NASHVILLE -- Despite a strong start from freshman Taylor Rogers, No. 20 Vanderbilt plated two runs in the bottom of the first inning and held on for a dramatic 2-1 win over No. 24 Kentucky to secure the series in the first game of a doubleheader, in front of 2,693 fans at Charles Hawkins Field Saturday afternoon.
Rogers, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound southpaw, turned in a strong outing, allowing just two runs – all in the bottom of the first inning, with only one run earned. The native of Littleton, Colo., tossed the complete eight innings, allowing just seven hits – five coming in the first two innings – issuing no walks and striking out one. After the first inning, Rogers settled down and retired 20 of the next 25 hitters he faced. In his first career SEC start last Saturday against No. 19 Ole Miss, Rogers allowed three runs in the top of the first inning and settled down to post scoreless innings in the next six frames, lasting into the eighth inning, with the UK bullpen allowing a pair of inherited runners to score.
Kentucky (16-7, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) fell in its second consecutive SEC series of the year, also falling in the first two games against Ole Miss last weekend. UK was shutout by Vandy and ace Sonny Gray in the Friday-night contest, falling 7-0. UK fell in game two with Ole Miss last week, 7-6, and after the one-run loss in game one Saturday, has now lost two consecutive one-run games on Saturday’s in the SEC.
The Wildcats had several chances to plate the game-tying run, including in the top of the ninth inning. After leadoff pinch hitter Navarro Hall flied out to open the frame, Chad Wright singled into shallow centerfield. Pinch hitter Braden Kapteyn flied out to centerfield, bringing UK’s preseason All-American Chris Bisson to the plate. Bisson came through, lining a single into centerfield, allowing Wright to scamper to third base. Vanderbilt pulled its right-handed closer, Russell Brewer, in favor of left-handed reliever Richie Goodenow to face left-handed hitter Cory Farris. Goodenow came on and picked up the save with four pitches to strikeout Farris and end the game.
Vanderbilt (20-4, 3-2 SEC) reliever Chase Reid picked up the win, going three shutout inning in relief of starter Taylor Hill. Reid allowed just one hit and struck out three, improving to 4-1 on the year. Rogers took the hard-luck loss, dropping to 3-2 on the year.
UK got two hit performances from Wright, Bisson and catcher Marcus Nidiffer, with Wright adding a triple and Nidiffer a double. Bisson and Farris each drew walks.
The series will conclude with the second game of the doubleheader later on Saturday. UK will send sophomore right-hander Alex Meyer to the mound to face off with Vanderbilt acclaimed sophomore right-hander Jack Armstrong. Fans can listen to the game live on WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington or online at UKathletics.com, with Dick Gabriel calling the action for the Big Blue Sports Network (radio).
Vanderbilt picked up where it left off Friday night, in the bottom of the first inning, as Brian Harris led off with a two-strike singled, pushed through the hole on the left side of the infield. After Rogers got Bryan Johns to pop out, Aaron Westlake singed on a chopper through the right side. With Jason Esposito at the plate and a two-strike count, Harris came home to score on a passed ball and Westlake advanced into scoring position. After Esposito grounded out to shortstop, Andrew Giobbi got his 22nd RBI of the season, painting a single down the first-base line.
UK got on the board for the first time in the series in the top of the fourth inning. Gunner Glad reached on a one-out pop-up single into leftfield and Wiley got hit by a pitch. That brought Nidiffer to the plate, who pushed a check-swing grounder down the first-base line, with the ball being bobbled by Hill as he attempted to make the play on Nidiffer, with the play going as an error. With the bases loaded, Burns delivered a high fly ball to right-centerfield, allowing Glad to score and make it 2-1 Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats appeared to have evened up the game in the top of the fifth, as they loaded the bases and with two out, including a leadoff triple from Wright, and had Keenan Wiley at the plate. Wiley chopped a high-hopper at third base and appeared to have beaten the throw from the strong-armed Esposito at first base but the first-base umpire, Mike Rust, ruled the throw beat Wiley, with Vandy escaping the inning without allowing a run.
UK caught a break in the bottom of the sixth inning, as the Commodores had runners at first and second base with two out. VU’s Anthony Gomez was at the plate and hit a grounder into the gap on the left side of the infield, fielded by Black. Black turned and attempted to get the lead runner at third base, throwing it to Burns on the third base bag. For an extended period of time, no umpire made any calls or signals about whether the runner was safe or out. Third-base umpire Jack Cox, standing near the second base bag, threw his hands in the air without making the call, looking in the direction of the home-plate umpire, Barry Chambers, who also declined to make the call. Cox made the out signal, ending the inning and prompting an extended argument from VU head coach Tim Corbin and the Vanderbilt dugout.
Vandy got a two-hit performance from freshman centerfielder Connor Harrell and hits from Harris, Westlake, Giobbi, Gomez and Joe Loftus.