OMAHA, Neb. -- Virginia starting pitcher Brandon Waddell picked a good time for his first career nine-inning complete game. Facing elimination against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Waddell did just that in a 7-2 victory to force a decisive Game 3 in the College World Series Finals -- the first since 2009.
A night after watching the ace of the Cavaliers’ pitching staff, Nathan Kirby, breakdown in a nine-run third inning, Waddell was the complete opposite in allowing only five hits, two runs (one earned) while striking out five and walking three for his 10th win of the season and first since May 31 against Army.
“A little bit different of a starting pitching performance [Tuesday] than [Monday],” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “Brandon Waddell was just terrific. It seemed like after the first four innings he really settled in, did a terrific job of mixing all of his pitches and kind of keeping their hitters off balance.”Vanderbilt was able to score single runs in the second and fourth innings to take a 2-1 lead. That’s when Waddell shut the door. He allowed only one base runner from the fifth inning until a two-out walk in the ninth. The Commodores couldn’t touch him.
“Waddell threw a heck of a game,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “You have to give him a lot of credit. He basically suffocated our offense for most of the night, particularly as the game went on. He looks like a winning pitcher to me. It's the first time we've been able to see him up close outside of what we saw on TV. He's a three‑pitch, four‑pitch guy. You have to be on, but you really, really have to be able to use and stay inside the baseball and use the other side of the field. He didn't allow us to do that.”
A sophomore lefty from Houston, Waddell was coming off a seven-inning performance a week ago against TCU in a game that his team eventually won in 15 innings. But he was even better on Tuesday, mixing his pitches to completely baffle Vanderbilt. His 100th pitch of the night ended the eighth inning when he got Dansby Swanson to line out to shortstop.
“I felt good from the start,” Waddell said. “I felt like in the beginning I was trying to do a little bit too much, trying to put a little bit too much behind the ball and sort of spraying here and there. I got in trouble with a couple of walks, but I feel like I settled in later on in the game. I had most of the pitches working and could put them where I needed to. [Catcher Robbie] Coman called a great game behind the plate, mixing up pitches and trying to keep hitters off balance.”
But back to the fourth inning. With Monday night’s nine-run inning still fresh in everyone’s mind -- especially the way it snowballed -- Vanderbilt was threatening, already leading 2-1 thanks to John Norwood’s RBI double that scored Zander Wiel. It was an unearned run, something that plagued the Cavs in that frightful inning a night before and Waddell was still looking for the first out of the inning.
That’s when he wheeled around and fired to second. Norwood was picked off. Two strikeouts followed and he was out of the inning. What a difference a night makes.
“It was unbelievable,” Waddell said. “The pick play was put on and we just executed. It was a huge momentum swing. They go from a guy in scoring position to nobody on. So I think it was something that was definitely big for us.”
Waddell had pitched deep into games before with his previous career-long coming last season at Pittsburgh in an eight-inning shutout performance. Tuesday was technically his second complete game of the season, with the first coming in a six-inning, rain-shortened game against Monmouth on March 2nd.
This was on a slightly bigger stage with his team facing elimination. It was quite the time for the first complete game of the 2014 College World Series.
“My approach really to the game is you can't pull in the circumstances and the situation of the game,” Waddell said. “I feel like if you do that, you get caught up in moments and your head starts spinning.”
He certainly had help as the Cavs collected 13 more hits to bring their two-game total against the Commodores to 28 to go along with 15 runs. Four players recorded a multi-hit game, led by Kenny Towns’ 3-for-5, two RBI night. The Cavs lead all teams at the CWS with 55 hits in their five games.
An offense that scored nine runs in its first three games has found its stride at the right time.
“Certainly there is a lot of real athletic skill in that lineup,” O’Connor said. “Just the ability of guys to get down the line and the pressure that that puts on infielders through most of our lineup. We really have a very a veteran lineup.
“I remember back a month and a half, two months ago coach [Kevin] McMullan and I had a conversation, and we just believed the two of us that at some point this would all come together and we'd have a real complete lineup that we feel like we're capable of. Fortunately, it's shown up here in Omaha, and fortunately it's shown up in the last two ballgames.”
Perhaps the best part about Waddell’s complete game? Bullpen stars Artie Lewicki and Nick Howard weren’t used and are as fresh as can be heading into Wednesday’s winner-take-all Game 3.
For a team that’s never won a national championship and an Atlantic Coast Conference trying to lose the moniker of not winning a baseball title since Wake Forest’s in 1955, that may be all they need. All thanks to Brandon Waddell.