Vanderbilt could easily have lost to California-Irvine on Monday night - but that wasn't in Walker Buehler's plans. The sophomore pitched 5.1 innings of hitless relief to carry the Commodores past the Anteaters in a 6-4 win at the College World Series.
The Commodores overcame starter Tyler Beede's wildness in the first four innings to rally past a Cinderella Irvine team. Dansby Swanson (3-5, 2 runs) and Zander Wiel (2-4, 2 RBI) led the 'Dores at the plate in the most explosive offensive game Omaha has seen so far in 2014.
Vanderbilt took an early 2-0 lead thanks to some classic Tim Corbin small ball. Dansby Swanson led the game off with a walk and Bryan Reynolds kept his hot streak alive by singling him over to second. Zander Wiel singled home the game's first run one bunt later, and an Xavier Turner safety squeeze capped off the early scoring when Reynolds deftly avoided Jerry McClanahan's tag at the plate.
Two runs looked like it could be enough with Commodore ace Tyler Beede on the mound, but the mercurial pitcher couldn't find the composure that buried Xavier under 14 strikeouts back in the Nashville Regional.
Beede had a dominant first inning, but quickly unraveled as the game wore on. He struggled with his control from the second frame on, firing wild pitches and hitting batters that gave the Anteaters plenty of opportunities to score runs. Irvine, a team whose offense is based on playing small-ball, was eager to oblige early on. Beede hit three batters, walked three more, and was responsible for all four Anteater runs on the evening. Fortunately, a series of Irvine miscues - a popped up bunt and a pair of failed hit-and-run steals - kept Vandy from falling too far behind.
The 'Dores took advantage of that in the fifth when a string of clutch hits chased Irvine starter Elliot Surrey. Swanson started things off with a double down the left field line and came around to score when Vince Conde was robbed of a base hit by Irvine shortstop Chris Rabago. Rabago's gem didn't save the Anteaters for long, though - the very next batter, Wiel, would blast a double into left field to tie this game up. A one-out sac fly returned the lead to Vanderbilt's side three batters later, but Karl Ellison missed an opportunity to extend that lead by striking out with runners on the corners.
That lead gave Walker Buehler something to work with, and the righty was dominant in relief. He retired his first nine batters to wash the taste of Beede's rough night from the collective consciousness of both teams, giving the 'Dores a big spark and the Anteaters a massive obstacle. Irvine couldn't find a way to make solid contact against the sophomore, striking out seven times in the face of Buehler's 94-96 mph heat.
With the win, Vandy will get three days off before playing again on Friday. A win there would propel them to the College World Series finals. UC-Irvine will return on Wednesday to face Texas in a loser-goes-home showdown.