Vanderbilt Sweeps LSU, Returns to Top Spot in Rankings
On Easter weekend in Baton Rouge, Vanderbilt made a statement.
It was a statement that propelled the Commodores back into a #1 national ranking.
Vanderbilt entered its three-game series at #27 LSU with a 5-1 SEC record, but left at 8-1, having completed its second straight conference sweep. The Tigers, who could not match Vanderbilt, dropped to 1-8 in conference action.
Baton Rouge is a tough place for any team to play, but the Commodores did not appear rattled by the raucous environment, winning game one 13-1, game two 11-2, and capped off the sweep with a 5-4 victory in game three. It marked the first time that Vanderbilt has swept LSU in Baton Rouge, and Vanderbilt extended its conference road win streak to 15 games.
The high scores in the first two contests are somewhat misleading. The Vanderbilt offense was phenomenal, but it was the Commodores pitching that gave way to the trio of victories. As a staff, Vanderbilt allowed 12 hits, 10 walks, seven runs, two homers, and struck out 26 over the course of the weekend.
Kumar Rocker did not waste much time in taking it to the Tigers on Thursday evening, as the right-hander worked his slider to perfection. He had little trouble against LSU’s bats, allowing four hits, no walks, and just one earned run with eight strikeouts.
Rocker consistently hit the low 90s with his fastball and his off-speed pitches challenged the Tigers all evening in the 13-1 win, which was Rocker’s seventh of the season.
Jack Leiter had perhaps an even better performance Friday night in front of a crowd of 4,904 as he was virtually unhittable. Through six innings of work, the sophomore gave up three hits and one earned run with three walks and tallied an eye-popping 16 strikeouts. His no-hit streak was extended to 20 innings before LSU’s Collier Cranford punched a single through the right side of the infield in the fifth inning.
What the stat line does not tell is how much the Tigers struggled to even muster that much offense, as Leiter’s fastball blew past hitters. In the second inning, he struck out the side, using a slider to notch the first strikeout, a curveball to secure the second, before finishing off the frame with a high fastball that registered 96 mph on the radar gun.
He also showed tremendous poise in the opening frame after LSU managed to load the bases with one out on two walks and a throwing error. Leiter regained his command and struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning without surrendering a run.
Following that hiccup, he fanned 10 of the next 12 batters, and struck out the side in both the second and third innings.
Saturday’s pitching duel between Leiter and LSU’s Jaden Hill was cut short, as Hill headed for the locker room after throwing just 1.1 innings, giving up two hits, two walks, and two earned runs. The reason for leaving the game was not his stat line, however, as D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers reported that LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said postgame that Hill had “felt something in his elbow” and would be evaluated Monday.
The right-hander, also a projected first-round pick, did get a chance to flash his arsenal of pitches in the first, as he struck out two. Leiter took over the game as Hill’s day came to an abrupt close and Vanderbilt ran away with the win.
In the first two games of the series, the pitching suffocated LSU’s offense, but the Vanderbilt bats played no small role in the Commodores outscoring the Tigers 24-3. They hit .359 as a team for the series against quality pitching, and had little trouble letting the offense come to them.
Two standouts for Vanderbilt at the plate were left fielder Jack Bulger and shortstop Carter Young, who each tallied two home runs in the series. Bulger began his weekend 0-for-4 on Thursday, but rebounded to go 3-for-8 for the final two contests with two home runs, three runs scored and four RBI. Young was 2-for-6 in the series opener, and went 2-for-5 in the next two games with two homers and an impressive 6 RBI.
The confidence of Bulger and Young at the plate helped Vanderbilt secure the win in game three, as the contest was narrowly decided by a score of 5-4. In the series’ most balanced duel, Vanderbilt capitalized on its opportunities and held off a late ninth-inning rally from LSU to claim the sweep.
Starter Thomas Schultz failed to earn the decision, as he made it though just 3.1 innings with two hits, three walks and three earned runs.
LSU struck first on a solo homer off the bat of left fielder Gavin Dugas, who went 1-for-9 on the series. But Vanderbilt countered with a solo shot of its own, as Young swatted his second home run of the weekend.
A single through the middle gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game, 3-1, in the third, but unlike the previous two contests, LSU remained step-for-step with the Commodores.
The score was knotted at three in the fourth by the Tigers, but Vanderbilt fought back. In a momentum shifting play, Bulger mashed a two-run homer to left field, breaking the tie and putting the Commodores in front for good.
The Tigers never abandoned the fight, but did not match Vanderbilt’s power, though they did push one run across on the second-to-last at-bat of the game to cut the deficit to one. Dugas earned his second RBI of the day on that play, as his long flyball to right field was deep enough to score Morgan from third.
In the final at-bat of the game, as Vanderbilt reliever Luke Murphy faced third baseman Cade Doughty, the Commodores led by just one. One out away from the series sweep, LSU was on the defensive, attempting to edge out a win in at least one of the three games on its home field.
Murphy had other ideas, as he picked up his fifth save of the season after inducing a game-ending popup to the shortstop.
For Mainieri, much of the slow SEC start for his squad can be attributed to the youth of his squad. Seven of the nine players in the lineup are just three weeks into their first time in SEC play.
“I think the first time around this league, there’s an adjustment physically, there’s an adjustment skills-wise, there’s an adjustment mentally,” Mainieri told The Advocate. “I mean, for seven of the nine players in our lineup, this is the first time through the SEC. There’s a huge adjustment in a lot of ways for them.”
Vanderbilt will face Georgia in its next SEC series next weekend in Nashville, while LSU will try to get back in the win column at Kentucky.