North Carolina was making their fifth trip to Omaha in six years, but it was the Commodores who looked like the experienced veterans at the College World Series Saturday afternoon. Vanderbilt won their first-ever College World Series game as a result, topping the Tar Heels 7-3 in the first CWS game played at TD Ameritrade Park.
Tony Kemp had the first hit and run scored in the new stadium, and Connor Harrell cemented his place in trivia history with the first home run in the park to propel the Commodores to a big victory Saturday afternoon. Vanderbilt won despite a sub-par outing from ace Sonny Gray, who labored through 4.2 innings and allowed 13 baserunners. Fortunately, the Tar Heels struggled with men on base, leaving 1 runners stranded through the course of the game. This turned out to be the difference in a tightly contested battle between elite teams.
Gray was replaced by Corey Williams, who threw 2.2 shutdown innings to keep the Commodores in the game. Williams escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth to prevent North Carolina from opening up a dominant lead and then kept the Heels' at bay while Vandy rallied in the middle innings. Williams finished with 5 strikeouts in his best showing of the 2011 season.
Freshmen Kemp and Conrad Gregor were the driving influences behind the 'Dores offense in the Game 1 win. Kemp finished 3-4 with a RBI, run scored, and stolen base, while Gregor went 2-4 with a blast that caromed off the wall inches away from being the Series' first homer. In all, six different Vandy players drove in runs in an impressive all-around effort.
With the win, the 'Dores will await the winner of #7 Texas and #2 Florida in the winner's side of their bracket Monday night. Vandy will likely bring SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin to the mound in a quest to bring the team one game closer to a national championship. While the team's starting pitching wasn't elite, their batting and relief work was good enough to put away a very strong North Carolina team. They've put the rest of their bracket on blast with a big performance; we'll have to wait until Monday to see if they can keep that momentum flowing.