The Vanderbilt Commodores are one win away from a national championship repeat after taking care of Virginia in Game 1 of the 2015 College World Series finals, 5-1.
In what's very likely his last appearance in a Commodores uniform, ace pitcher Carson Fulmer did just what he has all season long—dealt absolute fire. He threw 7.2 innings of scoreless action, throwing a whopping 118 pitches (71 strikes) and allowing only two hits.
His dominance on the mound led to Vandy's comfortable Game 1 victory, as NCAA Baseball told:
Similarly strong pitching on the Cavaliers' mound from Connor Jones saw two of the most potent offensive lineups go cold early, as no runs were scored in the game's first five innings. But Vanderbilt broke through in the bottom of the sixth on Will Toffey's two-RBI double, leading to four earned runs for Jones, who got the loss.
The Commodores padded their lead in the seventh off RBIs from Ro Coleman, Dansby Swanson and Bryan Reynolds. Virginia was able to to add its only run and get the tying run on deck in the ninth, before Kyle Wright shut the door.
The 'Dores bats came good when it mattered most, but none of that would have been possible without Fulmer's dominance, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:
Fulmer's pitching made Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor take notice. He shared his thoughts with the Tennessean's Adam Sparks:
The win means Vanderbilt can wrap up its second straight national championship Tuesday in Omaha, Nebraska, as Vanderbilt Baseball previewed:
Fulmer was one of Vandy's leaders who played a big part in last year's national title run, so no nerves were in order for Game 1. But the junior and eighth overall pick in the MLB draft made it clear he planned to go out with a bang, per Sparks:
"It's a dream of mine to do something like this," Fulmer said. "Coach Corbin is giving me the ball so I'm going to go out there and help my team and try to give us the best chance of winning. It's definitely an awesome feeling."
Fulmer pitched like it was his last time in a Vandy uniform, fanning eight batters on the day and only allowing a hit in his first seven innings pitched. But Jones avoided any trouble as well, allowing only three hits up until the sixth.
Zander Wiel's hustling out of an infield single helped to end Jones' dominance and start things for the offense, as the Tennessean's David Climer noted:
Wiel's two-out infield single sparked a two-run sixth, as Reynolds walked next and Toffey brought both of them home on a deep double to left field.
Fulmer posted another three-up, three-down inning on the mound in the seventh, and the top of the Commodores' lineup was up. They weren't about to concede a chance to put the game away.
Coleman got the scoring going in the seventh by singling to bring around Karl Ellison, and the ensuing pitching change didn't prevent Swanson from cranking a double to deep right field, as shown by NCAA Baseball:
The Cavaliers got out of that jam, but not before Reynolds knocked a fifth run home off of a single to right-center field, scoring Swanson and putting Vanderbilt up 5-0.
Fulmer got the call for the eighth, but he couldn't finish the job after two Cavaliers got on base with two outs. Ben Bowden relieved him to end that jam, and freshman Wright closed the door after allowing the tying run to reach the on-deck circle in the ninth.
Not to be outdone by its dominant starting pitching, Vanderbilt's bullpen has been key in its CWS run, as Rob Anderson of Creighton noted:
There have been worrying moments throughout SEC play and at times in the NCAA tournament, but Vanderbilt's balance from the starting pitching to the bullpen to the lineup is unmatched in college baseball. The Commodores continue to prove that against the nation's best teams, dispatching the best hitters and racking up runs on the best pitchers.
The 'Dores won't have Fulmer to turn toward again in the CWS finals, but they're in good hands on the mound for Game 2. Philip Pfeifer—a third-round draft selection—will likely get the nod, or they could turn to Walker Buehler.
No matter who Vandy and head coach Tim Corbin strut out on the mound for Tuesday's Game 2, they'll be in great hands with a potent lineup nine innings away from delivering the Commodores' second straight national title.