Clutch batting, a pair of two-out rallies, and one final gem from Carson Fulmer has Vanderbilt one win away from defending their national title. The Commodores got 7.2 shutout innings from Fulmer and slump-snapping performances from Dansby Swanson and Will Toffey to defeat Virginia 5-1 in the first game of the College World Series Championship.
Toffey and Swanson had just one hit apiece in Omaha leading up to Monday's game, but each player snapped out of their slump to dispatch the Cavaliers and give Vanderbilt a huge advantage in the best-of-three series. Toffey's two-out double in the sixth inning gave Vandy a 2-0 lead, and Swanson's two-out double one inning later helped push that lead to five. Those runs were more than enough for Fulmer, who allowed only two hits and struck out eight Virginia batters in his final appearance in black and gold.
Baserunning errors cost the Commodores some scoring opportunities early on. Bryan Reynolds led off the second inning with an infield single, but then was picked off first base before his teammates could advance him. Will Toffey walked and Jeren Kendall laced what could have been a run-scoring single had Reynolds not been sent back to the dugout. That brought Karl Ellison up with two runners on, but the catcher's line drive was corralled by a diving grab from Virginia second baseman Ernie Clement.
The 'Dores got another leadoff runner on in the third, but Tyler Campbell got caught in no-man's land between second and third base to notch the team's first out of the inning. Dansby Swanson would eventually put runners in scoring position with two outs, but UVA escaped another jam when a hard-hit Zander Wiel line drive went right at first baseman Pavin Smith.
Carson Fulmer ran into trouble as well, but it was mostly of his own doing. Hit batters helped put Virginia runners on first and second base in both the third and fifth innings with only one out. However, the SEC Pitcher of the Year was able to escape both jams without incident to keep this game at 0-0 through the top of the sixth.
Vanderbilt un-knotted that score with a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning. Wiel beat out an infield single and Reynolds walked on four pitches to give Will Toffey the biggest opportunity of his college career so far. The freshman delivered, cracking a first-pitch fastball into left field to make it 2-0 Commodores.
The 'Dores kept that momentum rolling to pad their lead in the seventh. Ellison led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a Campbell sacrifice bunt. Ro Coleman picked a good time for his first base hit in Omaha, driving a ground ball through the middle of the infield to bring Ellison around to score. One batter later, Swanson would put a stamp on his busted slump with a double down the right field line that plated Coleman all the way from first. The Cavaliers would walk Wiel to get to Reynolds, but that proved to be a fool's errand; Reynolds responded with a 2-2 single to right field that brought Swanson home and pushed the Vandy lead to 5-0.
Meanwhile, Fulmer kept dealing, retiring 10 straight batters before running into trouble in the top of the eighth. A two-out double and a walk ended his night at 118 pitches. Lefty Ben Bowden took the mound in relief and got a pop fly to center to keep Fulmer's score sheet empty. Kyle Wright came in to close out the game, but was uncharacteristically shaky in the ninth. The freshman walked two batters, threw one wild pitch, and allowed a run-scoring single before calming down to retire the final two batters of the evening.
These two teams will meet again on Tuesday night. While Philip Pfeifer is slated to take the mound for the Commodores, Virginia's starting pitcher is still a mystery. The Cavaliers could turn to either Nathan Kirby or Brandon Waddell to keep their national title hopes alive. If the Commodores win tomorrow, they'll repeat as national champions.