'Dores Roast Hogs, 4-3

Arkansas Razorbacks rolled into Nashville for a Thursday night battle with the Vanderbilt Commodores. At 6 PM storms moved in and rain began to fall and the game was delayed for 2 and ½ hours. This was billed as a clash of the titans and with Arkansas ranked No. 14 and Vanderbilt ranked No.15, it was sure to be a battle.

Two hours and 43 minutes later, Vanderbilt (40-13, 16-10) had defeated a tough Arkansas (38-16, 16-12) team 4-3.

Sonny Gray started the game and appeared to have a new gear as his fastball was touching the 99 mph mark. He sat down the first 3 batters he faced. The second inning was his problem inning though as he faced 8 batters, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs. Gray settled down and retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. He finished the 8th and allowed 3 runs over the 8 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, and had 9 strikeouts in picking up the win (8-4). But with Gray's pitch count of 119, Coach Tim Corbin decided to bring in Chase Reid to close the 9th. Reid picked up the save, going 1 inning and striking out 1, while allowing no runs.

Arkansas countered on the mound with Drew Smyly, a R-So LHP. Smyly (8-1) holds the lowest ERA on the team at 2.40, but allowed 3 runs to the Commodores. He was around the plate all night, striking out 6, but allowed 6 hits and 1 walk over 5 innings. Smyly was relieved for the final 3 innings by D.J. Baxendale (0-2) who picked up the loss after allowing 1 run on 5 hits with a strikeout.

Going into this game, Vanderbilt knew that they must keep their hot bats of recent games. Jason Esposito hit a two-out double down the left field line in the first inning. Aaron Westlake followed with an opposite field home run over the left field wall to plate 2 early runs. Esposito went on to go 3 for 4 on the night and reached base for his 17th consecutive at bat before striking out in the 5th. Connor Harrell was also 3 of 4. Curt Casali and Bryan Johns both had 2 hits on the night. Casali provided the game-winning hit in the 7th when he singled to centerfield to score Esposito. Vanderbilt finished the game with 11 hits, including 2 doubles and 1 homerun. Arkansas finished with 8 hits, which were all singles.

Arkansas seems to be struggling at the end of the season and that is a problem for head coach Dave Van Horn, as they have now lost their last four SEC games. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, may be playing their best baseball of the season, having won 6 of their last 7 SEC games and 7 straight wins. The Commodores now sit on 40 wins and may be a win away from hosting a NCAA regional tournament at Hawkins Field. On a Thursday night the No. 2, No. 8, No. 9, and No. 14 teams all lost, is it possible that Vanderbilt could slip into a top 8 National seed? They may have to sweep Arkansas and win the SEC tournament but it is indeed a possibility.

Game 2 of this important series gets underway at 6 PM on Friday. This will be Senior Day for the Commodores. Taylor Hill (5-3. ERA 3.57) is expected to take mound opposite senior Mike Bolsinger (5-3, ERA 4.66). This should be another great SEC battle. Vanderbilt does control their own destiny for the post season and a win on Friday will continue to raise their stock value.

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