OMAHA, Neb. – Coming into Game 3 of the CWS Finals, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin insisted he had no reservations concerning his pitching staff, even though Virginia had battered the Commodore hurlers for 15 runs and 28 hits in the first two games.
And much like Vanderbilt managed to escape Game 1 with a one-run victory, the Commodores got key outs when they needed to secure the national championship with a 3-2 victory in Game 3 on Wednesday night.
Three Vanderbilt pitchers limited Virginia – which as a team batted a CWS-best .269, 38 points better than the second place Commodores -- to just five hits while stranding nine baserunners.Vanderbilt won the title despite a ERA of 4.29 in the CWS, worst of the eight teams to make it to Omaha, and more than a full run worse than the team with the seventh-worst ERA. But the Commodores were nothing if not resilient in their seven CWS games, finding ways to win five times and become the first team to win the CWS with three-plus losses in the NCAA tournament since 2008.
“There is a toughness team character trait that grew within this team, and it took a while to grow,” Corbin said. “But I think they realize that if it did, they could be in a situation like this.”
Sophomore right-hander Carson Fulmer got the ball to start the deciding game. Fulmer was coming off an outing Saturday against Texas in which he allowed four hits, two runs and a career-high-tying six walks in 4.1 innings. He was much better Wednesday, retiring the side in order in four of the first five innings and stranding a pair of runners on base in the second before running into trouble in the sixth.
“Going out there, I just had to throw strikes and let the defense work. I mean, you get out [No.] 1 and it’s a whole different ballgame,” Fulmer said. “And Virginia, if you make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay.”
Virginia got to Fulmer for a run and had two men on with one out when Corbin went to freshman right-hander Hayden Stone. Stone had rescued Fulmer and Vandy against Texas with 5.2 innings of three-hit, one-run, eight-strikeout relief to send the Commodores to the finals. On Wednesday, he hit the first batter he faced to load the bases. After a strikeout, a two-out error allowed the Cavaliers to tie the game at 2, but Stone got another punch out to end the threat.
Stone left the go-ahead runner stranded at second in the seventh with two more strikeouts before allowing the first two batters in the eighth to reach. Corbin then turned to junior right-hander Adam Ravenelle, who had saved Game 1 on Monday night.
After a sacrifice bunt, like Stone, Ravenelle hit a batter to load the bases, but got a comebacker to the mound for a force out at home and a ground out as Virginia left the bases loaded for the second time in three innings.
“We had opportunities, and it just didn’t happen for us,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “Really the credit goes to Vanderbilt. They made some outstanding pitches in the clutch, really did. So you’ve got to give the credit to them versus us not doing it.”
Fulmer and Stone, who picked up his second CWS win – the Vandy pen accounted for four of the Commodores’ five victories -- finished 1-2 in the CWS in strikeouts with 14 and 12, respectively. O’Connor was impressed with both.
“Stone had a really good breaking ball going. Carson Fulmer is a really talented young man,” O’Connor said. “You know, the guy they had in there in the end did a tremendous job, too.”
Yes, Ravenelle. And as he had done Monday night, there would be no ninth-inning dramatics as Ravenelle retired the side in order for his CWS-best third save. Ravenelle, a fourth-round selection by the Detroit Tigers in the MLB draft, didn’t have a save until arriving in Omaha.
“Coming into the College World Series, I couldn’t tell you that I was going to be closing games out here,” Ravenelle said. “But it’s just an opportunity, and I was just trying to take it pitch by pitch.”
Ravenelle, who allowed just one hit in 5.1 innings of CWS work. struck out Daniel Pinero to end the game, the 11th strikeout for Vanderbilt pitching on the night.
And the celebration was on.
“Words can’t describe this experience,” Fulmer said. "This is definitely a day that I’ll never forget. … It’s something that we’ve always dreamed of doing as a team, and we finally accomplished it.”