Commodores complete lopsided sweep of struggling Volunteers

Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 10:49pm

Exiting from Hawkins Field, a Tennessee fan took off his white Volunteers jersey and swung it around his shoulder in the middle of some playful banter with a Vanderbilt fan.

The jersey could have doubled as a white flag marking Tennessee’s surrender.

The fan was leaving amidst an 11-run, nearly 40-minute bottom of the sixth inning for No. 2 Vanderbilt, which pounded the Vols 19-3 in front of 3,434 on a breezy Sunday afternoon. The inning, the game and the series couldn’t have ended quickly enough for Tennessee (22-20, 4-17 Southeastern Conference), which hopped on a bus back to Knoxville after being outscored 39-5 in a three-game sweep by Vanderbilt (37-5, 16-4).

In the 123-year history of the in-state series, which totals 308 games, it is Vanderbilt’s largest margin of victory since a 20-run shutout in 1899.

“You are on the winning side of that so I don’t know if sympathy is the right word because I don’t think anyone sympathizes with anyone,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “You want to win games but you don’t want it to get to that point sometimes where they stop playing and we have to stop playing. It is just the way it went. Tough ballgame on their side and I understand that. Like I said, I have been there before — everyone has. You play this game long enough you are going to lose games like that.”

The one-sided weekend affair continued in the series finale when, up 4-0 already, the Commodores broke open the game in the third. They began the inning with five straight hits as Curt Casali’s double down the left field line and Riley Reynolds’ double to center — both driving in runs — highlighted the spurt.

Things really got out of hand in the the sixth. Tennessee relief pitcher Nick Williams failed to retire the first six batters as he allowed five runs on four hits and two walks. He was pulled after Casali smacked a bases-clearing double to left center. The next pitcher, sidearm-style left-hander Hunter Daniel lofted a 66 mile-per-hour pitch that pinch-hitter Connor Harrell blasted over the left field wall for a two-run home run.

“We don’t see those [sidearm pitchers] very often. But you got to wait on those guys,” Harrell said. “Sometimes that is hard when the last guy [Williams] is throwing 96 [miles per hour]. I just saw it deep and tried to hit it as hard as I could.”

A total of 17 Vanderbilt batters came to the plate in the sixth. The first seven reached base safely. The Commodores recorded four extra-base hits in the frame and eight overall, with six doubles and two home runs.

On the other side, Tennessee entered the game with just two runs in the series after back-to-back 10-1 losses. Through the first seven innings on Sunday, the Vols didn’t have runner advance beyond second base. When they scored their first run in the eighth, several Vanderbilt fans actually stood up and delivered a pity/sympathy applause.

Tennessee has lost 14 of its last 17, including five straight. Prior to the weekend, the Volunteers had taken five of six in the series, including a sweep at Vanderbilt in 2009.

“[Tennessee] still, in my mind, and I know this is after the fact, they have some kids who can play,” Corbin said. “I thought they were highly skilled when they came in here. They lost a lot of close games. We just played good baseball game against them, we really did. I know they gave us some runs on Friday night but Saturday and Sunday we earned our way to the home-plate area.”

Vanderbilt belted out a season-high 21 hits in drive in the 19 runs, also a season-high and the most in an SEC game since the Commodores defeated LSU 19-4 in 2006.

Every Vanderbilt starter recoded a hit except for first baseman and No. 3 hitter Aaron Westlake, who had five hits and three home runs in the previous two games.

Anthony Gomez led the way with four hits. Jason Esposito, who extended his hitting streak to 24 games, had three hits and three RBIs. Mike Yastrzemski had three hits to go along with a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in right field in the seventh. Casali drove in four runs and No. 9 hitter Sam Lind hit a two-run home run in the second and drove in three runs.

All that offense — the Commodores have scored 10 runs or more in 11 SEC games, including the last six — has propelled Vanderbilt during its current winning streak. The Commodores have won six straight and 18 of 20, with the only two losses during that stretch coming at defending national champion South Carolina.

“It is fun being on this team,” Casali said. “We have a lot of fun with it. We are a confident bunch and we all love each other. That is the main thing that goes into our team. That is part of the reason why we are so successful so far.”

Briefly

• Vanderbilt’s pitching over the weekend shouldn’t be overlooked. The Commodores allowed just five runs and only three were earned. The five runs in the series were the fewest Vanderbilt has allowed in an SEC series since also giving up five in a three-game sweep of LSU in 2007.

On Sunday, Taylor Hill (4-0) pitched six innings for just the second time in his last seven outings. The right-hander allowed zero runs on four hits, walking one and striking out six. This came after fellow starters Sonny Gray (9-2) and Grayson Garvin (9-1) allowed just a run apiece on Friday and Saturday.

“Unbelievable. After now, you just see them go out there and you are like, ‘All right, a good start is coming our way,” Yastrzemski said. “A lot of confidence in our bullpen and our starters.”

• The bullpen got some work this weekend but not as much as Corbin would have preferred.

Gray went eight innings on Friday, allowing midweek starter T.J. Pecoraro to pitch the ninth and close out the game. Will Clinard relieved Garvin in the sixth on Saturday, allowing one hit in one-plus innings of work. Jack Armstrong pitched the last two innings, also giving up only one hit.

Kevin Ziomek, Mark Lamm and closer Navery Moore each pitched an inning Sunday. Ziomek allowed one hit, Lamm gave up two hits, which led to three runs — two unearned — and Moore stranded a hit batter to end the game.

On the weekend, the bullpen allowed one earned run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings — perhaps not enough especially since Vanderbilt will not have a midweek game for the third straight week.

“I would have liked to see Corey [Williams] and a couple other guys pitch, but I want to win the games first,” Corbin said. “It doesn’t matter how you win them.”

• Outfielder Joe Loftus, who broke his hamate bone in his hand against South Carolina two weeks ago, might be back on the field as soon as next weekend at Kentucky.

Corbin said the rehab is going well but Loftus might be inserted defensively first before he returns to the lineup.

• Corbin said another midweek contest is trying to be added to the schedule before the regular season ends on May 21. The Commodores were scheduled to play at Western Kentucky last Tuesday but the game was postponed and then cancelled on Wednesday after more rain hit the area.

They have one more midweek game scheduled — May 10 at Louisville. Corbin said he tried to set up a game at Georgia Tech on May 17 — two days before Vanderbilt opens a three-game series at Georgia — but the Yellow Jackets are already playing ETSU on that day.

“We just don’t want to travel,” Corbin said. “It doesn’t really matter who we play. I would like it to be here at Hawkins, though.”