Opening Day Thriller

Jonathan Vastine walks off Florida Atlantic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt used a three-run ninth inning Friday afternoon to defeat Florida Atlantic, 12-11, at Hawkins Field in the 2024 season opener.

Jonathan Vastine provided the heroics with a two-out, two-run, walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth to send the Commodores to 1-0.

The Commodores jumped out to an early 6-0 lead before the Owls battled back. FAU used a two-run homer in the top of the eighth to lead 11-9, setting the stage for Vandy’s comeback in the ninth.

Jack Bulger, hitting lead off for the Dores, started the 2024 campaign with a bang. The senior sent the first pitch he saw over the wall in left-center for Vanderbilt’s first Opening Day, leadoff homer since at least 2003.

Vandy rattled off four consecutive hits to start the game. RJ Austin followed Bulger’s home run with a double and freshman Camden Kozeal recorded his first collegiate hit with a single to left. Alan Espinal’s single down the right field line plated Austin and put runners on the corners. Troy LaNeve made it 3-0 with a sac fly to bring home Kozeal.

The Commodores doubled their lead in the second. A walk and a single put two runners on for Austin who launched a ball 421 feet over the wall in left to make it 6-0.

Florida Atlantic roared back in the fourth with a four-run frame, cutting Vandy’s advantage to 6-4.

Austin continued his hot day at the plate with a RBI-single to score Davis Diaz in the bottom of the fourth, putting the Dores back in front by three.

Vastine led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo homer to right. Vastine has homered on Opening Day in back-to-back seasons.

FAU eliminated Vanderbilt’s four-run lead in the top of the seventh. The Owls pushed five runs across on four hits to jump in front, 9-8.

The Dores took advantage of an error in the home half of the inning to even the score at 9-9. Jayden Davis singled and made way for Calvin Hewett to pinch run at first base. Hewett stole second and then came all the way around to score on a two-base throwing error by the FAU catcher.

FAU’s Brando Leroux belted a two-run home run in the top of the eighth to put his side ahead 11-9.

Hewett triggered the ninth-inning rally with a one-out single. LaNeve reached on a hit-by-pitch and Jacob Humphrey entered as a pinch runner at first. After a strikeout put Vanderbilt down to its last out, Diaz lined a single into center field to score Hewett and put the tying run on third. Diaz, representing the winning run, moved up to second on a wild pitch before Vastine deposited the game-winning hit into left field, scoring Humphrey and Diaz.

JD Thompson picked up the win on the mound after tossing a scoreless frame in the top of the ninth. The Vandy pitching staff recorded 12 strikeouts led by Carter Holton with five.

Austin’s 4-for-5 day at the plate matched his career-high for hits. He has driven in four runs in a game three times in his career.

Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday for Game 2 of the series at Hawkins Field.