Ryan Flaherty’s maturation as a hitter was on full display Sunday at Hawkins Field.
The Vanderbilt junior shortstop used the whole field in slugging two home runs to lead the 17th-ranked Commodores to a 9-5 victory over Auburn. VU won two of three games in the weekend series.
The left-handed hitting Flaherty launched a two-run homer over the left-center field wall in the first inning, then followed with a two-run blast to right field in the fifth inning to lead VU’s 13-hit attack. It was the first multi-homer game of his career.
The Commodores (28-11) have won eight of their past nine games and claimed their fourth straight series against Auburn since 2003.
Although Flaherty led Vanderbilt in batting in 2007, he entered the 2008 season with only six career home runs. His two on Sunday pushed his season total to a team-high 10.
Flaherty said his power surge is due to more than just three years spent in the VU weight room.
“That’s got a little bit to do with it, but I’m just continuing to develop as a player,” he said. “What’s helping me most with my power is just learning to hit the ball the other way.”
Commodores coach Tim Corbin said Flaherty’s ability to spray hits around the park is solidifying the player’s status as one of the nation’s top professional prospects.
“He goes to all fields, and that’s the makings of a pretty good hitter,” Corbin said. “He’s got a very good swing, and he doesn’t try to do too much. He doesn’t over-swing. He’s smart and gets good pitches to hit.”
Strength and maturity have helped, too.
“With Flaherty, you could see that power would eventually come to his bat, and it has,” Corbin said.
With Flaherty sparking Vanderbilt’s offense Sunday, relief pitchers Chase Reid, Richie Goodenow and Russell Brewer combined to preserve the victory after VU starter Nick Christiani was knocked out of the game in the sixth inning after surrendering back-to-back home runs to Mike Bianucci and Hunter Morris.
Trailing 9-5 in the eighth inning, Auburn (28-11) loaded the bases for Bianucci, who had already smashed two earlier home runs.
Brewer struck out Bianucci on a high fastball, then induced Morris, the Tigers’ cleanup hitter, into an infield popup to vanquish the rally.
“We were real fortunate to get out two good hitters with the bases loaded,” Corbin said.
Vanderbilt escaped similar danger in the seventh, when Goodenow came out of the bullpen to fan Kevin Patterson with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Reid, Goodenow and Brewer combined to allow one run and struck out six in four innings. Goodenow, a redshirt freshman lefty from Overton High, has struck out 11 of the 20 batters he has faced this season.
Christiani (5-1) picked up the win, surrendering four earned runs and striking out three. Auburn starter Bradley Hendrix (1-1) took the loss.