First-Inning Fire

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The scoreboard was not favorable for No. 1 Vanderbilt early in its home matchup with Samford on Tuesday. The Bulldogs tacked on two runs in the top half of the first inning to take a quick 2-0 lead over the Commodores at Hawkins Field.
 
Then, the Dores came alive. Eleven consecutive batters reached base as the squad answered with nine runs, the program’s most in an opening inning since March 17, 2010, against Western Kentucky. Vanderbilt went on to beat Samford, 11-6, and improve to 14-3 on the year.
 
The Commodores’ first-inning explosion on Tuesday was a microcosm of a developing theme this spring. Vanderbilt has scored in the first frame in 10 games this season, and it is 9-1 in those games. In addition to the high-scoring inning against Samford, the Dores have scored five runs in the first frame on two occasions and three runs on a total of four occasions.
 
“I just think it’s having a good plan for a starting pitcher and getting yourself ready to go and understanding what he’s going to do and staying true to your approach so you can get off a good swing or get off a good at-bat,” Corbin said. “It’s just trying to find your way to first base more than anything. We’ve been able to do it. We’ve been able to put eight or nine guys together that force pressure on the opponent. It hasn’t always been consistent, but I’d say for the most part, it’s been pretty favorable.”
 
Vanderbilt’s penchant for early scoring will be put to the test this weekend as it opens SEC play on the road at No. 19 Texas A&M. The three-game series begins from Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park on Friday at 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network+).
 
But the Dores say their fast starts aren’t a goal. Instead, it’s about having the right mindset at first pitch.
 
“I think it starts with the mentality,” shortstop Ethan Paul said. “You don’t want to come in too slow in any game. You want to come out and be prepared from the first pitch. The coaches do a great job for that. The players do a great job for that, too. That’s something we try to move forward on.”
 
It’s perhaps no surprise that Vanderbilt’s success in the first inning has correlated with a solid offensive start to 2019 overall. Prior to facing Samford, the Dores ranked first in the SEC in batting average (.330), hits (186), runs (141), on-base percentage (.437) and triples (nine). Vanderbilt has scored five or more runs in 14 of its 17 games entering the matchup with Texas A&M.
 
But Corbin, in his 17th season at Vanderbilt, knows the intensity cranks up in SEC play. That’s particularly true for the Texas A&M series, which marks the Commodores’ first true road games of 2019. Whether or not the Dores can replicate their first-inning energy in College Station remains to be seen.
 
Indeed, Corbin said there’s no substitute for a road series in the SEC.
 
“I don’t know if you can manufacture that,” Corbin said. “I think it’s just more of trying to help the team understand what we’re about to get into right now without overplaying it. Even if you have a good ball club, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful elsewhere or on the road. It’s just a matter of getting there, settling down, trying to play your best baseball that you can. It’s trying to take Hawkins Field to Blue Bell Park.”