College baseball weekend: Esposito brings power, speed to VU lineup

Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 10:38pm

Jason Esposito has a way of getting around the bases.

Check that. Vanderbilt’s sophomore third baseman has more than one way to get from first to home.

He can do it one at a time – by thievery, if necessary. Or he can do it all at once, as he did Tuesday when he hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 17th inning of the Commodores’ 11-10 victory over Louisville.

“Every time we were up in the bottom half of innings, you feel free because you just need one swing to win it,” Esposito said. “I was just swinging, just like everyone else was doing.”

He was the only one who drove it out with a chance to end the game, though, which was not totally unexpected. The home run was Esposito’s team-leading ninth of the season.

He also leads the Commodores – by a wide margin – with 24 stolen bases, the second-highest total in the Southeastern Conference.

That makes him one of only two players in the SEC who leads his team outright in both categories. South Carolina’s Whit Merrfield (10 home runs, 12 stolen bases) is the other. Tennessee’s P.J. Polk leads the Volunteers with 22 stolen bases and is one of three tied with 12 home runs.

“Jason is as good a third baseman as there is in this league when you think about what he does on the bases, how he hits and how he plays defense,” coach Tim Corbin said. “And he’s got energy to play every single day. For me, as a coach, that’s the part I like about him most – he’s ready to play every day.”

The Bethany, Conn. native is one of just two VU players who has appeared in all 49 games leading into this weekend’s three-game series at Mississippi State (6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday), and he’s started all of them. A year ago as a freshman, he played (and started) all 64 games and finished with a team-leading 20 stolen bases in addition to four home runs.

“I’m probably more proud of the stolen bases because I don’t look like I’m fast,” Esposito said. “It’s just something that’s fun. It’s fun to steal bases. It’s fun to get into scoring position for (other) guys. … So I probably take more pride in that.”

A look at other local college baseball action scheduled for this weekend:

Atlantic Sun Conference

• Lipscomb (17-31, 7-13) vs. Mercer (29-20, 12-9), Ken Dugan Field, Nashville.
Game times: 1 p.m. Friday (doubleheader)

Left fielder M.L. Williams had four hits and two runs scored in the series opener Thursday, a 13-6 Lipscomb defeat. First baseman Ryan Wilkins added three hits, including a home run.

• Belmont (23-24, 9-11) vs. Campbell (26-23, 6-15), Ken Dugan Field, Nashville.
(Note: Games to be played at Lipscomb’s Dugan Field due to flooding at Shelby Park)
Game times: 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday (doubleheader)

Junior second baseman Derek Hamblen set a Belmont record with his 22nd double of the season Wednesday against UT-Martin. Ben Petsch set the previous mark of 21 in 2006.

His doubles, which are the third-most in the A-Sun, account for 29 percent of his team-leading 76 hits. He also has a team-high 14 stolen bases.

Sun Belt Conference

• Middle Tennessee State (30-18, 14-10) vs. New Orleans (12-34, 2-23), Reese Smith Jr. Field, Murfreesboro
Game times: 6 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday

The Blue Raiders assured themselves of a place in the conference tournament last weekend, when they did not play a conference game. Good thing too, since they will host the event, which will take place May 26-29.