Vanderbilt didn’t waste any time to once again rewrite the record books.
That’s no surprise with these Commodores, who — more times than not — have jumped out in front and have not looked back.
A pair of two-run home runs propelled No. 1 Vanderbilt to a 7-6 win over Alabama on Thursday night at Hawkins Field in the opener of the final regular-season series. In winning their 14th straight to match their longest winning streak of the season, the Commodores improved to 32-2 when scoring first.
“From a confidence standpoint it is really important to get on the board early,” center fielder Connor Harrell said. “You got to put pressure on them from the get-go. That’s something we’ve always tried to do.”
The early offense proved essential when Kenny Roberts threw a scare into Vanderbilt and closer Brian Miller with a grand slam in the ninth. Miller retired the next two batters for his 14th save of the season and 19th of his career, which tied Ryan Rote for the most in school history.
Two more records fell for the unanimous No. 1 team in the country and the Southeastern Conference champions.
Vanderbilt (47-6, 25-2) set the school mark for most regular-season wins and tied the 2000 South Carolina team for the most SEC wins, with two league games remaining.
“It is pretty cool,” Harrell said of the records. “After coming off last year and having to battle back and be a part of something that will just get to a regional, this is a team that has been consistent from day one. The thing that is good for guys like me to see, who are older, is that they keep getting better. We have freshmen who keep getting better and it is fun to watch.”
As they have throughout the current streak, the Commodores capitalized with two outs. In the bottom of the first, Mike Yastrzemski reached on a two-out single to set up Harrell. The senior smacked his team-leading 11th home run of the season to right-center field. The next inning, freshman Kyle Smith followed suit. The Mt. Juliet grad cranked a two-run shot over the left-field wall for his fourth homer of the season and second in as many games.
The Commodores scored six runs with two outs against the Crimson Tide (31-23, 13-14). Forty-one of the 94 RBIs during the current winning streak have come with two outs.
“That was clutch,” coach Tim Corbin said. “We took advantage of some two-out hits and two long balls. Those were big runs at the time. I thought it was important for Walker [Buehler], a freshman trying to pitch a good team and trying to give him some runs early to get a little bit of a cushion. It gave us some headway at least for a while.”
Buehler (4-1) pushed past the excitement of making his first SEC start to last a season-high seven innings. He threw 100 pitches, scattered seven hits, allowed two runs — one earned — and struck out six in his seventh start of the season. Admittedly a little amped up, Buehler said he relaxed when he took the mound in the third with a four-run lead.
“There is a difference throwing with a lead than throwing in a tight game,” Buehler said. “I haven’t thrown seven innings since high school. So it is one of those things where you just try to muscle through it. But the defense makes plays for you and you’re up 7-1, it helps.”