Vanderbilt baseball falls to Mississippi State 7-4

The Commodores’ offense couldn’t get hot until late in the game on a chilly Saturday night at the Hawk.

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CJ Rodriguez scores against Mississippi State on April 24, 2021. (Twitter/@VandyBoys)

Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

The VandyBoys chipped away at a six-run deficit but couldn’t come back in a 7-4 loss to Mississippi State in the second game of the weekend series.

The evening got off to a rocky start. Mississippi State center fielder Rowdey Jordan took Jack Leiter’s second pitch of the game to the stands in right field. The Bulldogs followed up Jordan’s leadoff home run with an infield single and a walk, before cleanup hitter Luke Hancock hit an RBI single just beyond the reach of third baseman Jayson Gonzalez.

Leiter was able to force a pop up and fielder’s choice before catcher CJ Rodriguez caught a runner stealing second base to end the top of the first inning.

The Commodores picked up their bats down 2-0. Leadoff hitter Enrique Bradfield Jr. drew a full-count walk before stealing second a few pitches later. Carter Young drew a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. But that didn’t last long, as the speedy Bradfield Jr. stole third base.

The extra 180 feet Bradfield got on the basepaths allowed Jack Bulger to bring him home with a sacrifice fly to right field. The Bulldogs’ lead was cut in half to 2-1.

Although they put across a run in the first inning, the VandyBoys struggled at the plate for much of the game. As a team, Vanderbilt struck out six times in the first three innings.

Leiter initially was able to keep the Bulldogs from crossing home plate after the first inning, but Mississippi State batters pushed him deep in counts, and he had 62 pitches after three innings. One positive of his long battles with batters was getting momentum-shifting strikeouts. Leiter’s sixth strikeout of the game gave him 100 for the season, making him the first player in Division-I player to reach the century mark this year.

The top of the fifth began with a leadoff walk to Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen. Leiter bounced back with two strikeouts, but Logan Tanner got the best of him and hit a homerun over the towering left field fence to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 4-1. 

“That was a cutter that was up in the eyes of Tanner,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Strong kid, he pulled it out of the ballpark.”

Trailing by three runs, Vanderbilt needed to get its offense going. After only recording a single hit as a team in the first four innings combined, the bats appeared to get going with a one-out infield single from Cooper Davis.

Gonzalez, who had the only other hit of the game to that point, came up to bat next. He grounded into a double play, ending the frame.

Freshman pitcher Hunter Owen came in to relieve Leiter in the top of the sixth inning. Leiter finished his evening allowing six hits and four earned runs. He also walked three batters and struck out eight in five innings.

Owen walked the leadoff batter but settled in nicely. He struck out the next two Bulldogs he faced and got a flyout to centerfield to finish off the inning.

In the top of the sixth inning, Bradfield Jr. earned a leadoff walk, his second of the night. He stole second base, his third swiped bag of the contest, and Young reached first on a shallow grounder that was just barely fair along the third base line.

Mississippi State opted for a fresh arm with Dominic Keegan up to bat with two on and no outs. Will Bednar had his way with the Commodores in his start, allowing just three hits and striking out eight. Vanderbilt was able to draw three walks, which helped push Bednar’s pitch total to 96 pitches.

“The ball explodes when it gets to the plate,” Corbin said of Bednar. “We weren’t able to catch up to it.”

Preston Johnson entered the game in relief of Bednar, and he got Keegan to ground into a double play. He struck out Bulger with Bradfield Jr. standing on third base to end the inning.

Owen came back out to pitch the seventh inning. He allowed a one-out double that went just over the head of Bulger in left-center field. Owen walked the next batter on a full count. Then, Logan Tanner roped an RBI double to left field to bring in one run.

With runners on second and third with one out, Owen got Scotty Dubrule to hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. Parker Noland went for the tag out at home, but the throw was too late. An RBI single brought home another run, but Isaiah Thomas made a fantastic throw from right field to third base to pick off the runner there.

Midway through the seventh inning, the score stood at 7-1.

Rodriguez was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the seventh inning. Thomas took a couple high pitches and drew a walk. Davis came up to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. He was greeted by a new Bulldog pitcher, Landon Sims.

Davis hit Sims’ first pitch up the middle of the field to bring home Rodriguez. Jayson Gonazlez stepped up to the plate with Thomas standing on third and Davis at second, and he kept the momentum going with a single through the right side of the field, scoring both runners to cut the lead to 7-4.

Bradfield Jr. drew his third walk of the game, which advanced Gonzalez to second base. Young came up to the plate as the tying run. Gonzalez and Bradfield Jr. advanced on a wild pitch to Young, who struck out on a full count.

Keegan, who was 0-for-3 coming into the seventh inning, took the bat with two runners in scoring position and two outs. His quiet night continued as he struck out looking.

Owen did not return to the game after allowing three hits and three earned runs in two innings. He was replaced by Nelson Berkwich, who allowed a double in the eighth inning but worked his way out of the frame.

Luke Murphy took the mound in the top of the ninth inning, and he kept the lead at three runs.

Vanderbilt had one more chance in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t muster any offense.

“Once we gave up the big inning, it was too much to come back from, especially with their pitching,” Corbin said.

Vanderbilt and Mississippi State will play the rubber match on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT at Hawkins Field.