Vanderbilt is still on track defend their 2014 NCAA Championship. It took a player who wasn't even part of that team to get them there.
The Commodores didn't lead their matchup with Cal State Fullerton until this game was over, winning thanks to freshman Jeren Kendall's walk-off home run. The victory improves Vanderbilt to 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament and speeds them on to the winner's bracket of the College World Series. It didn't come easily; Vandy trailed 3-0 on Sunday night before stealing a monster win on Monday afternoon.
Vandy walk off against Cal St Fullerton pic.twitter.com/aVRFqUpoNa— Michael Shamburger (@mshamburger1) June 15, 2015
Commodore starter Carson Fulmer started the evening hot, but his control issues put Vanderbilt in an early hole. A walk, balk, and a Taylor Bryant RBI single gave Fullerton a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Two frames later, A.J. Kennedy - who came into the game batting .169 - roped a double past the outstretched glove of Will Toffey to put two Titans in scoring position. Fulmer would bring the first in himself with a wild pitch, but a Josh Vargas single made it 3-0 CSF not long afterward.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt struggled to crack Fullerton ace Thomas Eshelman's code. The accurate righty kept the Commodores on the ropes by working early 0-2 counts and forcing protective swings at bad pitches. The defending champions only put two runners in scoring position through the first five innings while Eshelman kept them guessing.
The only thing that could stop the Titan pitcher was the weather. Lightning in the Omaha metro area led to a delay in the bottom of the sixth inning, ending the starter's night. An onslaught of rain forced the two teams to head for cover and the game was suspended until Monday afternoon.
The game resumed in the bottom of the sixth with two outs, a runner on third, and a 3-2 count for first baseman Zander Wiel. Wiel only needed one pitch to blast a double into right-center field and score Rhett Wiseman to give Vanderbilt something they had lacked Sunday night - some momentum. Will Toffey walked to put runners on first and second for Bryan Reynolds, but he struck out to preserve Fullerton's 3-1 lead.
The Titans weren't leaving anything to chance after that. They turned to closer Tyler Peitzmeier in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Commodores' bats silent. The crafty lefty refused to let Vandy's hitters get comfortable, inducing lunging swings at pitches outside the strike zone to restore the balance that Eshelman had left behind on Sunday night. He cruised through the seventh and eighth innings as the 'Dores struggled to track his breaking pitches through the strike zone.
The odds were fully in Fullerton's favor in the bottom of the ninth, but Vanderbilt finally got to Peitzmeier when Wiel returned to the plate to lace his second double of the day into the left-center gap. Will Toffey couldn't capitalize, but Bryan Reynolds took the opportunity to rope a double down the left field line. That scored Wiel and put the tying run on second base for freshman Jeren Kendall. Kendall lined the first pitch foul, re-calibrated, and then blasted the second pitch over the right field fence to give Vandy their only lead of the game - and the only one that mattered.
Vanderbilt now advances to face #7 TCU on Tuesday. Fullerton falls to the College World Series' loser's bracket where they'll face another SEC opponent and another All-American pitcher in Alex Lange.