OMAHA, Neb. -- As Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin made his way to the mound with two outs in the top of the eighth inning on Monday, Carson Fulmer had a hard time containing his emotions. Corbin reached the mound, but Fulmer wasn’t going anywhere.
His relief, Ben Bowden, was jogging in from the bullpen. And Fulmer was holding on to that ball as long as he could.
As Bowden joined the crowd of Commodores on the mound, Fulmer handed over the ball and walked off the field for the final time in a Vanderbilt uniform to a rousing standing ovation. Thanks to Fulmer’s gem, Vanderbilt went on to win the College World Series Finals game 5-1 and is now one win away from a second consecutive national title.“Well, obviously, I mean, when I see Coach walking out, I know that's it,” Fulmer said. “And you have to put all frustration aside. And what made it big for me was not only did I have Coach there, but I had the whole infield. And I consider those guys my best friends, and along with the other guys on my team. And for me being able to spend that moment with them and just look back on the brotherhood that we created, and I'm on top of it with a win at the end of the game. So it's definitely a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life, and I couldn't have asked for it to happen any better.”
For Corbin, giving Fulmer that moment was important.
“Personally, I was glad to be able to do that so he would be able to address the crowd, and the crowd would be able to address him,” Corbin said
Fulmer was nearly unhittable on Monday night, going back and forth between a fastball upwards of 95 mph and a biting curveball that he could land both inside and outside the zone. And he did it all while being sick -- he said after the game that he had a high fever since Sunday night. Roommate Dansby Swanson didn't slept in another room to avoid getting sick himself, and Fulmer didn't tell Corbin, only the trainer when he arrived at the park on Monday.
Virginia hitters, who had been so dependable in Omaha thus far, were forced into so many half-swings and chases on balls in the dirt. Five of Fulmer’s eight strikeouts were against the Cavaliers’ No. 3-5 hitters. Between the fifth and eighth innings, he retired 10 in a row.
“Through Kenny [Towns] and the middle of our lineup, he did a phenomenal job of getting ahead with the breaking ball and then working in from there,” said Virginia’s Kevin Doherty, who both played left field and pitched in the game. “But he did a great job with all of his pitches.”
In all, he went a masterful 7.2 innings and surrendered two hits -- an infield single in the third inning and a ground-rule double in the eighth.Fulmer, a junior who was drafted No. 8 overall by the Chicago White Sox two weeks prior and a Golden Spikes Award finalist, is no stranger to the big stage of Omaha. Monday was his fifth start at TD Ameritrade Park, with three in last season’s run to the national championship and this year’s CWS opener against Cal State Fullerton.
He had a 3.00 ERA in his 2014 appearances, including 5.1 innings with two runs (one earned) in the title-clinching game. His start last week was cut short by a weather suspension, and he received a no-decision as he gave up three runs in six innings.
Now, Fulmer has his trademark College World Series performance as the cherry on top of his stellar career in Nashville.
He started his time in Vanderbilt as a reliever, making 26 appearances his freshman season, the second most on the team. He had four saves and a 2.69 ERA. He then elevated himself to a key member in the Dores’ rotation as a sophomore, making 10 starts and also saving 10 games with a 1.98 ERA en route to a 7-1 season.
The win on Monday gives him 14 on the year, the best in the nation. He will finish his season with a 1.83 ERA and allowed two or fewer hits five times this season.
“It's almost like he'll bend but he's not going to break,” Corbin said of his ace. “He did such a nice job of pitching out of those innings. As the game progresses he just gets stronger. I've used Joe Frazier, the fighter, as an analogy because he keeps coming and he keeps throwing punches and he's just looking for your jaw, he's not trying to maneuver around you.”
Bowden and Kyle Wright finished out the game for the Commodores. Virginia starting pitcher Connor Jones matched Fulmer zero for zero for the first five innings, but Vanderbilt broke through in the sixth inning on Will Toffey’s two-RBI single. The game broke open when Corbin’s squad tacked on three more in the seventh, including Dansby Swanson’s first RBI of the CWS.
“I like his competitive spirit,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Certainly he's going to come at you and give it his best. He's aggressive. … You can see why he had success here in Omaha last year and had success this year. So I would imagine that the guy's going to be pitching for a long, long time.”
Vanderbilt will look forward to having Philip Pfeifer on the mound on Tuesday with a chance at the national championship, but Corbin was able to take time to reflect on Fulmer’s career and what he meant to Vanderbilt.
“We just haven't had many like him,” Corbin said. “He's one of the most special kids that we've ever had on our campus. I mean, this kid's, like, a 4.0 student. … He's a special, special competitor, and he'll go down as one of the greatest pitchers to ever pitch at Vanderbilt.”