East Tennessee State tried to get ahead. Kevin Ziomek made sure the Buccaneers were always a little behind.
Playing in its first NCAA Regional since 1981, ETSU went up swinging against Ziomek and No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt. The junior left-hander, however, allowed just three hits in seven innings and led the Commodores to a 9-1 victory on Friday night at Hawkins Field.
“They came in pretty aggressive,” Ziomek said. “We knew they were a team that was going to take some hacks early in the count. I think the biggest thing with a team like that is just to throw first-pitch strikes, to locate and make quality pitches. We were able to do that early on in the game and kind of set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Vanderbilt (52-9) advanced to play Illinois (35-18) in the winners bracket on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPNU). ETSU (36-23) fell to the losers bracket and an elimination game against Georgia Tech (2 p.m., ESPN3.com).
Winless in his last two starts, Ziomek (11-2) faced 28 batters and threw 22 first-pitch strikes. Fifteen times the Buccaneers swung at the first pitch. Eight went foul, four were outs and just one first-pitch swing was a hit.
“Whenever we did get advantage counts we couldn’t square up the bats,” center fielder Andrew Green said. “We eventually got some good swings on him, but we should have squared up more fastballs.”
Ziomek threw 101 pitches in his longest outing since May 3. He surrendered an infield hit in the first then retired the next 10 batters.
“Ziomek has a great arm with great stuff, but he is a tremendous competitor too,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “He misses a lot of barrels. He runs it up in the low 90s. When he spins his breaking ball and mixes in that changeup he is very difficult to keep up with. He is relentless.”
Ziomek got into trouble in the sixth when he hit leadoff batter Jeremy Taylor, who later scored ETSU’s lone run. He minimized the damage and also wiggled out of a jam in the seventh when Mike Yastrzemski flagged down a potential extra-base hit in the right-field corner.
“The way the defense is playing, it is hard not to have confidence out there,” said Ziomek, who had five strikeouts. “You know you can go in there and you don’t have to strike people out. You just go in there and pitch with a lead.”
He received an early lift when the Commodores scored five runs in the first.
They rattled off six singles, including five straight, in the opening frame off starter Jimmy Nesselt (2-3). Conrad Gregor’s line drive back up the middle drove in two runs and sparked the burst. Rhett Wiseman, Vince Conde and Spencer Navin followed with three straight RBI singles.
Nesselt retired the next 15 batters before giving up three runs – all unearned – in the seventh. Connor Harrell’s two-run home run chased Nesselt, who allowed eight runs – five earned – in 6.2 innings.
The right-handed sophomore was a late choice to start. Atlantic Sun Conference pitcher of the year Kerry Doane (13-1) was expected to take the mound on four days’ rest but Skole decided Friday morning to rest Doane, who has battled strep throat and threw 18 innings last weekend with just three days of rest in between starts.
“I didn’t feel he was going to be 100 percent for us. He just needed more rest,” Skole said. “We want to win this regional, not just make a good showing. You have to win that second game. We now have our backs to the wall, but we feel good with our ace going [Saturday].”
Vanderbilt felt comfortable with its most experienced starter on the mound Friday.
Ziomek allowed eights in 5.2 innings last week to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. But on Friday, he flipped ETSU’s game plan and stayed one step – or strike – ahead.
“He took advantage of some aggressive at-bats,” coach Tim Corbin said. “I think the fact that they do swing the bat, they’re very aggressive, they’re very strong, there is some tough left-handed hitters in that lineup that he had to navigate through. Getting us to the eighth inning in the first game was extremely important for us to play further.”