But boy, what an inning it was.
The Commodores capitalized on Virginia starter Nathan Kirby’s sudden loss of control to score nine runs in the third, then held off the Cavaliers to win 9-8 in Game 1 of the College World Series finals Monday night.
“We’re fortunate to win that game, for sure,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “No one could have scripted that particular game, and if anyone said they could, they’re lying. I don’t think you could have called a nine-run inning.”
The Commodores (50-20) can win their first national championship in a men’s sport with a win Tuesday night.
“It’s nice to be up 1-0, but that’s not where our mindset is right now,” second baseman Dansby Swanson said. “It’s the same game regardless. You have to go out there, play, compete and just play the tournament like we always talk about. We’re not going out there thinking we’ve only got one more.”
Virginia (52-15) came back after going down by seven runs, scoring three in the third, two in the fifth and another in the eighth. Had it not been for Vanderbilt reliever John Kilichowski getting a cleat on the ball to slow down and redirect a comebacker, saving a run in the eighth, the Cavaliers would have tied it.
“We didn’t really want to fall back and pack it in,” Branden Cogswell said. “We hadn’t done it all year. This is the championship series, and there is no reason to do it now.”
Jared Miller (7-2) got the win for two innings of relief of Walker Buehler. Adam Ravenelle came on in the ninth and earned his second save of the CWS.
Tyler Campbell continued his improbable breakout for the Commodores, doubling twice in the third inning. Campbell, who took over for third baseman Xavier Turner on Friday after he was ruled ineligible for an NCAA rules violation, put Vanderbilt up 9-2 with his second double, which came with the bases loaded.
“I’m just still happy I got the opportunity and I’ve been able to come in and be a solid player for the team,” Campbell said. “I’m happy we’re here in the championship, so it’s all good.”
It was the highest-scoring CWS game at TD Ameritrade Park, which opened in 2011, and the most runs allowed by Virginia since an 11-6 loss to Mississippi State in super regionals last year.
The nine runs in the third, off three hits, five walks and a hit batsman , were the most in an inning in the CWS since Stanford scored 11 against Florida State in the ninth on June 14, 2008, at the old Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I just couldn’t find my release point,” Kirby said. “It hadn’t happened all year, but it happened tonight. I thought we did a great job with the bats. If we carry that into tomorrow, I think we’ll be fine.”
Things went south for Kirby in a hurry after he struck out Chris Harvey to start the inning. He walked Jason Delay on four pitches, gave up Campbell’s first double, and walked Dansby Swanson to load the bases.
Bryan Reynolds’ infield single drove in a run, and then Kirby issued the first of three straight bases-loaded walks — all while Whit Mayberry was warming up in the bullpen. By the time Mayberry came on, after Rhett Wiseman reached on an error, Vandy led 5-2.
Of Kirby’s last 50 pitches, 31 were balls. He walked five in the third inning after having never walked more than three in a game in his 18 previous career starts.
“Nathan Kirby has done the job all year long for this team, and I thought he was pretty sharp the first couple innings,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “The third inning, it just kind of unraveled.”