Gray, Commodores overcome early jitters, shut out Niagara

Friday, February 19, 2010 at 8:28pm

Derek Johnson saw Sonny Gray throw some bad pregame, bullpen sessions last season. Friday, prior to the 2010 opener, was a little worse.

“He wasn’t good,” Johnson deadpanned. “He's usually not real good, but this time … he wasn’t very good.”

From the moment Gray took the mound for the first pitch, however, the 1,830 in the seats at Hawkins Field saw something completely different. With help from a defense that committed no errors and turned two double plays, the sophomore right-hander threw eight shutout innings as the Commodores defeated Niagara 9-0.

Gray struck out eight, allowed three hits (all singles) walked one and hit one batter in a 95-pitch effort. He did not allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth. He got three times as many outs on ground balls (12) as he did on fly balls (four).

“In the bullpen, I was really nervous,” Gray said. “I don’t know why, but it wasn’t a good bullpen. I think I was just anxious, the whole team was. I think we were just anxious and ready to get this (season) underway.”

Gray overcame his jitters with a three-pitch strikeout to the first batter he faced. The infield settled in when it turned a 5-4-3 double play two batters later. The outfield stepped up when freshman centerfielder Michael Yastrzemski got the first out of the second with a sliding catch.

The offense took a little longer to come around. VU did no score until the fourth – and that was only after the first two batters reached on errors.

“We were a little anxious, probably just because it was the first game, on the offensive side,” sophomore Aaron Westlake said. “We had two big innings. A couple errors on their side helped a little bit, and then we just strung some hits together.”

The Commodores scored five in the fourth and four in the sixth. Seven of the team’s 10 hits came in those two innings.

Sophomore Joe Loftus had an RBI double in the fourth and drove in two with a single in the sixth as he went 2-for-4. Westlake, who led the SEC in batting average in 2009, was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.

“We’ll be better than that offensively,” coach Tim Corbin said. “I just thought there were some guys (Friday) night that were swinging a little bit differently than they were the last three weeks (in workouts).”

The same was true of Gray and his bullpen session – only for the better.

“I was all over the place,” Gray said. “It was good once I crossed the line for the national anthem. Everything settled back in and it was just another game.”