Vanderbilt baseball came into its three-game series against LSU with a chance to still host a regional. But on Saturday, the Commodores watched as the final home game of the season ended in just about the most horrific way possible: watching a six-run lead turn into an 11-run deficit with an 11-run eighth inning as Vanderbilt was swept by the Tigers, losing 13-2 on Thursday, 8-3 on Friday and 21-10 on Saturday.
The Commodores (35-19, 14-16 SEC) finish with their first losing conference record since 2009. They were on track to pull out of an early season slump after winning road series against Georgia and Arkansas, but instead the late collapse leaves far more questions than answers.
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Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin declined to speak with reporters after Saturday’s loss. Instead, right fielder Spencer Jones answered for the collapse.
“Just realize there’s more important baseball to play,” Jones said. “Losing this series isn’t the end of the world, there’s still more games to play.”
Eleven pitchers appeared in the series for Vanderbilt and every single one of them gave up at least one run. Seven of the 11 pitchers gave up at least three runs, and two of the four who did not faced fewer than two batters.
No one really had any answers for LSU’s offense and especially Dylan Crews. The star center fielder was 7-for-15 with four walks, four home runs and nine RBIs in the series. Outfielder Brayden Jobert added three home runs of his own and second baseman Cade Doughty hit two; ultimately, the Tigers (37-18, 17-13) hit 11 home runs in the series.
The struggles to keep LSU down came to a head on Saturday, when closer Thomas Schultz — who came into the series with a 1.27 ERA and no blown saves — gave up eight runs while recording just two outs. Grayson Moore, who pitched four innings in Tuesday’s midweek, and Brett Hansen also struggled to stop the bleeding.
Vanderbilt played short-handed in the pitching staff as left-hander Carter Holton was held out to rest after throwing a 113-pitch complete-game shutout against Arkansas last Sunday. Holton’s absence led the Commodores to start Christian Little on Friday, but Little lasted just 3⅓ innings and gave up six runs. Right-hander Nick Maldonado relieved Little, throwing a career-high 102 pitches. He gave up two runs and struck out eight in 5⅔ innings.
“(Maldonado) gave us some some good innings,” Corbin said. “I’m happy of what he did. He kept the game in the balance … so we’d have a chance to catch up.”
Corbin said after Friday’s game that he had “zero” regrets about holding Holton out of the series.
On Thursday, freshman left-hander Devin Futrell, making just his second SEC start after moving from the midweeks to the weekend rotation, uncharacteristically struggled, giving up five runs in 1⅓ innings.
“It’s just, you know, an ass kicking,” Corbin said of Thursday’s game. “It happens, we just got rolled really really good. They hit the ball extremely well the entire night.”
Spencer Jones strong
Right fielder Spencer Jones had a big series for Vanderbilt, going 7-for-12 with two walks and four RBIs. He hit two home runs in Saturday’s game, his first career multi-home run game.
After Jones went hitless in a series against Arkansas, his strong week moved him into the team lead in batting average (.379) and on-base percentage (.468).
Vanderbilt opens SEC Tournament with Ole Miss
Vanderbilt gets started in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, as the No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 seed Ole Miss (32-21, 14-16) on Tuesday (4:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network) . The winner plays No. 1 Tennessee on Wednesday.
The Commodores will be forced to regroup quickly as they prepare for an NCAA regional.
“Forget about it quickly,” Jones said. “We know we’re a good team. We played good baseball last couple of weeks. So I guess it’s one of those things you just got to put that aside for now and just show up strong in Hoover.”
Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @aria_gerson.