Before kicking off my thoughts from day one, I want to give a large thank you to the good folks at the Vanderbilt SID office. It was a full house in the press box this evening, but they were more than gracious and helpful in accommodating me after College Baseball Daily contacted them earlier in the week. In particular, thanks go out to SID Kyle Parkinson for making me feel at home in the press box.
As I also procured tickets in the infield bowl at Hawkins Field, I’m splitting my time with most innings spent in the stands and some upstairs, giving me a good perspective on how Vanderbilt is handling their regional host duties. Thus far, it’s a big home run. There are staff virtually everywhere on hand to assist fans and press members alike. The facilities may not be as big as Baum, the new Alex Box or Carolina Stadium, but Vanderbilt really did it right when they built Hawkins Field and later performed a couple of rounds of expansions. After day one, fans ought to be thinking the Commodores have got this hosting thing down now.
I arrived in Nashville just after 5 PM so I was not able to make it for any of the Troy-Oklahoma State match up in the afternoon session. Based on what I was told and a glance at the box score, it was a solid effort from the Trojans who rebounded defensively after Oklahoma State touched up ace Tanner Ray for two early runs. Ray responded by shutting down the Cowboy bats before giving way to Nate Hill for who closed out a 9-2 win in a game far closer than the score would indicate. Troy finally got to the Oklahoma State staff for three runs in the sixth and five in the eighth to blow out a game they trailed most of the way. Ray threw 95 pitches in moving to 12-0 on the year while Hill used 25 pitches to record the final four outs. It is unclear but certainly possible that Ray could return later in the weekend, if needed.
Coach Frank Anderson used an unexpected game one starter in Hunter Herrera for the Cowboys, giving him his full weekend roster available for the challenge of making it through the loser’s bracket. They will meet Belmont, who lost the nightcap to the Commodores. Meanwhile, Troy will send a stout, flame throwing lefty to the mound against SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin. I had a chance to speak a short while with some of the Troy contingent to learn a bit more about Jimmy Hodgeskin while up in the press box and around the stands. He’s a talented young man with a great arm, but occasionally struggles to hit his spots. Traditionally, these are the types of pitchers that Vanderbilt does great damage against, but Hodgeskin is the type of pitcher who can mow down a team when he’s on. Should be an interesting Saturday night at the Hawk.
In the Friday nightcap, it was apparent in the first that Belmont was likely in for a rough go. Sonny Gray opened the game hitting his spots crisply with a fastball that was consistently 92 to 94 MPH. In the second inning, he started to mix in an 82 to 84 MPH hammer curve and he rode a perfect game into the fifth inning before Greg Brody broke up the no hit bid with a sharp single to left field.
On the other side, things were not so fortunate for Belmont’s outstanding Matt Hamann. As mentioned in the Nashville Regional preview, the Commodores had tussled with Hamann three times in the past three years and it was readily apparent that they were familiar with his array of pitches. After plunking Tony Kemp to open the game, he yielded three straight hits, including doubles to Aaron Westlake and Curt Casali. Despite a Tony Kemp base running error that cost Vanderbilt an even bigger inning, the Bruins found themselves down 2-0 at the start.
In the fourth, the wheels fell completely off for Hamann and the Bruins as five hits and two Hamann throwing errors led to six more runs and a seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead. Puzzlingly Coach Dave Jarvis left his ace in the game rather than removing him in an effort to save him for a possible second appearance on Sunday or Monday should Belmont advanced through the loser’s bracket. My only guess is that Hamann had been forced to throw enough pitches through the fourth that a quick turnaround was unlikely this weekend.
Coach Tim Corbin, on the other hand, had the luxury of removing Sonny Gray who threw just 68 pitches in his six innings of three-hit, shutout work, leaving him available for a return appearance on later in the weekend, if needed. Gray moved to 11-3 on the year and is now second all-time on the Vanderbilt wins list, trailing Jeff Peeples by just three victories.
Vanderbilt used Will Clinard, Kevin Ziomek and Jack Armstrong in the last three innings to preserve the shutout win at 10-0. Both Clinard and Armstrong loaded the bases with no outs in their innings, but each recorded two strikeouts and a ground out to escape unscathed. With the bases loaded, their repertoire clicked in. For Clinard, a nasty 86 to 87 MPH cut fastball away missed bats by a wild margin of about 6 inches, while Armstrong geared up with 13 straight four seam fastballs to close out the game. The stadium gun registered six of those pitches at 96 MPH, five at 97 MPH and two at 98 MPH. To my left, one scout carrying a radar gun was positively grinning on the third to last pitch.
While the Bruins offense was largely impotent against Gray, the Vanderbilt bats seemed both comfortable and swung with a purpose against Belmont. Mike Yastrzemski led the way for the Commodores, rebounding from a poor game in the SEC Tournament finale to lace four line drives to the right side, three of which made their way into right for singles. Casali was the big run production bat, recording three RBI on the day.
We’re getting ready for Saturday here at the Hawk, where Belmont and Oklahoma State will look to rebound with Nate Woods and Mike Strong, respectively, in an elimination game at 2 PM. Strong for the Cowboys had been the Friday night starter for most of the year, providing Oklahoma State with a perceived advantage in the game. The Trojans and Commodores will face off at 7 PM. The weather is expected to be tough again today, with the mercury hitting the mid 90s for a second straight day.