TTU baseball faces Vanderbilt in 63rd meeting

The Vanderbilt Commodores, defending national champions and fourth-ranked team in the nation, hosted the Golden Eagle baseball team Tuesday. The meeting at Hawkins Field was the 63rd all-time meeting between the two teams. Vanderbilt owns the series lead 43-21, but one of the biggest upsets ever for the Golden Eagles was a 2013 win against the second-ranked Commodores in Nashville. The shocking 10-9 victory is the only victory head coach Matt Bragga has against the Southeastern Conference powerhouse; Bragga’s teams have gone 1-8 against Vanderbilt. Despite the difficult task of defeating the Commodores, Bragga looks forward to sharing the diamond with one of the nation’s premier programs.

    “Number one, (Hawkins Field) is a great environment and, number two, they are always a great team. They are always well coached so those are always good things,” said Bragga.

    The Commodores displayed their dominance early in the game. In their first offensive inning, Tech pitcher Will Gardner’s back-to-back walked batters lead to the first run for the hosting champions. Gardner’s struggles continued. In the same inning, Vanderbilt’s Bryan Reynolds connected for a single shot to left field, batting in Rhett Wiseman for the second Commodore run. A single from junior second baseman Tyler Campbell resulted in two RBIs as Reynolds and Zander Wiel crossed home plate, giving the Golden Eagles a four-run deficit.

    The Golden Eagles ended the inning after Commodore catcher Jason Delay flied out to right field for the third out. Gardner gave up four runs, four hits and walked two batters in the first inning. He remained on the mound until the bottom of the third when he relinquished his final run on a Campbell single.

    “I think that is my fault because I do not think I did a good enough job as his baseball coach talking to him about the moment,” said Bragga about Gardner’s performance. “I think his poor start was more attributed to me than anything. In terms of calming him down and letting him understand that, ‘Hey, it is just the same as any other day.’”

    While in a 5-0 hole, Tech turned to the dugout for relief. Right-handed sophomore Kyle Keatts took over on the mound in the bottom of the third.

    The Golden Eagles hit the board with their first run in the top of the fourth. Jordan Hopkins grounded into a double play in his at-bat, but Dylan Bosheers was still able to score from third base.

    However, the momentum was short lived for Tech. The Commodores would answer in the bottom of the fourth with four runs of their own, beginning with an RBI from a Dansby Swanson single. Swanson would eventually steal second base and the next batter for Vanderbilt, Wiel, reached base because of an error by Tech third baseman Andrew Contreras. Reynolds scored Swanson on another Commodore single. Wiel would also find home plate on a fielder’s choice on Penn Murfee’s at-bat.

    The third error of the game by Tech gave Vanderbilt their final run and the last score of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Swanson was able to score again after a throwing error by catcher Hopkins.

    The Golden Eagles’ offense was contained by the solid pitching from the Commodores and the solid defensive play behind the mound. Tech only had six hits in the contest, led by Bosheers. The short stop had two hits on four at-bats. David Allen, Chase Chambers, Anthony El Chibani and Jake Farr all had a hit each.

    “Defensively they are absolutely fantastic,” said Bragga. “It is not major league baseball. I get that. But, if I could give you a comparison that a lot of people would get it is a major league baseball equivalent defense in terms of their lateral range, in terms of their arms, and in terms of making throws, it is hard to sneak hits through on those guys.”

    The offensive performance was efficient from the Commodores. While there were not any homeruns in the game, Vanderbilt did their damage by finding holes in the Tech defense with several singles and doubles. In the end, the Golden Eagles had given up 16 hits and utilized four pitchers: Gardner, Keatts, Andrew Barkley and Austin Tolle.

“If you ultimately want to play in Omaha someday in the College World Series, you need to measure yourself and see where you are at,” said Bragga. “What (Tuesday) told me was right now, as of March 17, we are not there.”

Tech will have another chance to display their talents on a big stage when they travel to face Arizona State University in a three-game series April 24 and 25. The Sun Devils are currently ranked No. 7 in the nation.

Until then, the Golden Eagles will be focused on Ohio Valley Conference play. Their upcoming weekend series is against the Cougars of SIU-Evansville at Bush Stadium. The Cougars are currently undefeated in the OVC with a 6-0 record. Tech is at an even .500 with 3-3. The first pitch of the series will be at 6 p.m. Friday.