Vanderbilt baseball travels to Kentucky
March 20, 2009
vs. Kentucky (13-4, 1-2 SEC)
Friday, March 20 5:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 21 Noon CT
Sunday, March 22 Noon CT
Cliff Hagan Stadium (3,000)
Kentucky leads 137-125-5 in a series that dates back to 1905. The Wildcats took two of three in Nashville last year, with the Commodores taking two of three in Lexington in 2007. UK leads 68-46-1 in games played in Lexington all-time.
Last Two Seasons
April 27, 2008 Kentucky 3, Vanderbilt 1 Nashville April 26, 2008 Kentucky 6, Vanderbilt 2 Nashville April 25, 2008 Vanderbilt 3, Kentucky 2 Nashville April 15, 2007 Kentucky 8, Vanderbilt 6 Lexington April 14, 2007 Vanderbilt 9, Kentucky 4 Lexington April 13, 2007 Vanderbilt 10, Kentucky 8 Lexington
Neither team is ranked in this week's polls.
VU's Tim Corbin is 252-136 in his seventh season in Nashville. He is 358-274 in 13 seasons overall. He is 10-8 against the Wildcats.
Kentucky's Gary Henderson is 13-4 in his first season as head coach. He is in his sixth year with the Wildcat program after having previously served as the associate coach under John Cohen.
All three contests can be heard in the Nashville area on 560 AM WNSR and on the internet via www.vucommodores.com. Joe Fisher will call all the action. Kentucky will be offering a live video webcast on a pay-per-view basis as well as live stats. Links to both can be accessed through www.vucommodores.com. Fans can also sign up for text updates via www.twitter.com/vandybaseball.
What's On Tap
Vanderbilt returns to Southeastern Conference play this weekend as the Commodores hit the road to face Kentucky for a three-game series. The set kicks off on Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT and will continue on Noon on Saturday and Sunday.
Kentucky is 13-4 overall and 1-2 in SEC play after losing two of three to then No. 3 LSU over the weekend. The Wildcats edged past New Orleans on Monday, 5-4, before returning to Lexington where they will play eight of their next nine contests. UK is 9-0 at Cliff Hagan Stadium entering Friday night's contest against Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats lost several stalwarts from last season's team that finished with a school record 44-19 ledger. Head coach John Cohen returned to his alma mater Mississippi State, after six seasons in Lexington and was succeeded by his pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Gary Henderson. He brought in the fourth best recruiting class in the country according to Baseball America.
Catcher Marcus Nidiffer leads the team with a .444 batting average to go with three homers and 16 RBI. As a team the Wildcats are batting .317 (6th in SEC) with 17 homers and 134 runs scored (7.9 per game).
Junior left-hander James Paxton (3-0, 3.86 ERA) will start in the opener Friday night, with senior southpaw Chris Rusin (3-1, 3.33 ERA) scheduled to go on Saturday. Freshman right-hander Alex Meyer (1-1, 5.06 ERA) will start in the finale on Sunday. The team sports a 3.67 ERA with 165 strikeouts and 51 walks in 147.0 innings.
Over The Last Five Games
Vanderbilt opened SEC play last weekend and struggled in all phases at various points over the weekend. The Commodores lost two of three to Ole Mss before rebounding with late inning rallies past South Alabama and Belmont in midweek action. Over the last five games the team is hitting .285 with 13 doubles and 29 runs scored, while the pitching staff has a 5.49 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 24 walks in 41.0 innings. This is to be expected as several performers are seeing their first extended action in college.
Sophomore hurler Chase Reid had a rough start to the season after his first two outings, but has since rebounded to put up numbers similar to his start a year ago. Reid came into the Stanford (Feb. 20) game in the season opener with runners on the corners and the Commodores holding a 5-1 in the sixth. He ended up allowing both those runners to score as well as two more of his own as Stanford plated four in the inning to tie the game. Reid started against Western Kentucky (Feb. 26) and gave up three runs on seven hits in five innings of work with three strikeouts and two walks to pick up the win. The Southlake, Texas native has rolled since then, pitching in three different games in relief and has not allowed a run in that span. He has pitched 9.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just five hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. What started as a 54.00 ERA after the Stanford game is now at 3.07 entering the Kentucky opener on Friday.
Second Year Players Aaron Westlake and Curt Casali On Fire
Two of the players that are leading the way offensively are second year players Aaron Westlake and Curt Casali, both of whom saw limited action as true freshmen a year ago.
