On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the Vanderbilt Commodores took the rubber match against the Duke Blue Devils 9-1 to win their opening series, matching their score from opening night.
Chandler Day started and threw four innings, allowing only one run and picking up six strikeouts. The Commodores received strong production from their freshmen, with Philip Clarke, Pat DeMarco, Jayson Gonzalez, and Austin Martin batting a combined 7-15 with four runs and four RBIs.
DeMarco was particularly on fire this series, recording eight hits over the three games. Pitcher Mason Hickman also turned in a strong performance in relief of Day.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin talked about the freshmen players’ composure in their first college baseball series.
“Knowing their personalities, I would say that the kids that you saw were unaffected,” he said. “They played at a high level in high school, so I didn’t really feel like they’d be intimidated, but you never really know.”
DeMarco discussed the team camaraderie and the support of the veterans.
“The juniors just embraced us as soon as we got here, and them integrating us into the team is just unbelievable,” DeMarco said
The Commodores’ pitching staff recorded shutout innings following Commodore scores after failing to do so last night, keeping Vanderbilt in the driver’s seat the whole game.
Vanderbilt struck early, as Martin led off the bottom of the first by jacking a towering shot that easily cleared the high left-field wall. Martin, a right-handed batter, received the start today in place of JJ Bleday and faced off against Blue Devils left-handed starting pitcher Mitch Stallings.
After Connor Kaiser followed up with a double into right-center, a walk by Ethan Paul and an infield single by DeMarco put the Commodores in commanding position with the bases loaded and zero outs.
However, after that, the Commodores failed to get the ball out of the infield and scored only one more run, as Stephen Scott hit a bloop one-bouncer back to the pitcher who easily cut off the runner at home, Julian Infante drew a walk after falling behind 0-2, and Philip Clarke hit a ground ball right at the second baseman for a double play.
Day threw only one perfect inning, struggling somewhat with his command, but minimized the damage to just one run in allowing just one hit with runners on base. He was also backed by strong defense from the infield.
In the top of the third, after Day gave up a one-run double, back-to-back impressive defensive plays in quick succession by the Commodores kept the Blue Devils from tying it.
With runners on second and third with one out, Gonzalez, playing in, fielded a grounder and threw a bullet to Stephen Scott who caught the ball and swung his glove to his right to place the tag on the sliding Blue Devil at the plate. After Gonzalez’s play saved a run, Ethan Paul ranged to his right to snag a liner up the middle.
Later, with the freshman right-hander Hickman pitching, Paul pulled off a leaping catch on the liner headed into right center, doubling off the runner at second easily to end the inning.
Corbin pointed to the defense supporting the pitching as one of the key factors.
“I thought the defensive plays that were made on the field for RBI-savers,” Corbin said. “Ethan Paul saved about three runs by himself.”
Hickman threw five impressive innings, pitching himself out of trouble a couple times to blank the Blue Devils and finish the game off himself.
The Tennessee native induced a 4-6-3 double play in the top of the sixth. In the seventh, he bounced back after allowing the first two runners on to record two strikeouts and a pop fly to Paul.
Vanderbilt continued their trend of jumping all over the Blue Devil bullpen, scoring off of Josh Nifong through a two-run bloop single into left by Clarke that dropped in just between the shortstop and left fielder.
The Commodores used a big sixth inning to blow the game wide open, cycling through their entire lineup. Alonzo Jones got things started with a leadoff single and a steal, his second steal of the game. A walk by Martin forced a Duke pitching change, but to no avail.
With Jones and Martin on, Kaiser bunted to the left side of the field, and Duke pitcher Bill Chillari overthrew the third baseman trying to cut down the runner at third, allowing Jones to score and the other two runners to advance.
Ethan Paul followed up by knocking a ground ball two-run single past the second baseman, playing in and unable to make the play on a tough hop. A wild pitch brought Paul to second, then DeMarco ripped a single into center, allowing Scott to collect the RBI with a ground ball single into right field when the second baseman was shaded closer to second base.
During Infante’s at-bat, yet another wild pitch by the Blue Devils allowed the runners to advance, but Infante failed to convert, hitting a high pop up to the second baseman. A ground out by Clarke pushed across one more run, and Gonzalez closed the inning with a ground out down the third-base line.
The Blue Devils went quietly after that, unable to overcome Hickman’s pitching. Corbin smiled when asked what it will mean to play against upcoming opponent Presbyterian Blue Hose, a team he coached from 1988 to 1993
“Well, they’re the opponent,” he said. “I mean, it’s just another team. But I’ve got fond memories of being there, the coach on the other team is a kid I coached. But the players play, and that’s it, they don’t know what to think. They [don’t] even know I was at Presbyterian. They might think I went to a Presbyterian church.”
The Commodores return to action at Hawkins Field on Tuesday at 4:00pm, welcoming the Presbyterian Blue Hose.