Virginia prevented Vanderbilt from finishing off a perfect NCAA tournament Tuesday night and forced a deciding Game 3 in the College World Series finals. Of course, few things in sports can match a winner-take-all championship game.
After the Commodores won Game 1, the Cavaliers took advantage of a two-out, fifth-inning error from Zander Wiel to score the only three runs of Game 2. Adam Haseley and Josh Sborz combined to throw a shutout to secure the victory.
One year ago, Vandy beat Virginia in Game 3 to win the national title. Now the question is whether history will repeat itself or if the Cavs can emerge from the rematch with a trophy of their own. Let's check out all of the key information for watching the final clash along with a game preview.
Game 3 Details
Where: TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska
When: Wednesday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Vanderbilt rolled through the tournament to reach the finals and won Game 1 with relative ease. Just when it seemed like the Commodores were set to claim another title, one mistake was all it took to turn the tide in Virginia's favor.
Wiel couldn't make the play to finish the fifth inning, and Philip Pfeifer wasn't able to pitch out of the jam the error created. It's impossible to know what happens without the single mistake. Perhaps Vandy is already celebrating another title.
To his credit, the Commodores first baseman took full responsibility for the deciding play afterward, as Adam Sparks of the Tennessean noted.
"It was right at me, had a heavy topspin. It just bounced up on me," Wiel said. "That's a play that needs to be made. If that play is made, regardless of our offense, we are still playing right now (in a scoreless game)."
Now the focus shifts to Game 3. Justin Ferber of Rivals reports the expected pitching matchup will see Vanderbilt's Walker Buehler (5-2, 2.85 ERA) take on Virginia's Brandon Waddell (4-5, 4.02 ERA).
The edge there falls in favor of Vandy. Making matters worse for the Cavs, the aforementioned Sborz, the team's shutdown reliever, pitched four innings on Tuesday. Michael Lananna of Baseball America notes how the staff fares without him will be a major factor:
Nevertheless, Virginia is one win away from a championship. Cavaliers coach Brian O'Connor is happy his team was able to give itself this opportunity, per Eric Olson of the Associated Press:
This team's earned the right to play another ballgame, and that's how they will treat it. I don't think they'll put any more into it than they have at this point. Certainly we're going to have to play great baseball to beat a great Vanderbilt club. And they'll just continue to go out there and play the best they can and hopefully in the end have a chance to win.
On the opposite side, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said there really isn't much more coaching to do at this point of the campaign, via the school's athletics site:
They're trying. They're kids. They want to hit, too. Really nothing, just encouraging them more than anything else. And I thought even during the middle of that game, even at the end of it I thought they were very positive. I thought we were going to crack it open at some point and always do. It just didn't happen tonight.
Corbin is right because it mostly comes down to which side executes better. And as Game 2 showed, one play is all it takes to change the complexion of a contest.
All told, Vanderbilt owns the pitching advantage heading into Game 3 and also features the best overall player in Dansby Swanson, the top pick in the 2015 MLB draft. That's a tough combo to pick against in a deciding game.
So look for the Commodores to walk away with back-to-back titles under their belt.
Prediction: 4-2 Vanderbilt