Westlake played in 15 games with four starts in 2008 and hit .241 with four RBI before missing the last two months of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. He ended up receiving a medical redshirt and started this season as the designated hitter. The California native has hit from the very beginning of the year and is now second in the Southeastern Conference in hitting with a .464 batting average and in hits as well with 32. He is getting on base at a .531 clip and has also made the transition to catcher due to injuries to Andrew Giobbi and Casali. Westlake had never played the position prior to January practice and now has 12 starts behind the plate entering the weekend.
Casali played in 28 games, including 17 starts last season while serving as the backup to three-year starter Shea Robin. He hit a game-winning homer against Middle Tennessee on March 26 and ended up with a .317 batting average, two homers and 13 RBI. The Connecticut native was penciled in as the starting catcher this season but an arm injury has caused him to move to first base. The injury has had no impact to his bat as he is hitting .382 with five homers, four doubles and 25 RBI through the first 19 games.
Commodores Get Past Belmont
For the second straight night Vanderbilt put up a big inning late, this time nine runs in the seventh, to break a 2-2 tie as the Commodores went on to defeat Belmont 11-4 Wednesday night at Hawkins Field.
The Commodores improved to 13-6 on the year while the Bruins fell to 11-8. The contest ended a string of 14 of 15 games at home with all of 15 games played in Nashville. VU went 11-3 at home and 12-3 in that span.
Tuesday night against South Alabama the Dores rallied from a 4-2 deficit with a five-run sixth. Wednesday night they went into the seventh tied at 2-2. Riley Reynolds led off the stanza with a double, Steven Liddle walked and Curt Casali singled to left to put the Commodores on top 3-2. Aaron Westlake had a two-run single to extend the lead to 5-2. VU loaded the bases for Drew Fann who laid a squeeze bunt down and reached safely when Belmont pitcher Logan Simmons overthrew the first baseman. Two runs came in to make it a 7-2 VU lead. Brian Harris hit a two-run double, Steven Liddle added a RBI double and Casali chipped in with another RBI single to push the advantage to 11-2.
Reliever Drew Hayes (2-1) pitched 0.2 innings of one-hit relief in the seventh to pick up the win. Russell Brewer pitched an inning of one-hit relief with two strikeouts in the eighth and then Mark Lamm closed it out in the ninth.
Belmont added two runs in the ninth on a double by Derek Hamblen to close out the game scoring. Simmons (0-1) gave up seven runs, three earned, on three hits in 1.2 innings of relief with two strikeouts and three walks in the losing effort.
Harris, Reynolds, Casali, Westlake and Esposito each led the Dores with two hits on the night. Matt Zeblo led the Bruins with three base knocks.
The Bruins took advantage of Navery Moore's control issues to load the bases in the first via two walks and one hit batter. They scored on Daniel Wagner's grounder to first to take a 1-0 lead.
The Commodores tied the game in the bottom of the second on a fielder's choice RBI by Drew Fann with the bases loaded. Aaron Westlake led off with a single and moved to second on Jason Esposito's single to center. Joey Manning sacrificed both runners over with a bunt to third base. Jordan Wormsley drew a walk to load the bases before Fann came through with the RBI grounder to score Westlake.
Moore gave up one run on one hit in three innings of work in his first collegiate start. He battled through control issues, walking four and hit two batters while striking out two.
VU took the lead in the fourth when Jason Esposito doubled with one out, stole third and scored on a deep sacrifice fly RBI by Worsmley.
BU tied it back up in the fifth when Brandon McCall doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a one-out double by Matt Zeblo.
Taylor Hill allowed one run on four hits in two innings of relief with two strikeouts and two walks. Richie Goodenow came on in the sixth and pitched 1.1 innings of one-hit relief with two strikeouts.
Streaking Steven Liddle
Sophomore Steven Liddle has also excelled through the first part of the season. Liddle is third on the team with a .375 average to go with eight doubles, a triple, a homer and 16 RBI. He carries a 15-game hitting streak into this weekend's play and has made a seamless transition from a part-time outfielder/infielder to the permanent starter in right.
He has recorded two assists from the outfield and has really turned it on offensively over the last five games, going 7-for-17 (.412) at the plate with two doubles, two RBI and five runs scored. The Franklin, Tenn., native went 4-for-10 in the Ole Miss series to lead the team.
