Aaron Westlake’s first-inning home run Saturday staked Vanderbilt to an early lead, but it also earned him a reprimand.
The redshirt-freshman designated hitter was scolded upon his return to the dugout because he stood momentarily and admired his three-run shot, which cleared the bleachers in right field and sent the Commodores on their way to a 10-4 victory over Mississippi State at Hawkins Field.
“He’s just a young kid and he innocently pulls 12-year-old stunts,” coach Tim Corbin said. “When you hit a ball like that, you have to act like you’ve done it before and get around the bases.”
While it was is Westlake’s second home run in as many days (both in the first inning) the fact of the matter is that neither he nor any of his teammates have done it that often. Not relative to the other teams in the Southeastern Conference, at least.
The Commodores entered the weekend with 26 home runs in 41 games, which was nine fewer than any other team in the conference and less than one-third the total of co-leaders Alabama and Auburn.
However, Westlake’s shot was the second of three VU hit as they clinched the series against MSU. That matched the team’s single-game season-high and gave the Commodores (26-17, 9-10) five in the first two games against MSU (21-23, 6-14), already two more than they hit on any previous SEC weekend.
“We were being too tentative at the plate instead of attacking the ball and being aggressive,” Westlake, who had one home run in the first 40 games, said. “We focused on – in the past week – getting the head of the bat out and attacking the baseball, and we’re proving it works.”
It helps even more when people are on base.
Brian Harris led off the game with a solo home run, but then Westlake hit his after a walk and an error put runners on first and second. VU had two on again the second inning when Curt Casali drove one over the 30-foot wall in left field for a 7-1 lead.
Mississippi State had three home runs of its own among its eight hits, but all three came with the bases empty.
“They had a couple solo home runs, but when we gave up a solo home run our pitching still did a great job,” Westlake said. “When we score 10 runs, solo home runs aren’t really going to hurt us.”
It was just the fourth time in 19 conference games Vanderbilt scored at least 10 runs.
It also was probably the last time anyone will pose at home plate when he hits a home run.
“I showed it a little too much,” Westlake said. “It was just a good feeling. I hit it pretty well.
“Pimping a home run, that’s a Major League deal. We should just act like we’ve done it before.”
Never mind that it’s not necessarily the case.
Drew Hayes pitched 5.2 innings, struck out five and allowed two runs after being moved up a day in the rotation. Hayes was scheduled to start on Sunday but was told Friday night he was going to go a day earlier because of a knee injury that has bothered regular Saturday starter Caleb Cotham throughout the week.
Hayes, a junior, was the winning pitcher and improved to 4-2.
“When your number’s called you have to go out and give it your best, try to give us a chance to win,” Hayes said.
Corbin said the coaches will look at Cotham on Sunday morning but declined to say who would start if Cotham is unable to pitch. He named Sonny Gray, Taylor Hill and Nick Christiani as possibilities.
“We just don’t know who’s going to start,” Corbin said.
Chase Reid, who pitched one inning of relief on Friday, was not with the team Saturday because he had to take a final exam. He will be available to pitch again Sunday. … Sophomore Sean Bierman relieved Hayes and pitched the final 3.1 innings for his first career save. … Casali’s home run was his team-leading seventh of the season. It gave him one more than Steven Liddle. … Andrew Giobbi extended his current hitting streak to 10 games with a seventh-inning single.