Commodores' mercy killing has team in SEC tournament title game

Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 2:08pm
Staff reports

HOOVER, Ala. – Caleb Cotham started for the first time in three weeks and pitched a complete game as Vanderbilt defeated Arkansas 11 -1 on Saturday in a game called after seven innings due to the mercy rule.

The Commodores (34-24), the No. 8 seed, improved to 3-0 in the SEC baseball tournament and earned a place in Sunday's championship game.

Cotham has a torn meniscus in his left knee, which he aggravated in mid-April. He did not pitch more than 4.1 innings in any of his previous three starts, the last of which was May 3 against South Carolina.

Against Arkansas, he allowed five hits and just one walk. He struck out struck out seven.

"First and foremost, it was a very clutch pitching performance by Caleb Cotham," coach Tim Corbin said. "He was a kid that was injured, and we used him in small doses. Last night when we approached him about the start, he gave us all the right answers. He pitched very, very well, and I am proud of him."

Curt Casali broke a scoreless tie with a leadoff home run in the top of the fourth. The Commodores followed with three more runs that inning, the last of those on a two-run double by Brian Harris.

The 3-4-5 hitters (Steven Liddle, Casali and Aaron Westlake) in the Vanderbilt lineup were a combined 7-for-11, and all nine starters had at least one hit and one run scored.

Liddle was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, Casali was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI, and Westlake was 3-for-4 with one run scored and two RBIs. Liddle started a three-run rally with a leadoff double in the fifth. Westlake capped a two-run sixth with a two-out RBI double.

"The fact that we have balance in our lineup helped a lot," Corbin said. "It is something that we have talked about because we have gotten some key performances from the middle, but we hit through the line-up and that is the reason for the double-digit win."

With the victory, Vanderbilt reached the tournament championship for the third time in four years and the fourth time in six seasons under coach Corbin. The Commodores won it in 2007 and were runner-up in 2004 and 2006.

The game is scheduled for 3 p.m. (CDT) Sunday and will be televised by Fox Sports Net (Comcast Ch. 28).

"Give Vanderbilt credit - they played well," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "They pitched very well. Obviously, the fourth inning was a big inning for them. When we gave up the two-run double that put us down four, we knew we were in a little bit of trouble."