Commodores fall to Michigan 3-2 in David Williams Fall Classic

The VandyBoys returned to action at Hawkins Field for the first time since their World Series title, but they ultimately fall to the Wolverines

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Commodores fall to Michigan 3-2 in David Williams Fall Classic

Head Coach Tim Corbin joined by his coaching staff for the National Anthem prior to first pitch.

Head Coach Tim Corbin joined by his coaching staff for the National Anthem prior to first pitch.

Hunter Long

Head Coach Tim Corbin joined by his coaching staff for the National Anthem prior to first pitch.

Hunter Long

Hunter Long

Head Coach Tim Corbin joined by his coaching staff for the National Anthem prior to first pitch.

Christopher Hugh, Staff Writer

In a rematch of last year’s College World Series finals, the Vanderbilt Commodores squared off against the Michigan Wolverines in the first-ever David Williams Fall Classic. The exhibition, named in honor of the late vice chancellor of Vanderbilt athletics, took place in front of a packed crowd at Hawkins Field.

Both the story behind the event and the game itself were gripping. David Williams, Vanderbilt’s first African-American vice chancellor, had held the position for 18 years before stepping down on Jan. 31, 2019. Williams intended to return to his previous position as a professor at the Vanderbilt Law School, but he passed away just days later on Feb. 8. Throughout his career, Williams worked to promote diversity in sports and ensured that Vanderbilt student-athletes thrived both on and off the field. 

Nick Williams, David’s son, threw out the first pitch during an emotional pre-game ceremony. Both teams sported new uniforms designed by Nike specifically for the exhibition, with the Commodores’ threads paying homage to the Negro Leagues’ Nashville Stars and the Wolverines’ uniforms honoring the Detroit Stars.

The contest featured a plethora of Vanderbilt freshman making their mark on the mound in a low-scoring affair with plenty of punchouts. Despite their success on the bump, the Commodores fell behind early and were forced to play catch-up for the majority of the contest, with their lack of power hitting making itself apparent.

Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter got the game underway as he fired off the first pitch at 12:05 PM. The game marked Leiter’s first start at Hawkins Field. A beautiful throw on the run by shortstop Carter Young nabbed Wolverines’ left fielder Jordan Nwogu for the first out of the game, but Vanderbilt would find itself in an early jam just three batters later.

The freshman Leiter routinely fell behind in the count in the first frame, issuing consecutive free passes to Michigan center fielder Jesse Franklin and shortstop Jack Blomgren.

Leiter eventually calmed down, striking out cleanup hitter Jimmy Obertop before catcher Dominic Keegan neutralized the scoring threat with a laser to third base, throwing out an attempted steal and ending the inning.

In the bottom of the first, center fielder Will Duff started the inning with a long flyout on the first pitch he saw from Wolverines’ starter Steven Hajjar. Although Vanderbilt was able to put outfielder Matt Hogan on first, the offense failed to put together anything significant. This trend would continue as the game wore on.

The second inning featured the first hit of the ballgame, a sinking liner by Michigan catcher Joe Donovan that barely evaded the leaping glove of Vanderbilt shortstop Carter Young.

Leiter’s control issues began to surface again, as he walked Michigan first baseman Matt Schmidt to put himself in the same situation as the previous inning: One out with two runners on base. 

The walk would come back to bite the Commodores as second baseman Riley Bertram lined a double down the right field line, scoring both runners and putting the Commodores into an early hole.

The Commodores’ first hit also came in the second inning, a two-out base knock off the bat of third baseman Parker Noland. Freshman CJ Rodriguez pinch hit for Cooper Davis, drawing a walk to put two men on base, but Vanderbilt failed to capitalize on the rally.

Right-hander Michael Doolin, another freshman, provided relief in the top of the third, ending Leiter’s day with two runs allowed over two innings of work. Doolin twirled a 1-2-3 inning, coaxing a fly ball out of center fielder Jesse Franklin before setting the next two batters down on strikes.

