HOOVER, Alabama -- RJ Austin and Chris Maldonado led the way offensively while Devin Futrell and Thomas Schultz held things down on the mound for 4-seed Vanderbilt, defeating 9-seed Alabama, 9-2, at the Hoover Met on Friday night and advancing to the SEC Tournament Semifinals.
Austin logged his second game this season with three-plus hits, going three-for-four with a two-run homer, single, double and a walk. Chris Maldonado logged three walks and went 2-for-3 with an RBI single and solo homer.
"We just stay strong in the mind at the plate," Austin said regarding Vandy's offensive approach. "We had a lot of energy in the bunker. We were believing in one another, so that was the key for success today."
Devin Futrell started on the mound for the Commodores, recording two strikeouts, three walks, four hits and two earned runs in his five innings. Thomas Schultz took over for the remaining four frames, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out four.
"I think if you're going to get into a winner situation, then you have to try to get some volume out of some pitchers, and we did," Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. "Some other kids are going to get an opportunity, and that's good. That's great for them. That's what this tournament does for you if you them tend yourself. You end up giving a guy a chance that may not have had that opportunity during the course of the year."
Alabama was hopeful in Jacob McNairy as its starting pitcher with his first six starts against SEC opponents featuring 32 innings pitched, nine runs with eight of those earned. However, tonight's numbers were uncharacteristic of McNairy, tossing 4 1/3 innings while giving up nine hits, four walks, and eight runs with seven of those earned. The Tide called on three other pitchers throughout the remainder of the contest.
"(Vanderbilt) did a great job tonight, came out and jumped on us early, and Jacob had a rough first," Alabama interim head coach Jason Jackson said. "He's been one of the best pitchers in this league for the last month, and he's given us some really great outings down the stretch here, and tonight in the first they got to him, and he settled in, threw up some zeros, and then I guess the big thing was just the big innings tonight got us."
The Commodores exploded for five runs in the first frame, marking the 18th time this season that they've scored five runs in an inning but the first time it's been done in the first inning.
RJ Schreck's RBI double brought in the first run, scoring Enrique Bradfield Jr. who had led off the game with a walk and advanced to second on Davis Diaz's single to left field. A fielder's choice awarded the Tide with their first out of the inning, but scored Diaz. Vanderbilt couldn't be slowed down as Maldonado's RBI single and Austin's two-out, two-run homer to left field before Alabama closed out the destructive inning, 5-0.
"I think we were able to widen the zone and stay off (McNairy's) pitches early, and because we were getting balls, it allowed us to get in pretty good counts, and when he elevated the ball, it was almost like we could get to it because we knew what was potentially coming," Corbin said.
The Tide's bats showed some sign of life in the third inning as Andrew Pinckney smacked a double into left field before Colby Shelton logged his 22nd home run of the season with a two-run shot, tying for fourth on Alabama's single-season list, to decrease the deficit, 5-2.
"(Colby's) a machine. That guy is unreal. He just hits really impressive home runs," Bama's Jim Jarvis said. "If I'm being honest, he's a freak in the weight room, too. That's kind of where it comes from. That dude is strong."
Another leadoff walk caused trouble for McNairy in the fifth frame. Austin's third hit of the game came in the form of a hot shot past Alabama's airborne third baseman, earning a double and advancing Maldonado to third. Matthew Polk hit a line drive to shallow left center, bringing in both baserunners, before Alan Espinal continued the hit parade with a single that got past centerfielder Pinckney, sending a hustling Polk home and Espinal to second on the error, 8-2. Alabama then decided to put Zane Probst on the mound who efficiently ended the inning.
However, Probst's success was short-lived as he walked three consecutive batters in the following inning. The Tide shifted their sights back to the bullpen, entering Braylon Myers who escaped the bases-loaded scenario without any additional damage, finessing a line out and double play to cleanly close up the sixth inning.
Myers almost lasted the remainder of the game, but gave up a solo homer to Maldonado and a walk in the ninth before Hunter Hoopes earned the final two outs in the top of the inning before the 9-2 decision was finalized with a quick bottom half of the ninth.
Vanderbilt has outscored Alabama 25-3 in the teams' two SEC Tournament meetings. The Commodores now prepare to face the Gators in the semifinals after losing to them earlier in the week.
"It becomes a Florida tournament now. We've played them four times already," Schultz said. There might be a little bit of extra fire there, but we're not going to go in there and try and get revenge. We're going to play our game, pitch a good game, get some swings off, and see what happens."
HOW IT HAPPENED
T1 | Schreck's RBI-double scored Bradfield Jr. who had led off the game with a walk and advanced to second on Diaz's single to left field. Diaz then scored on a fielder's choice before Maldonado brought Schreck in with a single on the left side. Austin smacked a two-out, two-run homer to left field to log the final runs of the inning. Vanderbilt 5, Alabama 0
B3 | Shelton's two-run homer to right center, scoring Pinckney who had doubled earlier in the inning, closed the gap. Vanderbilt 5, Alabama 2
T5 | After a leadoff walk, Maldonado advanced to third on Austin's double past the hot corner before they were both sent home with Polk's single to left center. Espinal tacked on a single up the middle that got past Pinckney in center, allowing Polk to score on the error. Vanderbilt 8, Alabama 2
T9 | Leading off the ninth, Maldonado sent one deep in dead center that just barely escaped the stadium. Vanderbilt 9, Alabama 2
Vanderbilt (39-18) will move on to the semifinals, facing 1-seed Florida (44-13). First pitch is scheduled to start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Texas A&M vs. Arkansas semifinal matchup on Saturday in a contest that will be televised on SEC Network.
The Crimson Tide (40-19), while eliminated from the SEC Tournament, will await word on when and where they'll play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.