With their season on the line, Virginia's freshmen came up big to propel the Cavaliers to a 3-0 win over Vanderbilt in Game 2 of the 2015 College World Series finals—setting up a decisive Game 3 Wednesday for the national title.
Five innings of work on the mound from freshman pitcher Adam Haseley set the tone for Virginia in Tuesday's elimination game, and fellow freshman Ernie Clement went 3-for-4 at the plate with a sixth-inning RBI. That broke a scoreless tie and proved to be the game-winner, and Thomas Woodruff followed it up with a two-RBI single, giving Virginia the 3-0 advantage that it never relinquished.
Their win guaranteed one more college baseball game this year—one to decide everything, as NCAA Baseball noted:
Vanderbilt pitcher Philip Pfeifer matched Haseley's dominance on the mound early on, but the Cavaliers jumped on him early in the sixth. He allowed eight hits on 5.2 innings pitched, giving up the three runs that proved to be the difference.
In a college baseball season that has seen a resurgence of the long ball and offense, Pfeifer and Haseley made one of the biggest games of the season a pitcher's duel early. Despite scoring chances from both teams in the early innings, neither pitcher budged, keeping the scores unblemished.
Pfeifer impressed by retiring seven straight through a stretch, but Haseley was one-upping him, as the Tennessean's David Climer noted:
As great as the pitchers were, their arms weren't going to last forever. In the sixth inning came the time for both coaching staffs to make a decision, and those decisions ending up swaying the game for good.
When Vanderbilt opened up the sixth with a single, Virginia removed Haseley for closer Josh Sborz. He ended up turning an inning-ending double play. But when Pfeifer started the bottom of the sixth and gave up a two-out single, the Commodores coaches weren't as quick to pull their starter.
The Cavaliers made them pay. Runners advanced to second and third on a fielding error, Clement knocked his RBI single, and Woodruff singled to center field to bring home two more runners. Ben Bowden came on in relief of Pfeifer after that, but the damage was done.
NCAA Baseball captured footage of Woodruff's clutch hit:
As for the freshman Clement, he continues to write himself storybook moments in this postseason, but none look to be bigger than Tuesday night's, as Baseball America's Jim Shonerd noticed:
Virginia continued to throw high heat past Vanderbilt's flummoxed bats, as Sborz retired the heart of the Commodores' order three-up, three-down in the eighth. But right when the 'Dores looked to be dead, they reared up for one last surge.
Bryan Reynolds singled up the middle to start the ninth, and the tying run got on the plate with no outs and Sborz's pitch count rising past the 70s. With a chance to match his walk-off home run from the CWS opener against CSU Fullerton, Jeren Kendall struck out on a clutch pitch from Sborz, as Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com noted:
That squandered opportunity pretty much summed up the game for Vandy, which was predicated on missed chances with runners in scoring position. The Tennessean's Adam Sparks noted the contrast between the two teams in that regard:
Although the Commodores' Game 1 win Monday night was nonetheless convincing, anyone who witnessed Virginia's battle against Vanderbilt in last year's final series knew they were in for a fight. The Cavaliers took the 'Dores to a decisive Game 3 then, and they have brought their best with their backs against the wall all season.
If Virginia hopes to see a different ending than last year, however, it will have to go through the third of Vanderbilt's aces in Walker Buehler, as Justin Ferber of Rivals.com noted:
Buehler may be the third preferred Vandy arm on the roster, but he's no third-rate option as the 24th overall pick in this year's MLB draft. He hasn't pitched since Friday, but he only has two losses on the year and has stepped up his game in the postseason.
Not only does Brandon Waddell have one less day of rest under his belt, but he also gave up four runs in five innings of work in the CWS semifinal Saturday against Florida. It will be an uphill battle for him and the Cavaliers to bring the ACC its first baseball title in 60 years, but Virginia is not one to back down to such moments.