NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If you were handicapping the College World Series Finals before it began Monday, there seemed to be a likely course this series would take. Vanderbilt needed to win game one with Jack Leiter pitching. Mississippi State would be well positioned to win game two. And that would set up a winner-take-all game three on Wednesday.
That’s exactly what we have after the Bulldogs bounced back in game two with a 13-2 romp to move within one victory of its first ever national championship in a team sport.
A night after the Vandy Boys took advantage of the erratic pitching of Christian MacLeod to plate seven runs in the first inning and then rode the dominant pitching of Jack Leiter and Nick Maldonado to an 8-2 win, Hail State turned the tables completely. The Bulldogs took advantage of a Vandy meltdown in the third inning to score four runs, and kept pouring it on against an unproven bullpen while the combination of Houston Harding and Preston Johnson limited the ‘Dores bats to just three hits.
With Kumar Rocker unavailable until game three after pitching Friday to get Vanderbilt into the finals, the Commodores hoped to take care of business in game two while piecing their pitching together. Freshman Christian Little made his second start at the College World Series, and for the second time in six days his defense let the 17 year old righthander down.
Little looked to have worked a one, two, three first inning, but Jayson Gonzalez’s throw from third pulled Dominic Keegan off the bag at first to allow Kamren James to reach. Luke Hancock then delivered a perfectly executed hit-and-run with a base hit to right that brought James all the way around to score. After C.J. Rodriguez’s homer in the second tied the game, Little found himself frustrated by his defense again in the third.
Normally sure handed shortstop Carter Young had a routine ground ball get caught in the webbing of his glove for an infield single. That unfortunate break seemingly got to Little who then walked the next three batters to put the Diamond Dawgs back in front. Patrick Reilly then came in out of the bullpen, but was greeted by a ball off the bat of Scotty Dubrule caroming off his foot and into right field – perhaps a tailor-made double play turned into a two-run single. In all, Mississippi State score four runs in the third on just that one hit that left the infield to take a 5-1 lead.
From there, Mississippi State turned it over to Harding and Johnson, while continuing to pound out their game one frustrations at the plate. Every Bulldogs starter had a hit, making Vandy pay for issuing a season-high 10 walks in the 11 run victory. Only Georgia, a 14-2 winner on April 8th at Hawkins Field, beat the Commodores worse this season.
The good news there is that the Vandy Boys shook that loss off and came back to beat the other Bulldogs the next day. The even better news is that the best big game pitcher in college baseball will get the ball in game three. Rocker is 7-0 in his career in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s no one Tim Corbin would rather give the ball to on the final night of the season.
Mississippi State also figures to have its ace Will Bednar, coming back on three days rest, as well as a fully rested Landon Sims coming out of the bullpen in what shapes up to be a gem of a matchup, unlike the first two games of this series.
One thing’s for sure, though. If Vanderbilt is to win its second straight national championship, and third in the last eight seasons, it will have to play better defense. The Dores have been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball in Omaha and they simply can’t afford to give a great hitting Bulldogs team any extra chances. They also need to get the bats back going after scoring just three runs in 16 at-bats since the seven-run first inning in game one.
These two nights have been very different, giving both teams reason to have confidence and concern. And now it all comes down to the final night of the college baseball season. Will Mississippi State breakthrough for its first national title? Or will Vanderbilt cement its place as the best program in college baseball?
It sets up to be a special night in Omaha. What more can you ask for?