In the bottom of the frame, Vanderbilt finally began to make some noise. Outfielder Tate Kolwyck led off the inning with a four-pitch walk. Shortly after, he provided one of the most exciting moments of the game when he got caught in a rundown between second and third during Harrison Ray’s at-bat — safely darting around Michigan third baseman Ted Burton’s outstretched glove to provide the Commodores with their first real scoring threat. 

Although Ray couldn’t convert, Kolwyck was able to sprint home on a wild pitch by the Wolverines’ Hajjar to put Vanderbilt on the board. After a walk and yet another wild pitch, Michigan looked to the bullpen and brought in right-hander Cameron Weston, who induced a popout to end the inning.

Doolin continued his hitless effort with a perfect fourth, putting right fielder Christian Bullock, Donovan, and Schmidt down in succession.

The bottom of the fourth was filled with gaffes. Third baseman Parker Noland began the inning with a bang, smashing a grounder that Blomgren allowed to leak into center field, but he was gunned down while attempting to reach second. CJ Rodriguez got on base yet again, hustling down the line for an infield single, but he strayed too far off the bag during Young’s at-bat and was doubled up on a hard-hit liner to short. 

Another right-hander saw action out of the pen for the Commodores when pitcher Ethan Smith relieved Doolin in the top of the fifth. Smith survived an error to keep the game 2-1. Vanderbilt fanned three times in its half of the inning, unable to get anything going.

Freshman pitcher Sam Hliboki entered the game for the Commodores in the sixth, racking up two strikeouts and looking extremely composed on the mound. He continued his dominant effort into the seventh, striking out the side for a total of five K’s in just two innings of work.

Following the seventh inning stretch, Michigan southpaw Ben Dragini relieved pitcher Cameron Weston. Dragini retired Rodriguez and Young to start the inning before walking Tate Kolwyck. Clearly Kolwyck’s previous baserunning antics were on the Wolverines’ mind, as Dragini threw over to first for the first pickoff attempt of the afternoon. 

Vanderbilt pitcher Luke Murphy saw action in the eighth inning, just his second appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Murphy, a redshirt freshman, had an efficient inning, inducing two ground balls and striking out one batter. 

Harrison Ray led off the bottom of the eight for the Commodores, digging in against Michigan’s new pitcher, Jacob Denner. With only six outs left in the game, the Commodores needed to strike quickly. Ray beat out a grounder to the shortstop to begin the inning, and Dominic Keegan roped a single to advance Ray to second. The very next at-bat, first baseman Spencer Jones collected his first hit of the day on a hard grounder to the left side, scoring Ray and knotting the game up at 2-2. With two on and no outs, the Commodores couldn’t push any more across the plate. 

Entering the ninth inning, Vanderbilt pitcher Chris McElvain relieved Murphy and immediately surrendered a base hit to Blomgren. McEvlain fanned Obertop, but Blomgren advanced on the ball in the dirt. Spencer Jones snared a hard grounder down the first baseline to keep the go-ahead run at third. The next batter, Christian Bullock, hit a hard grounder to third baseman Sterling Hayes, who juggled the ball and allowed Blomgren to score. Hayes’ error would prove to be fatal.

CJ Rodriguez stepped up to the plate for the Commodores in the bottom of the ninth, beating out an infield single to provide late life for the team. Two straight flyouts put the game in the hands of Matt Hogan, who worked an eight pitch at-bat before he ultimately skied a pop-up that settled comfortably into the hands of Blomgren. 

The Commodores’ next competition is set to take place next year in the second annual MLB4 tournament. The showcase will take place from Feb. 14-16, pitting four of the nation’s top programs against each other to kick off the college baseball season. The tournament, hosted in Scottsdale, Arizona, will see Vanderbilt making its return to the main stage alongside the newcomers to the event: Michigan, UConn, and Cal Poly SLO. 

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