OMAHA, Neb. -- It took less than 25 pitches for the wheels to come off for Vanderbilt on Friday. Commodores starting pitcher Tyler Ferguson struggled from the outset against Texas -- his first pitch in the bottom of the first hit Brooks Marlow -- and lasted only two-thirds of an inning.
Playing their third consecutive win-or-go-home game in the 2014 College World Series, the Longhorns plated two runs in the first and added two more in the second en route to a 4-0 victory. UT and Vandy will play a deciding game Saturday with the winner advancing to the best-of-three CWS Finals, which begins Monday.
“Obviously the game was dominated by Nathan [Thornhill] on the defensive side of it with good support from his teammates,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “We showed good patience early in the game and we took our walks that we needed to take. We’d have liked to have had more out of that rally, but glad to have the two.“And then to get the two in the second inning really helped a lot, as well. From there on, it was pitching and defense, and we executed.”
One win from the championship series, Vanderbilt was confident that Ferguson could be competitive. He was 8-3 with a 2.51 ERA and a .199 batting average-against in 75.1 innings entering Friday.
Following the HBP to Marlow, Ben Johnson walked on four pitches. Texas loaded the bases when Mark Payton was plunked on an 0-1 count -- the NCAA tournament-high 13th time in nine games that a Vandy pitcher had hit a batter. For the CWS, Vanderbilt has eight hit batsmen, the most by a team since 2007 (North Carolina, 12) and fifth most overall.
“I guess the first at-bat, the first pitch, he squares me up and kind of got him rattled a little bit, and we’ve just got to stay with our plan after that, kind of set the tone,” Marlow said. “When you see kind of a pitcher getting wild like that you can’t start chasing. You’ve got to let him come to you and compete against the baseball, not the pitcher. I think we did a good job of that early in the game and not just pressing and trying to get hits and just letting the game play itself.”
Ferguson battled to strike out Tres Barrera for the first out before C.J Hinojosa rapped a ground ball that seemed destined to be at least a force out at second base if not the front end of a 4-6-3 double play. However, the ball hit second base umpire Mark Uyl; ruled a dead ball under Rule 6, Section 2 F, Hinojosa was safe at first base with an RBI single.
“It could have [been a double play], but it may have been a tough double play, too,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin surmised. “That’s just anyone’s guess. [The umpire] has just got to work on his agility a little bit so he can move.
“But I don’t know what would have happened had the ball gone by him. We may have gotten a break, I don’t know, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
With the bases still loaded, Collin Shaw struck out for the second out. Ferguson fell behind 2-0 to Madison Carter before Brian Miller was called in from the bullpen. Shaw earned a walk to score Johnson to give Texas a 2-0 lead. Miller struck out Kacy Clemens to end the inning.
Twenty-four pitches, two runs -- and for all intents and purposes, the game was over. Texas scored two times in the second -- including back-to-back triples by Zane Gurwitz and Marlow -- and that was enough for Thornhill, who limited Vanderbilt to six hits across eight innings.
It was just the second time in the past 127 CWS games, dating to June 17, 2006, in which a team had two triples in a game. Vanderbilt also is the only team to allow two triples in a CWS game at TD Ameritrade Park. (And the Commodores have done it twice, also yielding two on June 18, 2011.)
“I thought we did a good job of stopping them, for the most part,” Corbin said. “I mean, they can hit. … I would say they were dangerous. You know, we helped them a little bit. I don’t say that in a negative way.
“I mean, we put some guys on base for them, and you know, that's just tough. You don't want to be playing uphill early in the game like we did. But they scrapped enough.”
Vanderbilt will try to bounce back behind Carson Fulmer on Saturday -- and Corbin is confident the Commodores’ pitching will be up to the task in the elimination game.
“We’re in great shape,” Corbin said. “I pretty much think that Carson will throw [Saturday], but we’re in good shape, got a lot of arms past him -- and there’s a lot of kids that are wanting to pitch. I don’t worry about that; [it’s] just another nine-inning ballgame.”
Texas dropped Game 1 of the CWS and has since put together all phases of its game while staving off elimination. The Longhorns are just the sixth team to stay alive despite averaging two or fewer runs in its first three games, and the other five all reached the championship game. Garrido knows UT is riding ol’ mo’ for all it’s worth.
“Momentum plays a big key,” he said. “We’ve had pitchers come in here with 15 wins and no losses, and boy, we’ve got it nailed down now and the guy throws the ball all over the place because it’s the championship game.
“But they’re very good,” Garrido said of Fulmer and the Commodores pitchers. “We’ll have to try to take him out of his game by balancing out patience on the balls outside the strike zone and still be aggressive enough to hit them when they come into the strike zone.
“The best thing to turn around a pitcher’s confidence are about three or four line drives off pitches he thinks are good pitches. Then they start to try to do too much sometimes.”
It was a lesson learned for Ferguson, who became the first starting pitcher to fail to make it out of the first inning at the CWS since Florida State’s Brandon Leibrandt against Arizona on June 21, 2012. And now both the Longhorns’ and Commodores’ season hangs in the balance, with success depending on which team makes the most of its opportunities on Saturday.