Vanderbilt first baseman Aaron Westlake scored on a passed ball in the sixth inning and hit a solo home run in the eighth to lead the No. 24 Commodores past No. 15 Arkansas 2-0 Wednesday in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Like their previous three meetings, the fourth meeting between the two teams in less than a week was a defensive struggle thanks in large part to fantastic pitching performances by both starters.
Arkansas senior Jeremy Heatley pitched five innings in his first career start, striking out seven batters and working around a one-out bases loaded jam in the first inning. He left the game with a no decision after allowing no runs on three hits and four walks.
Vanderbilt sophomore Sonny Gray picked up his second win against the Razorbacks in the last seven days by pitching seven scoreless innings and striking out eight batters.
"It's pretty frustrating, our pitchers threw great but we didn't get the big hits when we needed then and grounded into double plays," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We just did not bring it tonight."
"It was just a pitching performance tonight," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "I thought Sonny pitched very well obviously, anyone could see that. He was very consistent and the time he ran into trouble in the second inning he got out of it with a couple of strikeouts and we made some big double plays after that. It was pitching and defense tonight, that's about it."
Westlake led off the sixth inning with a walk off Arkansas reliever Sam Murphy. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a fielder's choice before scoring on a wild pitch to give the Commodores a 1-0 lead.
That grew to 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning when Westlake hit a solo home run off DJ Baxendale. It was Westlake's fourth home run in four games against the Razorbacks.
Arkansas looked to have something brewing in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bo Bigham, who finished the game 3-for-4, led off the inning with a single to chase Gray and bring up Andy Wilkins to the plate. But the Razorback junior captain hit into a close double play and Monk Kreder grounded out to end the inning.
"It was very frustrating," Bigham said. "We were one hit away from breaking it wide open. We were hitting on the screws today but we just didn't have anything fall. We have to come back tomorrow and not think about it. We have to play the game the right way. We were confident in Heatley or he wouldn't have pitched today. We knew he could get it done, we just didn't back him up any."
Just two players - the second baseman Bigham and shortstop Tim Carver - played at their everyday positions for the Razorbacks as Zack Cox (back) and Brett Eibner (hand) sat with injuries, and normal catcher James McCann played first base to rest.
With the loss Arkansas moves into the losers' bracket to face SEC regular season champion Florida Thursday with a first pitch scheduled for approximately 1 p.m. The Gators took two of three from the Razorbacks earlier this year in Gainesville, including a 2-1 rubber game decision marred by controversy when the winning run appeared to be out at the plate.
"They are a great team," Van Horn said. "We have to bring it tomorrow. We have to go in with the mindset that we are going to win and hopefully take care of business."
Vanderbilt (41-15) was the fourth lower seeded team to win in as many games at the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. The Commodores will play No. 8 seed LSU tomorrow.