by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
After suffering their first series loss of the season, Vanderbilt bounced back to take the series in Knoxville against a hot Tennessee team, claiming their spot as the best team in the SEC East. Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin acknowledged Tennessee's home field advantage, as the Volunteers averaged around 2,300 fans for each game, a number that is much larger than what the Commodores are used to at home.
Corbin went on to say “COVID does not exist in Knoxville” as he praised Tennessee fans for creating a hostile environment. Last weekend, Vanderbilt did not break 700 fans while hosting Georgia due to state regulations.
After taking his first loss of the season and giving up six earned runs a week ago, Kumar Rocker (W, 8-1) was back to his usual self on Friday night, tossing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts, allowing just two hits. Nick Maldanado came in for relief, throwing two innings to complete the shutout, 5-0.
It was a fairly quiet night as Vanderbilt recorded eight hits by eight different batters, led by Carter Young and Jayson Gonzalez, who each homered in the game. Chad Dallas (L, 5-1) suffered his first loss of the season although he had a nice night on the mound as well. Dallas allowed just five hits in seven innings of work, striking out 11 Commodores. Of the three runs he allowed, only two of them were earned.
Game two of the series was all Evan Russell. Entering the weekend, the Tennessee native was batting just .200 with six home runs and 14 RBI for the Volunteers. On Saturday, Russell put on a show, leading Tennessee to a 8-4 victory with three home runs, one of which was a grand slam, and six total RBI. Connor Pavolony also homered for the Volunteers who tallied seven hits for the game.
Jack Leiter recorded a no decision after throwing 6.1 innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits and striking out ten batters. Vanderbilt seemed to have momentum, leading 4-2 in the 7th inning, but home runs in back-to-back innings by Russell sealed the game for the Volunteers to force the rubber match on Sunday.
Sean Hunley (W, 5-2) earned the win for Tennessee after throwing the 8th inning in relief of Will Heflin. Heflin gave up four runs (one earned) during his seven innings.
The rubber match on Sunday provided plenty of excitement, with Vanderbilt out dueling Tennessee in a home run derby, 10-4. Of the 14 runs scored in the game, nine of them were the result of a home run.
The Volunteers scored four runs in the game, all of which were solo shots by Max Ferguson, Jake Rucker, Jackson Greer, and Russell, for the fourth time in two days. Vanderbilt proved to be the better team on Sunday with 12 base hits, five of them were home runs, on their way to a convincing victory.
It was a staff day for the Commodores who used five different pitchers with Chris McElvain (W, 2-0) picking up the win. Five batters recorded a multi-hit game, led by Carter Young, Dominic Keegan, and Parker Noland with a home run apiece.
The Volunteers will bounce back with three very winnable series over the next three weeks against Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Missouri. They will have an opportunity to take over first place in the SEC East as Vanderbilt hosts Mississippi State before traveling to Florida in two weeks.