Lost in the shuffle of everything happening in the sports world right now is the winner-take-all Game 3 at the College World Series between the Virginia Cavaliers and Vanderbilt Commodores on Wednesday.
Vanderbilt took Game 1 on Monday with a 9-8 win in an offensive shootout, the likes of which we haven't seen in Omaha this year. Virginia, coming off its first loss in the College World Series, rebounded with a great all-around effort on Tuesday to earn a 7-2 win.
Now, with all hands on deck, both the Cavaliers and Commodores have one last battle to determine which team will walk out of TD Ameritrade Park with their school's first baseball championship.
In anticipation of this sure-to-be epic battle, we have got some thoughts on what will happen when the action kicks off and which side will walk away victorious.
Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin Won't Hesitate This Time
Despite the lopsided final score in Game 2, Vanderbilt was in that battle until the sixth inning. In fact, the Commodores were leading 2-1 after five innings. Everything was falling into place but quickly fell apart with Tyler Beede on the mound.
Beede, the 14th overall pick to San Francisco in the MLB draft earlier this month, was impressive early with two scoreless innings and hitting his spots for the first time this entire tournament.
When the sixth inning came around, Beede came unwrapped. He allowed four hits and three runs to put Vanderbilt behind 4-2, then came back out for the seventh inning and gave up two more runs on three hits to put the game out of reach.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin shouldn't have left his starter out there that long, but he will not be making that mistake twice. He has overworked the bullpen and needed to get them some rest, as Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com noted in his postgame recap.
Walker Buehler threw 71 pitches in a start on Monday. Jared Miller threw 56, also in Game 1 of the championship series. Brian Miller threw 115 in relief on Friday against Texas. John Kilichowski threw 42 on Monday. Hayden Stone threw 72 on Saturday.
He's going to have a more stable presence on the mound to start the game with right-hander Carson Fulmer, who has the lowest ERA on the team at 2.00, getting the ball, via Dan Phillips of Fox Sports 17 in Tennessee:
Even though it looks bad in hindsight, Corbin's decision to stick with Beede can be justified in the moment because he knew that one loss wouldn't have ended the season. He was able to save his bullpen for Wednesday, though it was a mistake to play for Game 3 instead of keeping the previous game close to give his team a chance to win.
Fulmer has been Vanderbilt's best pitcher all year, but he's also coming off a disappointing start against Texas (4.1 innings, 90 pitches, six walks and three strikeouts) and will be throwing on three days of rest.
There's no time for loyalty or hoping that things work themselves out this time around. Corbin has to play to win.
Virginia's Offense is a Bad Matchup for Vanderbilt
Even though the series is tied 1-1, Virginia was only one bad inning away from having this series wrapped up. Vanderbilt put up nine runs in the third inning of Game 1, the only inning it scored in that victory.
It wasn't even Vanderbilt's offense hurting Virginia; rather, it was just a case of the Cavaliers' pitching falling apart. Nathan Kirby walked five, and Mike Papi's error kept the inning going.
On the other side, Virginia has been hitting well in these first two games. The lineup belted out 15 hits and eight runs in Game 1, then followed that up with seven runs on 13 hits in the Game 2 victory.
The Cavaliers got a much-needed complete game from Brandon Waddell, but head coach Brian O'Connor was able to ride his starter that long because the offense put the game out of reach with six runs after the fifth inning.
Now, led by Papi and Branden Cogswell, Virginia's offense has the chance to go against Fulmer on short rest. It's a bad combination for Vanderbilt, which needs to get a good start to avoid going to an overtaxed bullpen early.
Virginia Will Win the National Championship
The only real prediction that matters is who will win the game, and Virginia has been the better team in this series. Vanderbilt is certainly a worthy challenger and provides plenty of drama, but the Cavaliers have been building to a title all season.
They started the year ranked No. 1 in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 for the first time in school history, citing the depth of talent and recent history of the program.
The Cavaliers, who have reached the 50-win plateau in three of the last four years, return eight starters from a team that ranked in the nation’s top 10 last year in scoring, doubles, triples, slugging and walks. Virginia’s highest previous ranking in the preseason was No. 2 in 2010.
Virginia hit some bumps during the regular season, including losing a series against a mediocre Wake Forest team in mid-May, but has found its stride in the College World Series.
The pitching was brilliant in wins against TCU and Mississippi to secure a berth in the championship series. Now the offense has come to life with 15 runs and 28 hits in two games.
Virginia is turning toward sophomore right-hander Josh Sborz to close out the series. He's been terrific all season with a 2.84 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 76 innings but does need to harness his control (42 walks) to avoid an early hook.
Sborz's last start came against Mississippi and was more effective than dominant. He went five scoreless innings and allowed four hits but also walked four in a 4-1 victory. O'Connor would be happy to get that kind of effort. Five shutout innings would allow him to use Nick Howard for multiple innings.
On top of that, Vanderbilt's pitching staff can't have a lot left in the tank. Fulmer is a stud on full rest, but no one knows what to expect from him after a mediocre showing against Texas and on short rest.
Forget team of destiny or something that may have been preordained before the season—Virginia is just better and deeper than Vanderbilt.
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