NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt sophomore Troy LaNeve took matters into his own hands in the ninth inning Thursday, crushing a two-run, walk-off home run to beat Kentucky 4-2 at Hawkins Field.
“I was just sitting fastball,” LaNeve said. “I knew the other (Kentucky) lefties all night were attack-heavy with fastballs so I was just gearing up for the fastball pretty much throughout the whole entire at-bat and sure enough I got to a 3-1 count so I was kind of sitting on that and I was ready for it.”
LaNeve’s blast came after Vandy (38-12, 18-9 SEC) had left seven men on base, including the bases loaded in the eighth inning. But that mattered little after the winning ball went opposite field off LaNeve’s barrel and landed into a full crowd in left field. The second-year outfielder, making just his sixth start of the season, was then mobbed by his teammates the moment he crossed home plate.
Vanderbilt now remains 1/2-game behind first-place Tennessee in the SEC East standings with two games left in the regular season.
The Commodores and Wildcats are scheduled to resume the series at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
“Every day from here on out is a big day for us, is a big game,” LaNeve said. “So I think we’ll try to ride this momentum into (Friday).”
Vanderbilt starter Kumar Rocker, tied for fourth in program history with 25 career wins, exited after seven innings and 101 pitches (66 for strikes). He fanned 11, gave up three hits and two earned runs.
Kentucky starter Cole Stupp was equally tough as he went 7+ innings and left a 2-2 game in the eighth after his 109th pitch. He gave up seven hits, struck out five, walked one and allowed two earned runs in a gritty performance.
The Dores, however, took control early in what turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. And it was LaNeve at the heart of the early action before his later heroics.
A two-strike, one-out single to right off his bat started something cooking in the Vanderbilt third. Jayson Gonzalez then beat out a high-chopper short of third setting the table for Enrique Bradfield.
The freshman centerfielder rolled a ball into left scoring LaNeve and making it 1-0.
Dominic Keegan doubled the Vanderbilt lead in the fourth with a solo home run to left, the 11th bomb of the season for the junior.
Kentucky got those two runs back with one swift swing in the sixth. After a two-out walk, John Rhodes unloaded on a 1-0 pitch and tied the game with a two-run homer to left.
That’s where the scored stayed until the ninth.
Tate Kolywck started the game-winning rally with a five-pitch walk in the ninth. LaNeve worked a 3-1 count before unloading off Kentucky reliever Daniel Harper (3-1) to win the game.
Vandy reliever Luke Murphy (1-1) threw two innings of scoreless relief, the second of which included a two-out, bases-loaded jam.
“The bottom line is we won the game and we had not done it in that fashion,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Wins come in all sorts of ways and it was just one of those nights where Stupp did a nice job, threw a lot of strikes and got ahead in the count.
“We weren’t as good offensively, we didn’t connect on offense a great deal, but at the end we started to put guys on base. You get those moments tonight that are very refreshing for a kid like (LaNeve) and for the team just because you take advantage of a situation where we weren’t as offensive. Good for the kids that they can feel that.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.