Vanderbilt is one of the top college baseball programs in the country, a school with a pair of NCAA championships.
The Commodores have sent 47 players to the major leagues, including hitters like Mike Yastrzemski, Dansby Swanson, Bryan Reynolds, Tony Kemp, Pedro Alvarez and Joey Cora.
But no one in the history of the program matched the performance of Spencer Jones, the former La Costa Canyon High star, last week.
In a midweek game against Indiana State, Jones had four singles, a double and a triple, giving him six hits — the first time any Vanderbilt player had more than five hits in a game.
The junior scored two runs, drove in two and had a pair of steals in an 8-7 win.
“Best game ever,” Jones said. “It seems like it has all come together this season.
“I’m finally healthy, and I’m doing what I can do.”
The 6-foot-7 Jones went to Vanderbilt as a left-handed pitcher/outfielder.
After a fractured elbow and torn ligament suffered his senior year in high school and Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery after his sophomore season, Vanderbilt put his pitching career on hold.
“I’m not saying I’m done with pitching,” said Jones, who hasn’t thrown an inning for Vanderbilt in three years. “For now, though, I’m a hitter.”
And it’s going well.
Through Vanderbilt’s first 50 games, Jones is hitting .363 with seven homers and 41 RBIs.
He has a team-leading 18 doubles and a pair of triples.
He has been successful on 11 of 12 steal attempts and has an on-base percentage of .458.
“Spencer is beginning to realize what he can be inside this program,” said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. “He finally got a complete summer and fall of baseball after overcoming some tough injuries over the last three years.
“Spence can do a lot of different things on the baseball field, both offensively and defensively.
“There aren’t many kids his size that are as athletic and move as well as he does. Now that he has gained playing consistency, his bat is starting to take off.”
Drafted in the 31st round by the Los Angeles Angels out of high school in 2019, Jones is rated by Prospects Live as the 52nd-best prospect in the 2022 draft, putting him on the bubble of the first round.
He says a summer spent playing for the Brewster Whitecaps in the uber-competitive Cape Cod League has been the difference.
“I had a revival in the Cape,” Jones said. “I wasn’t hurt. I just went out and played. I showed the kind of player I am.
“My grandparents live near Brewster, and I lived with them. My folks came for a visit. We had family dinners. It was a summer family reunion.
“Finally, it all came together.”
Jones said he wasn’t fully healthy when he got to Vanderbilt.
He played 14 games in a COVID-shortened 2020 season and had Tommy John surgery after the season.
He played in 34 games last season, hitting .273 and even scored the winning run against Stanford in a College World Series game.
But he felt like an outsider.
“I was there, but I wasn’t there,” Jones said. “I was coaching first base a lot, trying to stay involved as best I could. Watching was so hard. Totally there was a time I didn’t know if I’d ever be fully healthy.
“This season has been a huge relief, a totally different experience. I’m playing right field, and I love it. I can run around out there and I feel like an athlete again.
“I’m a speed guy trapped in a big body, and I’m having fun again.”
Vanderbilt has four games remaining in the regular season, including a weekend home series with LSU, before the postseason begins.
School is over at Vanderbilt, so baseball — including July’s MLB Draft — is the focus.
“I was in a tough place the last two seasons,” Jones said. “The draft is out there, but I’ll have time later to think about it.
“Right now, the focus is on finishing strong as a team and making a run in the playoffs.”
Eric Smelko (Helix) finished the season hitting a team-leading .357 at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He had 7 homers, 11 doubles and 32 RBIs.
He had 22 multi-hit games and had a 22-game hitting streak, leading the 27-26 team in runs scored (60) and hits (82).
Harrison Rodgers (Scripps Ranch), a sophomore infielder at Colorado Mesa, was named to the RMAC All-Tournament Team, going 10-for-16 with 14 RBIs in 4 games, and to the conference’s All-Academic Team.
In 49 games he’s hitting .354 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs. He had a 7-RBI game and a 6-RBI game against Azusa Pacific.
Women’s beach volleyball
Megan Kraft (Torrey Pines) was 26-1, playing at No. 2, for USC, the NCAA champions. Delaynie Maple (Torrey Pines) was 35-1, playing mostly No. 3. The Trojans beat Florida State in the title match.
Sophie Moore (Cathedral Catholic) was 28-7, playing No. 4 at UCLA. Sophomore Jordan Whitmarsh (Torrey Pines) was 28-7, playing No. 2-3.
Charlie Ekstrom (Point Loma) was 17-6 as No. 2 at Stanford.
Brooke Buchner (Bishop’s) was 21-10 and No. 3-4 at Cal. Maya Gessner (La Jolla) was 25-13 playing all spots.
Megan Widener (San Marcos) was 21-18 playing No. 2-3 at Hawaii. Ilihia Huddleston (El Camino) was 15-8 at No. 5. Kylin Loker (Carlsbad) was 14-9 at No. 2-3.
Women’s water polo
Freshman Sophia Sanders (Bishop’s) played in 8 games and had 8 goals for NCAA champion Stanford, which finished 25-2.
Emme Muschek (Coronado), a freshman defender, played in 29 games and had three goals and two assists for Long Beach State.
Riley Agerbeek (Granite Hills) finished her last season at San Jose State with 44 goals and 12 assists. She completed her career with 114 goals.
Taurus Samuels (Vista) is transferring to Minnesota after four seasons at Dartmouth. Samuels, a guard, averaged 9.4 points last season and was 30 of 96 on 3-point attempts, including six vs. Georgetown and four vs. Princeton. He had a career high 23 points vs. Georgetown and 22 vs. Stanford. He played 52 career games for Dartmouth, losing a season to COVID-19.
Kyler Kennedy (Mission Hills) has been named head women’s coach at Life Pacific University.
John Maffei’s Alumni Report appears during the college seasons. Readers are encouraged to submit information to [email protected]