Tim Corbin would make any changes to the starting lineup. While the lineups mainly stayed the same, Corbin did bring sophomore JD Rogers off the bench on Sunday. Rogers played center field in his first career start for the Commodores, going 2-3 at the plate. He hit his first collegiate home run in the top of the fifth, adding a base hit and drawing a walk. Rogers’s ability to make an immediate impact displayed Vanderbilt’s talented depth. With regular starters struggling at the plate, Corbin might need to make lineup changes more frequently, and Rogers showed that he was capable of producing offense, which the team lacked all series. 

Offensive improvement

In the series’ first game, Georgia outplayed the Commodores on offense, who went just 3-24 at the plate as a team. However, Vanderbilt adjusted and turned its offense around to score 11 runs on 17 hits across the remaining two games. Leading the Commodores at the plate were RJ Austin and Camden Kozeal, who went 6-for-12 and 4-for-7, respectively. Ultimately, the run differential through the series was large, as errors and poor pitching from Vanderbilt contributed to its struggles. Still, throughout the three days, the Commodores improved their offensive numbers in an attempt to keep up with the Bulldogs. Evaluating and making adjustments game-to-game and inning-to-inning is a key component of a quality baseball team, especially in the SEC, where games are determined by teams who can adjust quickly. 

RJ Austin’s newfound comfort at first base

At the beginning of SEC play, I wrote about how sophomore utility player RJ Austin was better suited to positions other than first base. However, over the past few series, Austin has shown increased confidence at the bag, which has allowed the defense to settle into a groove. While Austin, typically a middle infielder, struggled to cover the line early on, he has made some impressive stretch, tag and pick plays at first base. Austin’s dedication to perfecting his new role has kept him in the lineup, where he consistently hits at the top of the order. A reliable and confident first baseman is a necessary component going into a series with Tennessee that will determine the SEC Championship and postseason seeding. 

Three down.

Pitching struggles

Vanderbilt has been regarded as a threat within the SEC, largely because of the depth and ability of its pitching staff’ However, the Commodores’ arms did not have a good showing this weekend, allowing 35 runs on 31 hits while striking out just 12 and walking 22. Corbin and Co. went to the bullpen earlier than any series this year, with starting pitchers accounting for just eight innings pitched through the series. At this point in the season, the starters should be producing their most quality starts. The Commodores are 8-1 in the SEC when it gets quality starts and has its top arms on the mound into the back half of games.

Too many free runs

30% of the runs scored by Georgia in the series came from either walks, hit by pitch or errors committed by the Commodores. These free bases are flat out detrimental to Vanderbilt. If Vanderbilt had not allowed those 11 unearned runs to be scored, run-rule wins could have been delayed, or prevented altogether. Going forward, Vanderbilt must try to reduce the number of “free runs” it gives opponents. 

The road ahead

The most daunting two-week stretch of conference play this year still lies ahead for the Commodores. To wrap up SEC play, the VandyBoys will host No. 1 Tennessee at Hawkins Field from May 10-12 before traveling to No. 4 Kentucky the weekend after. Kentucky and Tennessee are first and second in the SEC East, respectively. Throughout the remaining SEC games, Vanderbilt must secure more wins, preferably a series, to keep its postseason hopes alive. Tennessee is red hot coming into its series against Vanderbilt, with seven straight SEC series wins and an impressive .324 team batting average. The Volunteers have collected 126 home runs. Vanderbilt has struggled to keep up with power-hitting teams, like Texas A&M, as its offense is not built to leave the park consistently. 

“This [series] certainly stings because it’s three ballgames,” Corbin said after the Georgia series. “But at the same time, you’ve just got to play forward.” 

The road ahead will prove whether Vanderbilt can use this series as a chance to re-evaluate and improve, which could lead to either a deep postseason run or a complete exclusion from the NCAA College World Series.

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About the Contributor
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].
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