Five thoughts: Vanderbilt stumbles in series opener vs. UIC Flames

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Five thoughts: Vanderbilt stumbles in series opener vs. UIC Flames

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

The Vanderbilt Commodores were upset by the Illinois-Chicago Flames 5-3 in extra innings on Friday, and some of the game wasn’t very pretty.

Despite Jeren Kendall’s first home run of the season and a clutch game-tying double by JJ Bleday in the eighth inning, the Commodores were unable to finish the job at Hawkins Field.

Here are five thoughts on Vanderbilt’s second non-conference loss of the young season:

Stranded runners

The Commodores had numerous chances throughout the game to put more runs on the board but couldn’t string together hits in the middle innings. They stranded six runners through the first five innings of the game, including two runners in scoring position.

Vanderbilt also stranded the potential game-winning run in the ninth inning, as it followed up an Alonzo Jones pinch-hit single with a strikeout and two fly-outs.

If they had capitalized on just their runners in scoring position early on, this would have been a completely different ball game.

Basic errors

For such a skilled, well-coached team like Vanderbilt, errors and base-running miscues are rare sightings. However, that’s exactly what put the nail in the coffin for the Commodores on Friday. Bleday misplayed a ball in the outfield in the top of the eighth inning, allowing UIC to score a third run. He was also thrown out at third on his game-tying hit later that inning.

In the 10th inning, Snider threw the ball well over Julian Infante’s head at first base on what should have been an easy put-out, giving UIC runners on the corners with no outs. The next batter hit a double to deep left field, giving UIC the lead for good.

Even Kendall was not immune to these mistakes, getting picked off at second base in the seventh inning. According to Bleday, their solution to these miscues is to just stick to their guns and keep moving.

“Just being more careful in certain situations,” he said. “We just have to keep doing our own thing and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The unraveling in the 8th and 10th

In the eighth inning, Snider let up two runs on two hits (one of the runs was unearned because it was scored on Bleday’s error). He recovered in the ninth to pitch a clean inning, but gave up the go-ahead run again in the tenth inning.

Corbin had multiple opportunities to take Snider out of the game and limit the runs allowed but left him in until after the go-ahead run.

Bleday did not blame Snider for the way the eight and 10th innings went down and was not worried about it either.

“We just couldn’t execute some simple plays,” Bleday said. “We had some difficult at-bats, but we did our best. It’s just one game.”

In Bleday We Trust

Freshman right fielder Bleday made a huge miscue that gave UIC a big run in the eighth and was 0-for-3 at the plate going into that inning, with a groundout, strikeout and groundout into a double play.

However, he didn’t lose his confidence, delivering a clutch two-out double in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game. Even in just his fifth game as a Commodore, Bleday was ready for the task and to step up in key situations.

“I mean, this team is great,” Bleday said. “I feel like I’ve been playing here three years already. When they bring you in, they bring you in like family. I’m thankful every day, and I’ve just got to keep going out there and playing with those guys.”

The Wright Stuff

Despite not getting a decision in this game, junior starting pitcher Kyle Wright felt a lot better about his second start than his first.

“I commanded the fastball a little bit better, got ahead early in counts,” Wright said. “But, I still made a few pitches that almost cost us, and one did cost me, but I feel a lot better now than where was last week.”

Wright finished the game with seven strikeouts and one earned run on four hits in six innings of work. By comparison, he gave up three earned runs on four hits with two strikeouts in five innings last Thursday in the opener against San Diego.

The Commodores look to even the series against UIC on Saturday at noon at Hawkins Field.

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