After a gem from Vanderbilt pitcher Kyle Wright on Friday night, fans packed the stands to see what was sure to be a thrilling rubber game in this weekend series. Instead, a sold out crowd at Hawkins field witnessed a hitting clinic from the Florida Gators that put this game out of reach early.
Saturday also marked the honoring of former Vanderbilt pitcher Donny Everett, who died tragically last season, and would have turned 20 on Sunday. The Commodores retired Everett’s number 41, and his parents threw out the first pitch. Susan and Teddy Everett have spent ample time with the team this season, and they sat in the dugout with the team for the series finale against Florida.
“They’re remarkable people when you look at them,” head coach Tim Corbin said of Everett’s parents. “It makes the loss of Donny in a lot of ways really hurt because he was a replica of them. They’re such easygoing people. That’s the blessing we get.”
Florida’s bats had been silenced by Wright, but they came to life Saturday to the tune of 20 runs on 20 hits, featuring an eight-run third inning to take a commanding lead. From there, they never looked back. It was the most runs that Vanderbilt (22-15, 7-8 SEC) has surrendered under head coach Tim Corbin and tied for the most given up since 2002, when South Carolina plated 20 in a win.
Drake Fellows struggled out of the gate, surrendering two home runs in the first inning before Vanderbilt even got a chance to swing the bats. It was the second straight start in which Fellows failed to get through three innings, despite a stellar run by the freshman to begin the season.
“You’ve got to take the good with the good and the bad with the bad,” said Jason Delay, who had to block a lot of pitches in the dirt out of the hand of Fellows. “Just get back out there and try to get their confidence back. At the end of the day we just have to go out and compete.”
Florida’s starting pitching wasn’t much better, but sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar had a big lead from the moment he stepped on the mound. He went five innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits, striking out six in the process. It was by no means a great outing for Kowar, but his offense provided enough firepower to keep him undefeated on the year at 6-0.
The Gators started off the game with a bang, as Dalton Guthrie blasted a homerun to left-center field to give Florida the lead with one out in the first. After an error by Will Toffey and a hit-by-pitch, Nelson Maldonado turned around a fastball from Fellows, blasting it over the top of the left-field wall to put the Gators up 4-0.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the second, things really started to unravel for the Commodores in the third. Fellows walked Austin Langworthy to lead off the inning, and an RBI single from Ryan Larsen, who picked up his seventh hit of the series. That was all Corbin needed to see.
Fellows was replaced by Collin Snider, who proceeded to give up five runs without recording an out, bumping his ERA up to 5.64 on the year. Snider walked Maldonado and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch to put runners on second and third for JJ Schwarz. Schwarz delivered, blasting a two-run single right back up the middle, breaking his (aluminum) bat in the process. The Gators added four straight hits following Schwarz’s single, and Maldonado provided another base hit with two outs to push the lead to 12-0. The Gators sent 13 men to the plate in the inning, batting around before even getting a single out.
Vanderbilt did its best to respond in bottom the third, putting up a five-spot. Jeren Kendall and Stephen Scott both singled to start off the inning, and Toffey and Julian Infante followed up with singles of their own, plating Kendall and Scott to put the Commodores on the board. A two-run double from Jason Delay inched them a little bit closer, and JJ Bleday quickly replaced him with a double to deep right field.
The two teams traded runs in the fifth, when Paxton Stover gave up an RBI double to Longworthy. A leadoff double from Ethan Paul and an RBI single from Delay got the run back for Vanderbilt.
Florida continued to keep its foot on the peddle in the sixth, when a single from Keenan Bell put a runner on with one out. Mark Kolozsvary drove in Bell with his second double of the game. Deacon Liput followed suit, ripping an RBI triple down the first base line, his third hit of the ballgame.
Vandy pushed one across in the sixth on Paul’s third hit of the game, but despite their persistence with the bats, the Commodores still trailed by eight heading into the final innings.
Schwarz proved why he remains a first-round prospect in this upcoming MLB draft by blasting a solo home run to dead center off Penn Murfee in the top of the seventh. The Gators tacked on another run in the inning on a single from Kolozsvary.
Guthrie added his second homer of the game in the eighth off freshman pitcher Jackson Gillis, and Schwarz drove in another on a groundout.
Infante’s eighth-inning single scored a run for Vanderbilt. The Commodores had eight runs on 17 hits in the loss.
The Commodores will look to bounce back on Tuesday when they take on Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro.