Everything that went so right in 2014 went so wrong in the 2015 College World Series Championship for the Vanderbilt Commodores. The breaks stopped going their way, the bounces stopped going their way, and Virginia took advantage of it all.
It was a rematch of the championship series of a year ago and from the very first pitch of the first game at 7:08 pm Monday night, it merely seemed like a continuation—like they had just kept going after John Norwood’s home run and Vanderbilt’s 3-2 triumph June 25, 2014. These are two teams taught to play the game in very similar ways, with two coaches who view the game in similar ways, records and expectations matter little with these two programs.
As surprising as Vanderbilt’s championship was a year ago, that is how surprising Virginia’s was this year and like with the Commodores in 2014, this was the Cavaliers’ first national championship in baseball. Virginia defeated Vanderbilt 4-2 on Wednesday night in ‘game three,’ to edge Vandy two-games-to-one and take the championship away. It was utterly shocking how it all fell apart for the Black and Gold.
Monday’s ‘game one’ was tense from the beginning, scoreless until the bottom of the sixth when Will Toffey lined a two-run double down the left field line to put Vanderbilt up 2-0. Ro Coleman, Dansby Swanson and Bryan Reynolds added run-scoring hits in the seventh to power ace Carson Fulmer, who picked up his school-record 14th win of the season as Vanderbilt won 5-1.
Tuesday’s ‘game two’ came with a surprise right from the start, Virginia was left to scramble as Nathan Kirby was unable to start the game and in his place on the mound was regular center fielder Adam Haseley. This appeared to be a golden opportunity and one more stroke of luck in this CWS; nothing could have been further from the truth. Haseley gutted through five innings allowing four hits and three walks, but no runs. Then the ball was turned over to Josh Sborz, and the lights were turned out. Opportunities went uncashed for Vanderbilt and three critical mistakes and one outrageous bounce changed the fortunes of this game.
In the top of the second, Jeren Kendall was picked off first. In the third, Rhett Wiseman lined out to short, and Coleman was doubled off first. But in the second successive game to go 0-0 into the bottom of the 6th, the fickle fingers of fate turned toward Virginia. Philip Pfeifer retired the first two of the inning, then a soft single to left, then a bouncer up the middle that hit the second base bag preventing the third out, then a slow roller to first booted by Zander Wiel for an error, and Pfeifer was rattled. A pair of solid singles meant three runs for UVA, all Sborz would need and the series was even, 3-0 Virginia.
Wednesday’s ‘game three’ arrived with the knowledge Brandon Waddell would be pitching for Virginia, who handcuffed Vandy a year ago. Swanson and Wiel delivered RBI’s in the first and Vandy was up 2-0, but it could have been more. Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler was unable to adjust to an ever-changing strike zone and in his haste, allowed a game-tying two-run home run in the fourth to Pavin Smith. It all went down from there. Smith added a RBI single in the fifth and Virginia added another following a controversial sequence in the seventh. Heroically, Kirby closed out the championship in relief, pitching the final two innings.