Vanderbilt will get the chance to defend their national title at the College World Series. The Commodores ground down #6 Illinois and hyped starter Tyler Jay to beat the Illini 4-2 and win the Champaign Super Regional on Monday.
Vanderbilt fell behind early, but their composure and championship pedigree shined through. The 'Dores battled back from a pair of early deficits to end Illinois's season and make the program's third-ever trip to Omaha. Now, they'll get a chance to return to the field where 2014 MOP Dansby Swanson and a cast of outstanding players delivered the university's first men's NCAA title.
Illinois and the Super Regional pressure got to Commodore starter Philip Pfeifer early on. The senior loaded the bases with one out in the first inning before a Casey Fletcher sac fly gave the Big Ten champs a 1-0 lead. He'd allow at least one runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings - including a double and a Pat McInerney RBI single - to keep the Illini out in front.
Vanderbilt used some big swings to tie the game back up. Zander Wiel blasted an opposite-field home run in the second inning to knot it at 1-1, and Dansby Swanson added a leadoff shot in the bottom of the fourth inning to make it 2-2 as the shadows began to grow long in Champaign. The 'Dores could have had even more, but aggressive baserunning failed to pay off when Wiel and Tyler Campbell were each gunned down between third base and home plate to squash Vandy rallies early on.
Swanson put the weight on his shoulders to un-tie this game in the bottom of the sixth. He led off the inning with a double into the gap between right and center field, then took third two outs later with a stolen base. That put him in position to give Vandy a 3-2 lead when Bryan Reynolds's shot to center field sneaked under the glove of a diving Will Krug. Reynolds was stranded at first, but his big hit gave the Commodores their first lead of the game and put Pfeifer in position to pick up a Super Regional win.
Vanderbilt padded their lead in the seventh. Karl Ellison started the inning with a leadoff single and eventually made it all the way to home plate on a Rhett Wiseman safety squeeze that caught the Illini off guard. That put two runners on base for Swanson, but the Commodores couldn't capitalize to add some insurance runs.
Illinois brought their home crowd back into the game in the eighth when they loaded the bases with just one out against Ben Bowdon. Bowdon ceded the mound to Kyle Wright, and the young reliever pitched nothing like the "FR" designated on his roster card. Wright induced a shallow fly out and a devastating strike out to end the Illini rally and preserve the Vandy lead.