Vanderbilt falls 18-5 in nightmare start to Super Regionals

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Vanderbilt falls 18-5 in nightmare start to Super Regionals

photo by Claire Barnett

photo by Claire Barnett

photo by Claire Barnett

photo by Claire Barnett

Jaime Perez

For seven innings, the first game of the Super Regional series between Vanderbilt and Duke was the close, intense playoff game it was supposed to be. Then the Commodores had their worst inning of the season.

In retrospect, the torrential downpour and nearby lightning that delayed the game for three hours and fifteen minutes could have been considered the first indication of a bad night for the Commodores. Even though the game was eventually played under clear skies, the cold climate and drenched Hawkins Field were not an ideal setting for this crucial game.

Take nothing away from Duke. This is a team that dominated its way into the Nashville Super Regional, but Vanderbilt Baseball was arguably the hottest team in the nation. They came in to the game on a twelve game win streak and having won twenty five of their past twenty six games. With a healthy lineup and Friday starter Drake Fellows on the mound, nothing indicated that the VandyBoys would be blown out at home by the Blue Devils.

After a scoreless first inning, the runs began in the second, which was a chaotic one for the Commodores. A quick sequence that included an error by Fellows, a four-pitch walk, and a wild pitch led to Duke runners on 2nd and 3rd base with two outs. Then, the still-wet infield reared its head, as a hit towards second baseman Harrison Ray took an irregular bounce in a puddle and got by him, giving Duke a 2-0 lead. For the fifth straight game, the Commodores were scored on first and within the first two innings.

Yet, as usual, they quickly responded and showed their grit and brazenness when, with two outs in the bottom of the second, they successfully completed a double steal that put Stephen Scott and Ray in position to score leading to an Austin Martin single that tied the game up at 2-2.

In the next inning, the Blue Devils answered right back by scoring on a single and a three-run home run to put themselves up 6-2 after three. In the fourth, a triple by Duke right fielder RJ Schreck led to him scoring after second baseman Joey Loperfido singled on the very next pitch to add to the lead. The stretch seemed like it would continue when the next two Duke batters got on base, but Fellows was able to stop the bleeding and finish the inning.

In the top of the fifth, the junior right-hander finally exited and was replaced by freshman relief pitcher Ethan Smith, who held the Blue Devils in check. In the bottom half,  Philip Clarke brought Vanderbilt a little bit closer with a two-run homer. After Smith completed a quick three-and-out to open the sixth inning, Martin batted a sacrifice fly that brought home Ray and closed the gap to 7-5. It looked as if Vanderbilt might be destined to complete the comeback, but this would be as close as the Commodores would get the rest of the night.

After the sixth, it was all Blue Devils. After tacking on one run in the seventh inning to make it 8-5, Duke’s bats went wild in the eighth, an inning that would prove disastrous for Vanderbilt.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, it featured two relief pitchers, two wild pitches, three hit batters, two walks (with the bases loaded), four doubles, and ten runs scored for the Blue Devils. This bombardment of runs all but ended the game and absolutely took the life out of the Commodore players and their fans.

By the time Vanderbilt was able to stop the bleeding, the score was 18-5, where it would remain.

Coming in to the game, the Commodores were a perfect 29-0 on the season in night games. This was the most runs Vanderbilt has ever allowed in Super Regional. While many factors played a role in the defeat, including inconsistent pitching and the offense going an uncharacteristic 1-13 with runners in scoring position, there is no time for Coach Corbin and the team to dwell on the mistakes. If Vanderbilt loses one of their next two games, their season is over. It is now or never for the Commodores and they need to play better if they want to beat Duke and move on to the College World Series. This team has repeatedly proven that it is not afraid of big games and that it has the will to come back when down big; the next two days in Nashville should be very interesting.

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