HOOVER, Alabama -- Four-seed Vanderbilt outlasted the 10-seed Aggies as a five-run eighth inning secured a 10-4 victory and its fourth SEC Tournament title.
The battle for the SEC Tournament title turned out to be an offensive one as the Commodores collected 15 hits and five walks while the Aggies tallied 10 hits and three walks. With the hit parade, Vanderbilt logged 10-plus hits in four straight SEC Tournament games, matching most 10-hit games for any team in an SEC Tournament, and Texas A&M lineup marked the first time this season that all nine starters recorded a hit.
Tory LaNeve's three-run homer in the second inning bust open the game and marked his third home run of the season, all of which he hit within the past 10 days. Chris Maldonado matched his career high with three hits, recording multiple hits in each of the past three games. Enrique Bradfield Jr. also contributed offensively with two doubles, a run and crucial RBI while logging his seventh straight game with a run scored.
The Aggies put eight different pitchers on the mound through eight innings in their attempt to stay within striking distance, but Vanderbilt's bats couldn't be slowed down.
This contest also marked the 22nd time that Vanderbilt has scored 10+ runs in an SEC Tournament game and the 14th time that a team has scored at least 10 runs in the SEC championship game.
Despite the final outcome, the Aggies did manage to snap the Commodores' four-game streak of scoring in the first inning and retired leadoff batter Bradfield Jr. in his first at bat for the first time during this SEC Tournament.
With the first inning out of the way, Texas A&M was able to plate the first run of the game. Ryan Targac led off the second, launching a ball in foul territory at 114 mph off the bat, foreshadowing his hot-shot line drive to right center for a double. One out later, Brett Minnich snuck a single past the right side to place runners on the corners and Max Kaufer hit a soft grounder back toward the mound, scoring Targac on the fielder's choice before Sam Hiboki ended the inning, 1-0.
However, the team that scores first in the SEC Tournament title game has lost four of the last five times, and history proved to repeat itself.
The Commodores offense wouldn't be denied for another inning, grabbing the lead with three runs in the second. With one out, Maldonado singled to left field and Austin's hit-and-run single through the right side pushed him to third. LaNeve absolutely crushed a pitch into the trees past right field, exiting the park at 110pmh and landing 424 feet from the plate to claim the lead, 4-1.
Aggies' starting pitcher Nathan Dettmer allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings compared to their starters' performances in the first five SEC Tournament games of three earned runs throughout 27 1/3 innings.
Texas A&M's Jordan Thompson led off the fourth frame with a single to left field, making his way around the diamond on three wild pitches to close in on the Commodores before they earned the third out, 4-2. Patrick Reilly's four wild pitches during his four innings on the mound are tied for the second-most in an SEC Tournament game.
Although the Commodores snagged an early two outs in the sixth, Austin Bost and Minnich's back-to-back singles started a rally. The two runners gained another 90 feet on a wild pitch, encouraging a mound visit to calm things down. However, the Aggies' crowd got even more rowdy before sending up a sea of bubbles with Kaufer's two-RBI single to left field. The Commodores escaped the inning without any more damage, heading to the bats to reestablish their lead.
And they did just that as back-to-back singles by LaNeve and Alan Espinal put runners on the corners, forcing an Aggies' pitching change. Troy Wansing took over and struck out the first batter he faced, but then had to attack the top of the lineup. Bradfield Jr. then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt, placing it to the right of the mound and scoring the go-ahead run on the sacrifice, 5-4, before Wansing could cut off the sixth.
In the seventh, Vanderbilt entered Bryce Cunningham whose stint on the hill was short-lived as Jack Moss led off with a single to left field, advancing to second on a wild pitch and then third on Jace Laviolette's one-out single. The Commodores then looked to the bullpen, hoping Thomas Shultz could bail them out of the sticky situation. Thompson sent a grounder to third baseman Davis Diaz who risked the run as he went for two, executing the 5-4-3 play perfectly to avoid another tie.
Vanderbilt threatened to lengthen its lead in the seventh with a lead-off double by Parker Noland, missing a homer by a mere six inches and settling for a double. However, he was stranded on second as Stewart worked through his first inning on the mound with two strikeouts, a walk and a fly out.
A rally in the eighth inning sealed the deal starting with Bradfield Jr.'s second double of the day as he knocked a pitch to the bottom of the fence in left center. After Diaz found his way to first with a walk, the Aggies went the bullpen once again. RJ Schreck managed to move both runners into scoring position with a grounder up the right-field line as Texas A&M's only viable choice for the out lied at first. Noland stepped to the plate with two outs as a wild pitch during his at-bat brought in Bradfield Jr. and sent Diaz to third. With the momentum in his favor, Noland sent a single up the middle to score another run, setting up a three-run lead and forcing yet another pitching change, 7-4. However, Maldonado's single and RJ Austin's walk loaded the bases as Texas A&M decided to enter its eighth pitcher of the game. With two outs and a full count, all three runners took off on the pitch as Calvin Hewett doubled down the left-field line to establish a six-run advantage, 10-4, before entering the ninth.
As the first double-digit seed to reach the SEC championship game, Texas A&M would have been the first team to win the title without a bye since it expanded to 12 teams in 2013.
With today's attendance, the SEC Tournament established a new attendance record with a total of 171,288 fans throughout the week.