NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Chance Huff didn’t play as well as he had wanted in his first collegiate appearance with Vanderbilt last weekend. Thus, when the lineup card was set for the Commodores’ home opener against Evansville on Wednesday, Huff couldn’t help but smile when he landed his first collegiate start.
“I was excited that I had the start this week,” Huff said. “It was just to have the chance to go out and try to prove myself.”
Huff was one piece of a pair of freshman pitchers who looked the part of valuable commodities against Evansville. Huff, the 6-4 righthander, struck out five and did not allow a walk in four innings. Fellow freshman Ethan Smith, a 6-1 righty, relieved Huff and struck out four batters in just 1.1 innings of work.
The two newcomers helped set the table for No. 1 Vanderbilt’s 5-4 win over Evansville at Hawkins Field. Given the expected importance of freshmen in the Commodores’ pitching corps in 2019, that’s a good sign for the Dores’ going forward.
“He’s capable,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Every time we get him on the mound in one of those positions — you get Ethan Smith midway through the game – they’re going to grow a lot. They’re going take those experiences and it’s going to help them. Good for them that they’re getting the ball this early and throwing, for the most part, a lot of strikes.”
Both freshmen had seen time in last weekend’s opening three-game series at the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Talking Stick, Arizona. Huff had picked up a win on opening day in a 15-9 victory over Virginia. But the Niceville, Fla. native had allowed three runs and two hits while striking out two.
Smith had made his collegiate debut in a 14-9 win over No. 25 Cal State Fullerton last Saturday. The Mt. Juliet product gave up just two runs on one hit with one strikeout against the Titans.
Coming into Wednesday, Huff tried to re-focus as he prepped for his first start as a Commodore. The freshman found his groove at Hawkins Field.
“I just went out there and tried to do the best I could do,” Huff said. “I tried to give my team a good opportunity and get in the position to win. We came out on top tonight. It feels good.”
With Huff and Smith in tow, Wednesday’s matchup showed flashes of the impact freshmen can make on Vanderbilt’s pitching staff in 2019. Just how much of an impact? Corbin says to wait and see.
“It’s early to tell,” Corbin said. “We’re still trying to find out what we have. We still have some good pitchers who have not touched the ball yet who are capable, [Jackson] Gillis being one of them. So they’ll get their time.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.