Omaha, NE - Vanderbilt is one win away from its first baseball national championship. The Commodores scored all their runs in a marathon third inning, which was just enough to hang on for a 9-8 victory over Virginia in the opener of the best-of-three championship series at the TD Ameritrade Park.
Virginia, who along with its finals’ opponent is playing in its first championship series, nearly came all the way back from a seven-run deficit.
The Cavaliers went from being in a 9-2 hole to getting as close as a single run at 9-8 after Joe McCarthy’s run-scoring groundout in the eighth. That also moved Daniel Pinero to third, but freshman left-hander John Kilichowski got another ground ball, this time off the bat of Derek Fisher, and shortstop Vince Conde’s throw to first beat Fisher by a step to end the inning and keep the tying run 90 feet away.
The Cavaliers had no such threat in the ninth as Adam Ravenelle set the side down in order on eight pitches. As a result, Vanderbilt will attempt to join the 2007 women’s bowling team as the school’s only teams to win national championships.
Game two is Tuesday at 8 p.m. and if a game three is needed it will be played Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Vanderbilt, whose appearance in the final marked the seventh consecutive season an SEC team has made the title series (league-mates South Carolina and Mississippi State were swept in two games in each of the previous two finals), jumped on top for good with a marathon third inning. Virginia starter and losing pitcher Nathan Kirby cruised through the first 2 1/3 innings, retiring the first seven batters he faced, four of which were strikeouts. But in the visiting half of the third, things unraveled in a hurry for the Cavaliers’ southpaw.
He struck out Chris Harvey on three pitches for the first out, then began to lose the strike zone. Jason Delay, a native of Johns Creek, Georgia, drew a four-pitch walk and Tyler Campbell picked up Vanderbilt’s first hit of the night on a double into the left field corner to put runners at second and third. That was the start of an eight-batter stretch where Kirby didn’t record an out, including three consecutive walks with the bases loaded to force in runs and give Vanderbilt a 5-2 cushion.
Later, Campbell picked up his second double of the inning, this time on a ball down the left field line that chased home three runs to help cap a 13-batter, 31-minute inning and put the Commodores up 9-2.
Kirby, a sophomore from Midlothian, Va., who lost for just the third time in 12 decisions, surrendered a career-high five walks, all of which came in the third.
Virginia, trying to become just the second team from the ACC to win a national title and first since Wake Forest accomplished the feat in 1955, took a 2-0 lead in the first against Vanderbilt right-hander Walker Buehler. Buehler, a sophomore, was coming off a brilliant relief outing in his World Series debut when he fired 5 1/3 hitless innings in the Commodores’ 6-4 win over UC Irvine June 16, but he struggled Monday.
Branden Cogswell had the first of his three hits when he led off the home half of the first with a single. Buehler got a pair of outs in the air before McCarthy laced an opposite field double and Fisher poked a two-run single for a quick cushion.
After the disastrous third, Virginia chipped away at the deficit. The Cavaliers scored three more times against Buehler in the bottom of the third - Brandon Downes’ two-out, two-run single was the big hit - and it was a 9-5 game heading into the middle innings.
Left-hander Jared Miller got the win for the Commodores, but he also surrendered a pair of runs in the fifth when Downes tripled with two outs, scored on No. 9 hitter Nate Irving’s double, and two batters later Pinero’s single made it 9-7.
Though Kirby was roughed up, the Virginia bullpen was excellent over the final 6 2/3 innings. Whit Mayberry gave up Campbell’s three-run double, but left the Vanderbilt third baseman at second, then allowed just two singles over the next three-plus innings. Austin Young finished up, tossing 3 1/3 one-hit innings to keep the Cavaliers close.