Playing in its second-ever NCAA regional the Lipscomb baseball team came out fired up but ultimately dropped a 9-1 decision to the reigning national champion and host Vanderbilt Friday night in front of an announced sellout crowd of 3,626 at Hawkins Field.
Lipscomb will now put its season on the line Saturday when it will go into the loser’s bracket and try to knock off second-seeded Radford at 3:05 p.m. in an elimination game. Radford (43-15) lost to Indiana earlier in the day on Friday.
The Bisons (39-19) entered the sixth inning within striking distance, but a five-run frame from Vanderbilt broke the game wide open and pushed the ‘Dores lead to 8-1.
“When you play a team like Vanderbilt, the best thing you can do is do what we did in the first four innings,” Lipscomb skipper Jeff Forehand said. “We had a great situation and the game was there for us to take, but we ran into trouble in the sixth.
“We gave up four hits and three freebies with two hit by pitches and a walk, so they were able to get seven out of eight batters on base. Anytime you give up five runs in an inning, it is going to put you in a tough spot, especially with the guy Vandy had on the mound.”
Vanderbilt (43-19) hung the game’s first runs on the board in the bottom of the second when seven-hole hitter Jeren Kendall launched a 2-run home run to right centerfield, his sixth of the season. Bryan Reynolds, who reached on a leadoff single, scored on the play to give the Commodores an early 2-0 lead.
Lipscomb answered right back in the top of the third with a run of its own.
Sophomore third baseman Hunter Hanks led off the frame with a single back up the middle and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Two batters later redshirt junior first baseman Adam Lee dropped a single into shallow center field to plate Hanks and cut VU’s lead to 2-1.
“I just had a long at bat and saw a lot of pitches and fortunately I think he made a mistake on a 3-2 pitch with a slider and I was able to put a good swing on it and get a base hit,” Adam Lee said.
It was the first run Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer had given up at home since March 14 against Arkansas, a streak of 37.2 scoreless innings.
After recording four base knocks through the first three innings, Lipscomb’s offense finished the night with just five hits. Senior left fielder Jonathan Allison’s two-out double in the eighth was the only hit for the Bisons over the final six frames.
“There were a lot of opportunities for us in the beginning,” Adam Lee said. “We had a lot of guys on base and we were moving them, but we just never got that big hit to propel the offense.
“We knew Fulmer was a great pitcher, but we were still confident because we had faith in what we have been doing all year, but tonight we just fell a little bit short.”
Senior knuckleballer Ian Martinez-McGraw took the loss for Lipscomb on the mound, falling to 7-4 on the year. He worked 4.1 frames, giving up three runs on seven hits. He struck out two and walked four.
“My approach didn’t change at all,” Martinez-McGraw said. “I tried to get ahead with the fastball and fell behind a couple times. I factored in the knuckleball a little bit more. I haven’t thrown it as much this season as I did in this game.
“They just executed when they had to. You have to give all the credit to their offense. They just clicked on all cylinders today. I think they played with a chip on their shoulder because of what happened earlier this season. Basically my approach just stayed the same that it has been all season.”
The loss was Martinez-McGraw’s first in five outings.
Senior lefty Nick Andros took over in the fifth and surrendered five earned runs on five hits in 1.2 innings pitched.
Leadoff man Ro Coleman and Kendall each tallied three hits to pace a Vanderbilt offense that saw five players get multiple hits. Coleman reached base five times on the night after going 3-for-3 with a walk and a fielder’s choice.
Fulmer improved to 12-2 after tossing seven complete innings. He scattered four hits, gave up one run and punched out 11 with three walks.
”We have to turn the page pretty quick after this one so we can get ready for a good Radford team tomorrow,” Forehand said. “We don’t have much time because now we have to go back and get some rest and be right back here at noon tomorrow. Although it is easier said than done sometimes, this game needs to be flushed because if you don’t do it, you will put yourself behind the eight ball again tomorrow.”