Gray Pitches No. 20 Vanderbilt to Series-Opening Shutout

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NASHVILLE -- The 20th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores used runs in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings and a dominating pitching performance from sophomore Sonny Gray to post a 7-0 series-opening win over No. 24 Kentucky, on a chilly Friday night at Charles Hawkins Field.

Kentucky (16-6, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) dropped its second consecutive SEC-series opening game, also falling to No. 19 Ole Miss, 9-0 last Friday. Gray (4-2), a native of Smyrna, Tenn., posted a dominating performance throughout the contest, going seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and three walks, striking out six to pick up his first SEC win of the season.

UK starter Logan Darnell, a native of nearby Joelton, Tenn., suffered the loss, going 5.1 innings, allowing nine hits and seven runs – five earned – walking four and striking out three, dropping to 3-2 on the year. UK freshman Jordan Cooper, a native of Shelbyville, Tenn., came on in relief and went the final 2.2 innings of shutout relief, allowing two hits and one walk. 

Vanderbilt (19-4, 2-2 SEC) jumped out to an early lead, plating a single run in the first and fourth inning and a two-run frame in the third. The Commodores took complete control of the game with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, stretching its lead to seven runs.

UK charted just five hits in the game, as preseason All-American Chris Bisson, Keenan Wiley, Taylor Black, Andy Burns and Gunner Glad each singled. Marcus Nidiffer and Braden Kapteyn each drew walks to lead off innings, with Glad and Neiko Johnson each drawing walks. The Wildcats left a total of 10 runners on base, getting lead-off runners on base in four innings.

The series will resume Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at Hawkins Field. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WGVN 1580-AM and online at UK will send freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers (3-1, 4.75 ERA) to the mound to face off with junior VU right-hander Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.90 ERA).

The Commodores got on the board in the bottom of the first inning, as Bryan Johns drew a full-count walk, moving to third base after Jason Esposito singled into centerfield. Catcher Andrew Giobbi scored Johns, poking a single through the left side, scoring Johnson from third, Giobbi’s 21st RBI of the season.

Vanderbilt continued to stretch its lead in the bottom of the third, as Johns reached on his second consecutive full-count walk, this time to lead off the frame. Leftfielder Aaron Westlake followed and drilled a hard-hit grounder at Bisson at second base, who made a diving stag of the ball towards first base, throwing from his knees to second base to get Johns, but Black’s throw to first for the double play sailed into the dugout, allowing Westlake to move to second. After Darnell got Esposito to fly out to right, he issued a four-pitch walk to Giobbi. First baseman Curt Casali followed and got his first RBI of the game, launching a single into left-centerfield. Centerfielder Connor Harrell joined the hit parade, becoming the third consecutive hitter to single, sending an RBI single into centerfield, scoring Giobbi. After Anthony Gomez singled to load the bases, Joe Loftus hit into a fielder’s choice, ending the frame.

Vandy stretched its lead in the next inning, as Brian Harris led off with a hard-hit ball drilled past the glove of Burns at third base, with the ball sailing to the wall down the left-field line, with Harris motoring to second for his third double of the year. Johns then singled into centerfield, with Wiley’s diving attempt to catch the ball in shallow left-centerfield just missing, allowing Harris to move up to third base. Westlake followed and ripped a hard-hit ball to Black, who was just on the third-base side of the second-base bag. Black dropped to a knee to block the hard-hit grounder, flipping it to Bisson at second, who quickly turned the double play, getting two outs, but allowing Harris to score from third.

The Commodores added to their lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Joe Loftus drew a walk with one out and Harris got hit by his SEC leading 16th pitch of the year. Johns followed and hit a hard-hit ball into the gap on the left side of the infield, with Black making an outstretched diving play to keep it in the infield. While Black was getting up, Loftus snuck around towards the plate with Black’s throw going to the first-base side and Nidiffer just missed the diving tag on a sliding Loftus. The next hitter, Westlake immediately hit into a grounder at Glad at first base, who fired an accurate throw to Nidiffer. Harris was caught in a rundown and after UK threw the ball around the infield to several players with multiple Vanderbilt runners caught in rundowns, but Darnell’s throw to the plate to get Harris sailed wide and out of the glove for a throwing error in a strange sequence. That odd play in the UK infield meant the end of the night for Darnell with Esposito up. Esposito lined a single into rightfield, just under the glove of Bisson at second base, allowing Johns to score.

Vandy was led offensively by multi-hit games from four hitters, including Johns, Esposito, Harrell and Gomez. Johns and Loftus each drew two walks, with Harris, Giobbi and Casali each charting a hit. Harris’ double was the lone extra-base hit for either team in the game.