June 4, 2011
Recap: Vanderbilt 10, Troy 2 | Tournament Central
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The great heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was known to take measure of his opponents, often absorbing a few shots in the early rounds before unleashing a flurry of blows and sending his man to the canvas.
Vanderbilt's baseball team seems to have a similar M.O.
The Commodores stalked the Sun Belt champion Troy Trojans for seven innings, clinging to a 4-2 advantage, before unloading a potent barrage and pulling away for what appears on paper to have been a comfortable 10-2 victory.
At this point in tournament play, games are not supposed to be easy and this one was anything but for much of the steamy, 92-degree night.
Did we mention steamy?
It would have been as easy to hit a ping pong ball across the Cumberland River as it was getting a baseball out of roomy Hawkins Field. Just ask Aaron Westlake, who at one point was oh for four on the stat sheet after crushing four of the hardest and longest outs this side of Yankee Stadium.
The Commodore strongman finally delivered the games knockout punch with a three run homer to center field in the ninth inning. When asked if the weather conditions affected the ball flight, he said "the air we were playing in is so heavy that hitters need to concentrate on line drives - it's very tough to get the ball out of the park."
Did we mention the humidity?
"It was so humid that the balls coming in from the umpire were damp" Vandy Coach Tim Corbin noted. The dampened baseballs made it harder for pitchers to work their breaking pitches.
Enough about the weather, other than to say it was sultry without the slightest puff of wind.
Corbin called Troy "an SEC team" and indeed throughout much of the game the Trojans looked like South Carolina in their garnet and white uniforms. The left side of the Troy infield can play with anybody and center fielder Daniel Peterson made several circus catches for good measure.
Both Troy coach Bobby Pierce and Corbin agreed that Vanderbilt's three run answer in the fifth after the Trojans had moved ahead, 2-1, in the fourth was the key moment in the game.
It began innocently enough with a pair of walks by Troy starter Jimmy Hodgskin. Riley Reynolds reminded us why he is one of the better bunters in college baseball with a perfectly executed sacrifice.
Coming up was Mr. Excitement, freshman speed demon Tony Kemp. The Franklin flash drilled what Coach Pierce termed a "mistake pitch" on an 0-2 count up the middle of the infield which was going to score one run. Trojan second baseman T.J. Rivera threw off-balance and he almost put his toss into the first base dugout. All the while Kemp was blistering the base path, ending up happily on third where he would soon score on Anthony Gomez's sacrifice fly.
Three runs, a big deal. Corbin said it "put the momentum back in our dugout."
Vanderbilt had another workmanlike performance from Southeastern Conference "Pitcher of the Year" Grayson Garvin, who won his school record 13th game going a typical 6 2/3 innings.
Across the nation, the ESPN ticket will show the final 10-2 score and most fans will never know just how tough this fight was. But savvy opponents will realize that after the rope-a-dope, they must be careful of the haymakers and uppercuts that have been Vanderbilt's late inning trademark so much of this exciting season.
Spotted in the Crowd: Chancellor Nick Zeppos and wife Lydia, Lee Ann Hawkins - the Grand Dame of Vanderbilt baseball; James Franklin, George Plaster, F-Troop phenom Dr. Jeff Fosnes.