Vanderbilt got off to another quick start Sunday and continued to hit home runs at a pace unprecedented during this season.
The difference in the 11-3 victory, which capped a weekend sweep of Mississippi State at Hawkins Field, was that the Commodores continued to do those things into the later innings.
Steven Liddle’s two-run home run capped a four-run eighth and effectively removed any doubt about the outcome. That was in stark contrast to the previous two days when Vanderbilt (27-17, 10-10) scored three runs total in the fifth through eighth innings.
The Commodores’ 29 runs over the three days were a season-high for an SEC series, and their nine home runs, including a season-high four on Sunday, were more than one-third of their total through the previous 40 contests.
“Hitting was contagious all weekend,” Liddle said. “The top half of the order was on base and the bottom half was hitting them in.”
Even so, coach Tim Corbin lamented his team’s lack of a knockout punch on Friday and Saturday. Not that Sunday’s game was not without its drama as well.
Vanderbilt led 7-3 in the top of the seventh, but a hit batter and two singles loaded the bases with nobody out. Richie Goodenow came on a struck out designated hitter Ryan Duffy, and then Sonny Gray got another strikeout and a fly out to end the threat.
Similarly, Mississippi State (21-24, 6-15) loaded the bases with no outs in the second, when the game was tied 1-1. Starter Caleb Cotham got out of that with a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts, and the Commodores responded with five runs in the bottom half of the inning, which included a two-run home run by Brian Harris.
“We pitched out of two key jams, even in the seventh inning when the margin of victory was still pretty wide,” Corbin said. “We were fortunate.”
Harris, Liddle, Curt Casali and Aaron Westlake all had two home runs for the three games. Jason Esposito added one, a two-run shot that preceded Harris’ in the eighth on Sunday.
“I think we just kind of fed off each other,” Harris said. “We were taking good approaches and getting good pitches to hit, kind of laying off balls they through to us.”
Cotham started one day later than scheduled because of a minor knee problem. He pitched just 2.2 innings – his shortest outing of the year. He threw 66 pitches and allowed one run on four hits.
“I’m hoping he’s OK,” Corbin said. “His knee was not real good. … His bullpen (session) was really good, but when you get between the white lines, game speed takes over a little bit and you have a tendency to do things you wouldn’t do when you’re in the bullpen.”
VU used three pitchers after Cotham. The first was Nick Christiani, who allowed one run in 3.1 innings and earned the win.
BACK AT THE TOP
Harris was the Commodores’ lead-off hitter for all five games of the week after having been dropped in the lineup for the previous two weeks.
In five games, the junior shortstop was 10-22, with 3 doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs and seven runs He was hit by a pitch twice, and his only walk came with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth Wednesday and tied the game.
“It doesn’t matter where (Corbin) puts me,” Harris said. “I just want to help the team anyway I can.”
Vanderbilt has won seven straight against Mississippi State, a streak which started in the 2007 SEC Tournament. … Gray pitched 2.2 innings and earned his team-leading fifth save. He struck out six. … Liddle scored three runs in three of the five games this week, and added two more on Sunday. … Mississippi State’s only lead of the series was when it scored one run in the top of the first on Sunday. Vanderbilt answered with one in the bottom of that inning and went ahead to stay in the second.