Vandy run as national champ ends with 4-2 loss to Virginia
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Once Vanderbilt lost momentum in the College World Series finals, the Commodores could never get it back.
Now their run as national champions is over after a 4-2 loss to Virginia on Wednesday night.
The Commodores scored twice in the first inning, but generated little else against Brandon Waddell and Nathan Kirby. They won the finals opener 5-1, but went scoreless in 18 of the last 19 innings of the best-of-three series.
“Momentum has a big place in college athletics as a whole,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “Yeah, they had it in Game 2. But I wasn’t really concerned. I thought the verbals by the kids after last night were right on point. I thought they were very ready to play this particular game, and they were.”
The Commodores couldn’t deny a Virginia team that just six weeks ago looked as if it might not even qualify for its conference tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament.
“This team was a crazy ride this year,” said coach Brian O’Connor, who was born in Omaha. “Certainly, we had a lot that went against us through the year, but this team found a way and got into the NCAA Tournament. It’s an amazing example of what you can do if you put your mind to it, play for each other and have each other’s backs.
“Not many people thought this could happen. I couldn’t have forecast it. But we’re darn glad we’re sitting up here with this trophy.”
The Commodores (51-21) had a second straight season with more than 50 wins, and they came into Wednesday having outscored their first nine NCAA Tournament opponents 70-15. They couldn’t generate much after scoring their two runs in the first.
“As we got deeper into the game and we were behind, our at-bats were probably trying to do too much,” Corbin said. “These kids are very deliberate and they care a lot about what they’re doing, and they’re trying like hell to make something happen. And we just couldn’t.”
Freshman Pavin Smith homered and drove in three runs and Waddell turned in another strong College World Series pitching performance. The Cavaliers (44-24) prevailed in the CWS finals rematch and won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first title in baseball since Wake Forest in 1955.
Waddell (5-5) went seven innings and allowed only two hits after Vanderbilt (51-21) scored twice in the first. He retired the last 11 batters he faced in his third CWS start and fifth of his career. Virginia won each of them.
Nathan Kirby, who missed nine weeks because of injury and returned to start a game in the CWS, pitched the last two innings and struck out five of his eight batters for his first save. Reliever John Kilichowski (3-4) took the loss.
When pinch-hitter Kyle Smith got caught looking at a fastball to end the game, Kirby threw his glove and hat into the air as catcher Matt Thaiss ran to the mound to embrace him.
Virginia’s 44 wins were the fewest by a national champion since the 1968 Southern California squad had 43.
Pavin Smith stepped up for Virginia in Game 3 after going 1 for 8 and striking out four times in the first two games of the finals. He hit a two-run homer off Walker Buehler to tie it in the fourth, singled in the go-ahead run in the fifth and flashed defensively all night at first base.
Waddell was pitching on three days’ rest after working the first five innings of the Cavaliers’ 5-4 win over Florida on Saturday. Before that, he and Josh Sborz combined on a two-hit, 1-0 shutout of the Gators on June 16.
Sborz, who won three games and pitched 13 scoreless innings, was selected as the CWS Most Outstanding Player.
Waddell got stronger after the first inning.
“I thought Waddell in a lot of ways was left for dead, but he just got himself up in the fifth, sixth and seventh and just turned the game around — went 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “When they brought Kirby out, he pitched with a lot of adrenaline.”
Kirby struck out the side in the eighth. With a man on first, he fanned No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson for the second out.
Swanson, the 2014 CWS Most Outstanding Player, stood with his hands on his hips and shouted “No!” as first-base umpire Perry Costello ruled he didn’t check his swing on the third strike, ending his final collegiate at-bat.