HOOVER, Ala. --- Caleb Cotham continued Vanderbilt's strong run of starting pitcher at the Southeastern Conference tournament, pitching seven innings of five-hit ball to lead Vanderbilt to an 11-1 win over No. 20 Arkansas Saturday morning at Regions Park.
The game was called in the seventh due to the 10-run rule instituted by the conference during tournament play.
Vanderbilt (34-24) advances to its fourth championship game appearance in six seasons and will take on either No. 1 seed LSU or No. 6 seed Georgia on Sunday. Due to impending rain storms on Sunday afternoon in the Birmingham area, the Southeastern Conference announced it will move the game from 3 p.m. CT to a noon CT start (Read More on Time Change).
"First and foremost, it was a very clutch pitching performance by Caleb Cotham," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. "He was a kid that was injured, and we used him in small doses. Last night when we approached him about the start, he gave us all the right answers. He pitched very, very well, and I am proud of him. I am proud of the way he came back. He gets a complete game out of it."
Cotham (6-5), making his first start since May 3 against South Carolina, handcuffed the Razorbacks throughout the contest. He struck out seven and walked just one and allowed just five hits in recording his first career complete game. The Mount Juliet, Tenn., native suffered a torn meniscus at the end of April and had been pushed into a relief role while battling through it.
"I faced Arkansas earlier in the year, and threw predominately fastballs," said Cotham. "Coming into today, I felt pretty good. I was feeling pretty confident, and I felt kind of normal. Then, later in the game, I was getting tired, and I knew I was going to have to pitch a little better, knowing how I have thrown before. I threw some change-ups and some sliders to keep [Arkansas hitters] honest. I had to pitch a little more rather than just throw fastballs because they are smart hitters."
The Commodores cracked through a scoreless game in the fourth, scoring four runs to take a 4-0 lead. Curt Casali led things off with a solo homer down the left field line that was estimated to go around 400 feet. It was his ninth homer of the year, tying him with Steven Liddle for the team lead. Joe Loftus added a RBI single and Brian Harris capped things off with a two-run double, his first hit of the tournament.
VU broke open the contest, adding three more in the fifth to extend the lead to 7-0. VU had four consecutive singles by Liddle, Casali, Aaron Westlake and Andrew Giobbi, with the last two bringing in runs. Jason Esposito's sacrifice fly RBI capped off the scoring in the frame.
Arkansas broke up the shutout bid in the sixth when Chase Leavitt walked and scored on a two-out double by Travis Sample.
The Dores added two more runs in the bottom half on a RBI single by Liddle and a RBI double by Westlake. Harris led off with a walk and moved to third on a single by Jonathan White. Liddle then hit a hot shot to first that deflected off the first baseman's glove and into right. Westlake would then close out the scoring with a RBI double to right to make it 9-1.
Riley Reynolds led off the seventh with a single and moved to second on a single by Jason Esposito. Joe Loftus then advanced the runners up with a grounder to the right side. Harris followed with an infield single up the middle to score Reynolds. Jonathan White then ended the game with a RBI grounder to second that scored Esposito to make it 11-1.
Westlake led the Dores with three hits, while Harris, Liddle, Casali and Esposito each had two hits to lead the 15 hit attack. Every starter had a hit in the lineup.
"The fact that we have balance in our lineup helped a lot," said Corbin. "It is something that we have talked about because we have gotten some key performances from the middle, but we hit throughout the line-up and that is the reason for the double-digit win."
Rain played a part early in the day as the game was delayed from a 10 a.m. start to 10:25 due to rain in the area. It has also affected the second game of the day with rain halting play in the first inning of the LSU-Georgia game.
Plenty of walkup tickets remain for Sunday's championship game. Please note that the start time has moved to noon CT due to inclement weather expected later that day.