Vanderbilt went 2-2 on the week and opened Southeastern Conference play with a series loss to Ole Miss over the weekend ... It was the first SEC opening weekend loss since the 2005 campaign. The Commodores 9-3 loss on Friday was the first in an SEC opener since the 2004 season at Ole Miss and the first in a SEC home opener since the 2002 season (Georgia) ... VU opened the week with a 22-4 win over Lipscomb, it marked the first time the Commodores scored over 20 runs in a game in Tim Corbin's tenure and was the first time since defeating Yale 22-5 in 2000 ... 1B Curt Casali led the team with a 5-for-12 (.417) showing with a homer, double and six RBI ... SS Brian Harris was 5-for-17 (.357) with two doubles, five RBI and seven runs scored. He went 4-for-6 in the doubleheader against Ole Miss on Sunday including three RBI in the 7-6 win in the finale ... Aaron Westlake went 5-for-15 (.333) with two doubles and four RBI ... Steven Liddle hit .313 (5-for-16) with three runs scored. He hit his first collegiate homer against Lipscomb on Tuesday ... DH Joe Loftus proved to be a on-base monster as he started in all four games on the week and walked nine times with one strikeout (.733 on base percentage). He also hit 2-for-6 (.333) and was second on the team with six runs scored on the week ... As a team VU hit .305 with three homers and 33 runs scored ... The pitching staff sported a 6.47 ERA in four games with 36 strikeouts and 18 walks in 32.0 innings ... Freshman right-hander Sonny Gray helped salvage the final game of the Ole Miss series pitching 3.2 innings in relief and picked up his first collegiate win. He struck out three and walked two and allowed his first run of the year on two hits ... Drew Hayes pitched 3.2 innings of hitless relief in the win over Lipscomb. He struck out five and walked two to pick up his first win of the year ... Chase Reid pitched 2.0 innings of one-hit scoreless relief in the first game of the doubleheader on Sunday ... The starters did not fare well during the week as Caleb Cotham had the longest outing in the four games with five innings of action.
Mike Minor Named To National Award Watch Lists
Junior southpaw Mike Minor has garnered several mentions for national awards and preseason All-American teams.
He was named to the Golden Spikes Award and Brooks Wallace Award Watch Lists, both honors given to the top player in college baseball.
Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball tabbed him a second-team preseason All-American while the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association had him on its third team.
Last season Minor tied for the team lead in wins with seven, finishing with a 7-3 record with two complete games. As a freshman in 2007, he went 9-1 and sports a 16-4 career mark into the 2009 season.
Minor served as the ace of the USA Baseball National team squad that went 24-0 over the summer and captured the FISU World University Championships in the Czech Republic in July. He went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA during the tour with 37 strikeouts and 13 walks in a team high 36 innings.
The Chapel Hill, Tenn., native two biggest performances came against the Cuban National team in a span of a week last July. The Cuban contingent was the same team, minus one player, that captured the 2004 Olympic gold medal and was the runner-up at the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Minor threw 6.1 innings of four-hit shutout baseball in a 1-0 win on July 6 at the Haarlem Baseball Week In Harleem, Netherlands. He followed that up in his next start by allowing just an unearned run on four hits over six innings in the gold medal clinching game of the tourney on July 13.
Minor completed his two-year National team run with an 8-2 record and a 1.17 ERA with 74 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 69 innings of action.
Vanderbilt Newcomers Among Nation's Best
For the second time in four seasons, Vanderbilt's baseball recruiting class has been ranked in the Top 3 in the country.
Baseball America ranked the class second in the country while Collegiate Baseball had the class ranked at No. 3. Both publications listed Arizona State as having the No. 1 class, while Collegiate Baseball had Oregon at No. 2 with a 35 member class in its first season back since being eliminated as a varsity sport after the 1980-81 season. 13 members of the class reported to school in August with three other players choosing the professional ranks. Of the 13 that are in school, eight were drafted and decided to play collegiately.
The coaching staff put together the class in anticipation of a mass exodus following the 2008 season. The Commodores lost seven offensive players who had started over the last three years, including first round draft picks Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty as well as the school's all-time hits leader Dominic de la Osa.
Of Perfect Game's Top 250 prospects for college, high school and Puerto Rico, 32 players from high school did not sign professional contracts and are attending Division I schools or junior colleges. Of the 32, Vanderbilt had five players, the most of any school in the country.
Facility Upgrades Are Complete
Two seasons ago temporary bleachers were put out in right field due to Vanderbilt's first ever NCAA regional at Hawkins Field. The success of that regional set in motion plans to add permanent bleachers from right to the left-field "Green Monster". Those bleachers were added in the offseason along with 200 additional chairback seats down the first base line, bringing the seating capacity to 3,700. Season tickets are still available for both the chairbacks and bleacher seats. Fans can purchase them via www.vucommodores.com or via the ticket office at (615) 322-GOLD.
Also added in the Baseball Fieldhouse is a new Hall of Honor showcasing the top players and teams in Vanderbilt history. Video highlights of recent seasons are also available via a touchscreen monitor in the facility.