Dores Down Rebels Thanks to Speed, Defense

Commodores begin SEC slate with victory over defending national champions

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt put on a defensive clinic and utilized its terrorizing team speed to win its SEC opener 12-2 in eight innings over visiting Ole Miss on Thursday at Hawkins Field.

Vandy (14-5, 1-0 SEC) got at least one hit from eight different batters in the win and made Ole Miss pay for its four fielding errors. The Commodores also blasted four home runs.

Matthew Polk went 3-for-4, drove in three runs and was part of a Vandy attack that totaled seven extra base hits. RJ Schreck and Parker Noland also had three RBIs each and Jonathan Vastine went 3-for-4.

“We play fast, we pride ourselves on playing fast and now we just put it altogether,” Polk said of Thursday’s offensive outburst. “We were swinging at good pitches, attacking their pitches, making their pitchers make good pitches and touching first—that’s the most important thing.”

Vanderbilt starter Carter Holton (W, 2-0) worked around six hits and a hit batter to allow just two earned runs over 6+ innings. He threw 64 strikes out of 95 pitches and got a leaping catch from second baseman RJ Austin, a diving catch by Polk in left, a diving stop at third by Davis Diaz that turned into a double play an a sprinting coach from Enrique Bradfield on the left-center warning track.

Bryce Cunningham threw two scoreless innings and surrendered just one hit out of the Vanderbilt bullpen.

The two runs for the Rebels (14-4, 0-1 SEC) tied a season low.

“I was just competing and the defense was great tonight,” Holton said. “I was just throwing the ball over the plate and letting the defense work behind me.”

Vanderbilt got the scoring started early Thursday.

With one-out in the second, Chris Maldonado blooped a single to left. Noland stepped in and punched a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left for an opposite-field homer making it 2-0.

Ole Miss, the reigning national champions, came back in the top of the third with a run courtesy of an Ethan Groff sacrifice fly. Calvin Harris’ two-out RBI single tied the score at 2-all.

Maldonado broke that stalemate with a lead-off home run in the fourth, a no-doubter on a low fastball that put Vandy up 3-2. Later in the inning, with two outs, Vastine’s double preceded a Bradfield double that made it a 4-2 game.

Bradfield would then score when a Diaz ball was rolled to second, but the throw to first got away allowing the speedy junior to fly home putting the Dores ahead 5-2.

Another Ole Miss error and a single put runners at the corners in the Vandy fifth. One out later, Polk hit a run-scoring sac fly off Ole Miss reliever Mitch Murrell making it 6-2.

Polk added some insurance in the eighth with a solo homer to left. Schreck followed that later in the inning with a three-run bomb to right, Noland plated another with an RBI single and Polk, appropriately, provided the final RBI with a run-scoring single to center.

“I was just in there trying to find a good pitch to hit so I could touch first and get that run in. I assumed no matter what happened we had to play defense,” Polk said. “When they said it was over (due to a league-mandated margin rule) I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ We get to save some pitching for (Friday).”

Ole Miss starter Jack Dougherty (L, 2-2) was pulled in the fifth after allowing six runs—five earned—on 11 hits.

The two teams are scheduled to resume the series at 6 p.m. Friday.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.