A season’s worth of Thursday practices paid off for Vanderbilt in the top of the eighth inning on this particular Friday.
Arkansas had runners on first and third with one out and attempted to add to its three-run lead without a hit. The Commodores successfully defended the base-running ploy when pitcher Richie Goodenow threw to first rather than deliver a pitch, and first baseman Aaron Westlake fired the ball home in time to get Colin Kuhn, who had broken for the plate.
“That was a very good defensive play, a very alert defensive play because they were trying to draw the throw,” VU coach Tim Corbin said. “That’s a play that we work on every Thursday. I’m glad that the work we spend tends to help us out.”
Even though the Commodores saved a run in that circumstance, they still came up one short in a 4-3 loss before 2,589 at Hawkins Field, which evened the series at one game apiece. It was the second straight one-run game of the season-ending series, which – based on other results around the conference – has turned into a preview of a first-round contest at next weekend’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
The winner of Saturday’s contest (1 p.m., Hawkins Field) will be the No. 4 seed at the conference tournament and the loser will be the No. 5 seed.
“I place a lot of emphasis on winning any game,” Corbin said. “… You hate to go into any situation with an ‘L’ on your forehed.”
Vanderbilt (40-14, 16-11 in the SEC) nearly rallied when Westlake and Andrew Giobbi hit solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth against reliever Brett Eibner.
Westlake fouled off three straight pitches before he drove one out deep to right with one out. It was his team-leading 10th of the season. Giobbi sent a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall with two outs for his career-high seventh.
It was the eight innings of offensive struggles against starter Mike Bolsinger that was the difference, thogh.
“We couldn’t finish it off,” Giobbi said. “We dug ourselves into too big of a hole. … (Bolsinger) was on. He threw a hell of a game and he deserves the credit, but I don’t think we did a very good job adjusting to him.”
Bolsinger allowed four hits and struck out five in eight innings. After Vanderbilt scored an unearned run in the fourth, he allowed just two men on base over the next four innings.
“Bolsinger kind of stuck it up our (butt) for eight innings,” Corbin said. “… It just looked like we were out of sync. I just don’t think we were as competitive as we needed to be against a kid like him. We’ve faced him before.”
But they hadn’t faced him once a week, every week since the start of the season.