Headed to the ‘Ship

Commodores down Florida in semifinals

HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt took an early lead and held off Florida late to win 11-6 in the semifinals of the 2023 SEC Tournament and advance to the title game at 2 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.

The Commodores scored 10 runs through the first three innings Saturday evening. Vandy advances to the finals of the SEC Tournament for the 12th time in program history, 10th under head coach Tim Corbin.

Freshman JD Thompson made his first collegiate start on the mound against the Gators. Thompson worked 4.2 innings and struck out a career-best six batters.

Thompson received run support from multiple spots in the lineup. Alan Espinal provided a spark at the bottom of the order with a 3-for-4 game including a home run. The freshman duo of Chris Maldonado and RJ Austin each drove in a pair of runs.

After scoring five runs in the first inning against Alabama on Friday night, the Commodores put four on the board in the bottom of the first on Saturday against Florida.

Enrique Bradfield Jr. reached on an error to lead off the inning and Davis Diaz drew a walk. With RJ Schreck up to bat, a fielder’s choice turned into a second error with all three Dores able to reach base and advance as Bradfield touched home for the game’s first run.

After Parker Noland was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Florida got back-to-back strikeouts. Vandy made it 2-0 on a wild pitch and Austin, who had a 3-for-4 night with a two-run homer on Friday, roped a double off the top of the wall down the left field line to score Schreck and Noland, putting the Dores in front 4-0 in the first.

Espinal made it 5-0 with a solo shot to right field to lead off the bottom of the second. Espinal now has five homers on the season. The inning continued with a Diaz walk and a single by Noland. Maldonado then singled down the first base line to score Diaz and put Vandy on top by six.

Florida got on the board in the top of the third on a solo home run by Cade Kurland.

Vanderbilt blew the game open with a four-run frame in the bottom of the third on six hits. Jonathan Vastine, Espinal and Bradfield hit three consecutive singles with Vastine coming home on Bradfield’s hit. A sac fly scored Espinal and Schreck followed with an RBI single to plate Bradfield.

After a single by Noland, Maldonado doubled off the wall in left to bring Schreck across the plate and give Vandy a 10-1 lead.

The Gators hit a second solo home run in the top of the fourth to trim the Dores’ lead to eight.

Florida pulled within five with three runs in the top of the fifth using a two-run homer and an RBI single.

Vandy took advantage of a third Florida error in the bottom of the sixth, scoring one on a dropped fly ball to go up 11-5.

The Gators threatened with the bases full and one out in the top of the seventh, but Grayson Moore limited the damage to just one run as Florida pulled back within five.

Nick Maldonado threw the final two innings and didn’t allow a hit.

Vanderbilt has reached the 40-win mark on the season for the 12th time under Corbin. Corbin now has 43 wins in the SEC Tournament to match Skip Bertman for second-most in SEC history.

The Commodores will meet Texas A&M in the championship contest on Sunday. The Dores and Aggies did not play in the regular season.