Virginia and Vanderbilt have played through the myriad stages of the College World Series so far, and Wednesday night brings a game for all the marbles. After the first two games of the CWS finals saw an offensive onslaught followed by a gritty complete game, the rubber game will decide a national champion. Here are the details on how to catch the game on TV or online, plus what to watch for.
When: Wednesday, June 25, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Omaha, Nebraska
Vanderbilt has not scored a run in 15 of the 18 innings so far during the final round of the College World Series. However, the Commodores' nine-run third inning Monday night proved sufficient to open the best-of-three series with a 9-8 victory, though Adam Ravenelle still had to nail down the save after his team led 9-2.
Virginia continued its hot-hitting ways Tuesday and evened the series at 1-1 behind a 7-2 victory. Brandon Waddell spun a complete-game five-hitter while allowing only one earned run. He walked three but fired 75 strikes on 115 pitches as he preserved the bullpen.
The Cavaliers have outhit Vandy by a staggering 28-11 margin, but Wednesday's clash will crown a champion. According to Eric Olson from The Associated Press, "Projected starting pitchers are Josh Sborz (6-4) for Virginia against Carson Fulmer (7-1)."
As if their slew of base hits wasn't enough of a reason to feel confident, the Cavaliers also have a shutdown bullpen arm in Artie Lewicki if Sborz should falter. Lewicki made nine starts and 15 appearances this season, compiling an 8-1 record and a save with a 1.44 ERA. He's got starter's stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a dangerous slider to keep hitters off balance.
As coach Brian O'Connor told Olson:
The World Series, how it's laid out, is so different than anything we've experienced all year as far as separation of the games. Our plan was not for the entire tournament, but let's pitch Artie out of the pen in game one and see where we are. Artie is a strike-thrower with outstanding stuff. I'm sure the Detroit Tigers are very happy they selected him.
Between Virginia's relentless hitting and stable of bullpen arms, everything will be riding on Fulmer's start for Vandy. He has held opposing batters to an imposing .197 batting average this season and overpowered them for 90 strikeouts in 85.2 IP. However, command has been something of an issue for him, as he's allowed a mediocre 39 bases on balls in that span.
Being wild inside or outside the zone could spell doom for Fulmer, especially with Virginia averaging better than 1.5 hits per inning in this round.
The right-handed sophomore from Florida will need to quell Virginia's bats, as it will be very difficult for Vanderbilt to win if it allows another hit parade. Fulmer has the pedigree after establishing himself with a second team All-SEC selection, but if his stuff is not sizzling across the plate, the bullpen phone will be ringing very quickly.
Vandy will have all pitchers available to take the mound except for Tuesday's starter, Tyler Beede, but Fulmer certainly hopes to go the distance or at least take his team deep into the game with a lead.
Another storyline to monitor comes from a ninth-inning play in Tuesday's game. Virginia first baseman Mike Papi found himself hung up between second and third following a comebacker to the pitcher, who flipped the ball to Vanderbilt third baseman Tyler Campbell.
What should have been a routine play resulted in Papi bowling over Campbell as he ostensibly tried to win the base. Campbell held on like a proud catcher on a collision at home plate, Papi was called out, and the runners were sent back to their bases, per Rule 8, Section 7 of the NCAA rulebook.
However, some thought Papi ought to have been ejected for his zeal, and the rulebook supports that thinking. As noted by Nick Cole of The Tennessean:
The umpires ruled using Article 1, which states: 'The runner must make an actual attempt to reach the base (plate).'...In all likelihood, Article 2 would have been the correct interpretation. 'The runner may not attempt to dislodge the ball from the fielder. Contact above the waist shall be judged by the umpire as an attempt by the runner to dislodge the ball. Penalty: If the contact is flagrant or malicious before the runner touches the plate, the runner shall be declared out and also ejected from the contest.'
As if college kids needed any more motivation to play in a do-or-die championship game, Papi may have provided some.
With the Commodores trying to upend the favored Cavaliers, everything rests on the arms of Fulmer and Sborz. However, college baseball produces many cardiac finishes, and fans will be in store for a treat Wednesday night in Omaha.