Jonathan White strolled to the plate – as he always does – in the bottom of the ninth to sound of Jay-Z’s ‘Encore.’ In this case, that’s exactly what his at-bat became.
The fifth-year senior lifted a fly ball deep to left field, and Tennessee’s P.J. Polk hauled it in against wall in what turned out to be a virtual repeat of the first inning. In this case, though, it was show over for Vanderbilt, which fell 8-6 to the Volunteers at Charles Hawkins Field and missed out on an opportunity to clinch a berth in next week’s SEC tournament.
The Commodores loaded the bases with fewer than two outs in both the first and the ninth innings and failed to score a single run in either case. In between, they took advantage of four UT errors and scored three unearned runs but missed out on additional opportunities as well.
Ultimately they left 11 on base, nearly twice as many as the Volunteers, who left six.
The good news was that Florida defeated Kentucky, which means Vanderbilt needs just one win in the remaining two games against UT or one more Florida victory to secure the final remaining spot in the conference tournament.
“We had opportunities in the beginning, we just didn’t execute them,” designated hitter Aaron Westlake said. “We rallied in the later part of the game, but when you come out flat like that, it’s hard to pick it up.”
Westlake entered the series as the SEC’s leading hitter but after going hitless in his first four at-bats, including an inning-ending double-play in the first, he was asked to bunt in the ninth after Steven Liddle and Curt Casali reached on infield singles.
His bunt turned into a hit, which loaded the bases with no outs. That’s when Tennessee replaced starter Nick Hernandez with Matt Ramsey, who got out of it with two flyouts and a strikeout.
“We just didn’t have any offensive energy going, the first four or five innings,” VU coach Tim Corbin said. “I thought it was actually going to break, but it didn’t. (Hernandez) actually pitched better as the game went on.”
Hernandez struck out seven, walked five and allowed 10 hits in eight innings. Eight of the Commodores’ 10 hits were singles, and the other two were doubles.
Conversely, VU starter Sonny Gray lasted just four innings and allowed eight hits, including a pair of doubles and two home runs to Cody Hawn.
It wasn’t until the fourth Corbin went to his fourth pitcher, Richie Goodenow, that he finally found someone who consistently quieted the UT bats. Goodenow struck out the first batter he faced, Hawn, to end the sixth and did not allow a hit in 3.1 innings.
“I just wanted to focus on the task at hand, and just know what needs to happen to win a baseball game,” Goodenow said.
Almost always, a team must get hits with the bases loaded.
• Officially, UT catcher Blake Forsythe was 1-for-2 with two runs scored. He reached base four times, though, three of them as a result of being hit by a pitch. Gray, Goodenow and Grayson Garvin all plunked him, and the latter two resulted in both of his runs scored.
• Garvin, a freshman, took the loss for Vanderbilt after he allowed three runs in 1.1 innings. It was his first career decision.
• Tennessee was without coach Todd Raleigh, who served a one-game conference suspension for repeated ejections. Assistant Bradley LeCroy, who played at Clemson when Corbin was an assistant coach there, served as coach for the Volunteers.