NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coltyn Kessler’s two-out, three-run home run in the top of the ninth stunned Vanderbilt on Saturday at Hawkins Field and kept the Commodores from claiming an SEC East Division title in what would become a 7-5 defeat.
Vandy reliever Nick Maldonado had struck out the first two hitters of the ninth, but then Austin Schultz and T.J. Collett, respectively, hit back-to-back singles giving Kessler a chance. He worked a 2-2 count before plating his game-changing homer into the bleachers in right field.
Reliever Luke Murphy came in to try to put out the fire for Vanderbilt, but Jacob Plastiak launched a two-run shot to left making it 7-4.
Vanderbilt tried to get a winning rally started in the bottom of the ninth thanks to an infield hit off the bat of Dominic Keegan. A Jack Bulger walk brought up CJ Rodriguez and the first pitch to him was wild allowing the runners to scoot up a base.
The Commodores (39-13, 19-10 SEC) now look toward the postseason. They’ll begin play in the SEC Tournament at 8 p.m. Wednesday against an opponent to be determined.
“We got, potentially, a lot of baseball to play,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Depends how we respond to this particular situation. So we’ll see what we’re made of because we weren’t made enough throughout that game to finish it and we got bit.”
Vanderbilt starter Patrick Reilly (5-2) threw a ball for the first pitch of Saturday’s game. Schultz took the second pitch over the wall in left for a line-drive home run that gave Kentucky a 1-0 lead.
Collett and Kessler, respectively followed that with back-to-back doubles to opposite corners of the ballpark making it 2-0 Wildcats.
Vandy waited until the third to respond with a rally that began with an Enrique Bradfield infield single up the middle. Isaiah Thomas’ double into the left-field corner brought in Bradfield and cut the deficit in half.
After Keegan reached on an infield single, Bulger smoked a single back up the middle to score Thomas and tying the game at 2-all.
Tate Kolwyck’s RBI sacrifice fly later in the inning gave the Commodores a 3-2 advantage.
The Commodores tacked on some insurance in the eighth thanks to a two-out RBI single to right off the bat of Jayson Gonzalez. But it wasn’t enough in the end.
Reilly went five solid innings and was charged with just the two earned runs. He worked around four hits and three walks while fanning three and throwing 76 pitches.
“The turning point for Patrick was when it was 2-0, runner on first and second no outs and then he got the first three outs. I thought he did a really good job of getting through that particular situation and then coming back and getting us deep into a ballgame and just giving up two runs,” Corbin said. “He left with a lead. I was happy with him. I thought he did a really nice job getting us back into the game and getting himself back into the game. I thought he was very effective.”
Kentucky’s Zack Lee went six strong innings and allowed just the three earned runs despite giving up 10 hits. With the win, the Wildcats (29-22, 12-18 SEC) broke a 10-game losing streak to Vanderbilt.
The Commodores fell to 38-1 this season when leading after eight innings.
“I just want to see some bounce-back from this,” Corbin said. “They’re competitive kids now. They’re upset. They let down. They’ll respond in the way that they need to. They’re competitive kids.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.