Hoover Hits: Vanderbilt freshmen shine on Friday

Friday Elimination Game – Vanderbilt vs. Alabama

HOOVER, Ala. – Vanderbilt wasted no time jumping on Alabama starting pitcher Jacob McNairy. The Commodores opened with a five-run lead to begin the last game of Friday’s SEC Tournament slate.

Graduate senior RJ Schrek led the charge, roping a double to right field for the first run. Freshman RJ Austin capped the opening frame. The Vanderbilt freshman launched a McNairy curveball out of left field to give starter Devin Futrell plenty of room to work with.

Futrell needed the cushion as he struggled with control early in the night. The lefty led off the bottom of the first inning by hitting Alabama’s Jim Jarvis. Futrell also allowed a hit and walk before finally escaping a bases-loaded jam.

The Vandy sophomore ended with an impressive outing, considering the control issues. His final line – two earned runs on four hits in five innings (86 pitches). Futrell had more walks (3) than strikeouts (2), but his effort was enough to keep the Alabama offense at bay.

The Tide’s Colby Shelton accounted for the two runs as he launched a two-run shot in the bottom of the third, his 22nd of the year.

The stars of the night were Austin and fellow freshman Chris Maldonado. The former went 3 for 4, falling a triple shy of the cycle. Maldonado accounted for three runs and reached base every time he stepped to the plate.

Side notes – Alabama’s Andrew Pinckney had a single and double. It’s evident why so many like the power. He also flashed the ability to settle and push for contact the opposite way. On the single, Pinckney had a nice flare over the second baseman’s head to reach first safely. There was a wide gap in right due to the outfielder’s placement for pull-side. Lots of maturity in the at-bat by the redshirt junior, especially in an 8-2 game. He’s a riser in the top 300 for the 2023 MLB draft.

Vanderbilt won 9-2 and advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

Saturday SemifinalsArkansas vs. Texas A&M

The first game on Saturday featured some late drama, as Arkansas scored four runs in the final three innings. Texas A&M’s top half of the lineup accounted for seven hits and all five runs. The Aggies had as much as a four-run lead before the Razorbacks made their charge.

Texas A&M freshman Jace LaViolette showed poise in the eighth inning with a two-out RBI single after a rough start to the game. The run would be just enough cushion to hold off Arkansas.

Here’s what Aggie coach Jim Schlossnagle had to say about the All-SEC freshman in that crucial moment.

“His first couple at-bats, first three at-bats weren’t very good,” Schlossnagle said. “But like yesterday, Hunter Haas’s first three at-bats weren’t very good, but then the game came calling, and he came through for us. Every single run you score, obviously, that two-out RBI played a massive role in the final score.”

Schlossnagle credited both teams for the toughness that flashed on the field Saturday.

“It’s utter insanity, this conference,” said Schlossnagle. “Every single game is a street fight. It’s not even a boxing match. It’s a street fight until the very last out is made.”

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn also carried the same sentiment.

“First off, congratulations to A&M,” Van Horn said. “They pitched great today. Both teams played very good defense for the most part, and yeah, was just one of those games. Really, frustrating for us, especially on the offensive side.”

Extra bases – It was nice to see both teams battle like they did. Arkansas figured to have the pitching edge, going Brady Tygart, Will McEntire and Gage Wood to open the game. But this Aggie lineup just didn’t quit.

Schlossnagle admits they lack a “power element” on offense but praises his team’s ability to work pitchers. He’s also very confident that this week’s pitching performance isn’t a fluke. A&M entered the day with an earned run average of 1.95 through four games in Hoover. The Aggies posted a 5.49 ERA during the regular season.

Van Horn is looking forward to a chance for his guys to regroup. The Hawgs’ skipper said the team must consider some pitching situations going forward. 

Wood, a freshman, struggled to throw strikes against Texas A&M. Wood failed to record an out and threw just four strikes on 12 pitches. Van Horn also called on his older guys to lead this offense into regionals.

Vanderbilt vs. Florida

Vanderbilt raced out to another big lead, scoring six runs in the first two innings. Freshman JD Thompson earned his first start of the year for the Commodores. Florida’s offense worked him to 101 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. He recorded six strikeouts and two walks. Thompson’s four fly balls led to more hard hits in his fifth inning.

Florida’s Wyatt Langford launched a two-run homer to left-center at 117 exit velocity, the hardest-hit ball in the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

Extra bases – Florida starter Jac Caglianone did not have his best stuff from the mound. He was pulled at 59 pitches in the second inning. Vanderbilt’s first four runs were unearned, and Caglianone accounted for a throwing error and wild pitch in the opening frame.

Despite struggling at the plate in Hoover, Enrique Bradfield Jr. saved a couple of extra-base hits with his signature speed and uncanny ability to track down barrels in the outfield.

Logan Quinton
Logan Quinton
Logan Quinton joined Baseball Prospect Journal in March 2023 as a College Baseball Writer focusing on the Tennessee Volunteers. Follow Quinton on Twitter @LDQsports.

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