By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE – A couple of good at-bats can have a snowball effect in the game of baseball. Just ask Vanderbilt’s Stephen Scott.
“Hitting is contagious,” Scott said. “Once it gets going, everything starts falling into place.”
That much was true for Scott and the Commodores during last weekend’s series vs. Tennessee. The junior catcher went 3-for-9 in three games against the rival Volunteers, with all three hits resulting in home runs. In Vanderbilt’s 7-6 win last Friday, Scott drilled two of his homers on a 2-of-3 night to open the series.
Scott’s last week coincided with a resurgent Vanderbilt offense and the end to a lengthy losing streak. Now, as the Commodores enter a pivotal final week of the regular season, they hope that momentum can carry them to a 13th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
“Going into last weekend, it was just being aggressive as a whole,” Scott said. “Top to bottom, we did a good job of being aggressive. It really showed.”
Vanderbilt snapped a six-game losing streak with its opening win over Tennessee last Friday. It followed by topping the Vols 7-6 on Saturday to clinch its first SEC series since taking two of three against Ole Miss in mid-April. Though the Dores fell short of a sweep with an 8-6 loss on Sunday, they returned to Nashville having found their bats.
Dating back to last Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Tennessee Tech, Vanderbilt has batted .290 in its last four games with 42 hits, 23 RBIs and six home runs during that span. The Commodores had entered the week batting just .258 across their first 47 games of the season.
In all, Vanderbilt struck for double-digit hits in three of four outings before finishing with nine hits in the finale at Tennessee. Hitting coach Mike Baxter said an aggressive approach has paid off for the Dores.
“I thought they did a good job being ready from the first pitch of their at-bats,” Baxter said. “It helps set the tone for their at-bats. You think about when guys are at their best, they separate pitches. They don’t hold on to anything from the past. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. When you have nine guys working with that pitch-to-pitch focus, you end up being more aggressive. You want that aggressive nature as a hitter that when you get your pitch, you’re ready to pounce.”
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBaseball) May 12, 2018
Scott, a native of Cary, N.C., has played a big role in Vanderbilt’s sudden hot streak. He is 5-11 (.455) over his last four games with three home runs, three RBIs, two doubles, four walks and four hit-by-pitches. Scott recorded a .684 on-base percentage during that span and notched three of his 11 career home runs in a single weekend.
“Bax has really stuck with me and given me opportunities to play in those situations,” Scott said. “He always says to be aggressive early in the count and look for something over the plate that you can drive. That’s what happened against Tennessee.”
Scott’s rise, as well as the return of JJ Bleday from injury — the sophomore batted .600 (6-for-10) with three walks, two runs and two RBIs vs. UT – helped Vanderbilt’s offense bounce back last week. Now the Commodores hope to make the most of this week. They host Middle Tennessee on Tuesday at Hawkins Field before welcoming No. 19 Kentucky to Nashville for the final series of the regular season. That’s four big opportunities for a Vanderbilt team that boasts a No. 38 RPI and plans on reaching the postseason.
Scott said the Commodore know exactly what’s at stake.
“For the rest of the season, we just have to take it one game at a time,” Scott said. “At this point, every game means a lot to us.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.