OMAHA, Neb. – After a hard-charging Louisville team denied Vanderbilt a shot at the College World Series in last year’s Nashville Super Regional, the Commodores got their retribution in Saturday evening’s opener, holding off the Cardinals for a 5-3 victory in the 2014 College World Series.
Vanderbilt needed to set the tone early in Omaha and they went ahead by giving the starting nod to their premier pitcher as of late. That pitcher is Carson Fulmer, the former closer turned starter who brings the mentality of a bulldog closer to the rotation. Fulmer is pure electric energy and brought that energy to Saturday’s opener right out of the gate.
Fulmer worked a 1-2-3 top of the first with relative ease, keeping the top of Louisville’s lineup noticeably off balance, fanning Nick Solak on a 96 mph heater with plenty of tailing action to end the inning.
The Cardinals appeared to make better contact against Fulmer in the second, as Jeff Gardner ripped a liner into the right side shift, followed by an Alex Chittenden single to right. Chittenden later advanced to second on a balk by Fulmer (double-knee pump on throw over to first), but the inning would close on what may go down as the premier defensive play of the College World Series.
On a deep drive to left off the bat of Grant Kay, Bryan Reynolds leaped and crashed into the wall to make the inning-ending grab. Following that momentum, the Commodores struck on offense in the bottom of the frame.
After turning in a rather solid bottom of the first, Cardinals starter Kyle Funkhouser struggled with his control in the second, as the ace right-hander was noticeably struggling with his ability to work his pitches away, often pulling his stuff away from the plate. As such, a Ro Coleman single and three free passes were the result. After surrendering his third walk of the inning to Karl Ellison with two down, Funkhouser tossed one in the dirt for a wild pitch, plating John Norwood from third.
Dansby Swanson followed with a two-run double to the gap in left-center, giving Vanderbilt the early 3-0 lead. Funkhouser responded by fanning Reynolds to end the inning, but his control issues would follow him into the third.
Vince Conde led off the third with a walk and later advanced to second on Funkhouser’s second wild pitch of the game. Xavier Turner would draw a walk to put two aboard, as Funkhouser continued to struggle with two strikes, pulling his heater off the plate once again (as was the case with the previous wild pitch). Nevertheless, the Louisville right-hander responded by getting Rhett Wiseman to fly out to center and Norwood to strike out looking to end the inning.
Funkhouser returned in the bottom of the fourth and looked to settle down, working a noticeably improved fastball. However, after retiring two to open the frame, Swanson followed with a single and later advanced to third on a swipe and throwing error. As such, Reynolds jumped on an inside slider, ripping it to the gap in right-center for the RBI triple.
At this point, the Cardinals appeared to shift gears in the right direction.
Louisville made some brief noise in the fourth, but to no avail. The top of the fifth proved otherwise, as the Cardinals grabbed their first two runs of the game, the first coming off a triple by Sutton Whiting. Fulmer struck out a pair of batters in the inning, but without the same life on his fastball that was quite effective in the early going of the game.
Hayden Stone relieved Fulmer in the middle of the sixth, but ran into trouble in the seventh, as Solak punched an RBI single to right-center to plate Zach Lucas from second to bring the Cardinals to within one run of the lead.
After Jared Miller relieved Stone and proceeded to hit Gardner with a pitch, Adam Ravenelle was thrust into the game and got Chittenden to fly out to right on the first pitch to end the inning. Ravenelle made quick work of the Cardinals in the eighth, needing just six pitches to retire the side in order.
However, prior to Ravenelle’s lockdown eighth, the Commodores shifted the game back in their favor in the bottom of the seventh, as a passed ball by Gibson allowed Conde to score from third to extend the Commodores lead by two and give them some needed breathing room going forward.
From there, the Commodores handed off the baton back to Ravenelle in the top of the ninth, as the right-hander retired three of four to seal the 5-3 victory for Vanderbilt. The Commodores will now face UC Irvine in Monday’s winner’s bracket matchup at 8:00 p.m., while the Cardinals will face Texas in Momday’s elimination game at 3:00 p.m.