OMAHA—As Brian O'Connor made his way out of the TD Ameritrade Park interview room, he stopped to impart some wisdom he has gleaned in Omaha.
"You know what you've got to do to be successful in this ballpark if you're going to generate offense? You've got to hit-and-run," he said. "And look at our lineup, how few strikeouts we have, how many guys that can really make contact."
Of all the things Virginia does well—which is just about everything—its hit-and-run proficiency is easy to overlook. But that skill loomed very large in UVa.'s 7-2 win Tuesday against Vanderbilt, forcing a decisive third game of the College World Series Finals.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Virginia got the leadoff man aboard, then executed a perfect hit-and-run to put men on the corners. That led to a three-run inning that put the Cavaliers ahead for good. The rally would have ended after one run scored if not for a second hit-and-run, which kept UVa. out of a double play.
The Hero: Brandon Waddell picked a great time to throw his first career nine-inning complete game. Virginia's sophomore lefty allowed just two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out five. He stifled the Commodores in the second half of the game, retiring 16 of the final 18 batters. "He basically suffocated our offense for most of the night, particularly as the game wore on," Vandy coach Tim Corbin said.
You Might Have Missed: If you watched the game until the end, you surely did not miss the collision between Virginia's Mike Papi and Vanderbilt third baseman Tyler Campbell in the eighth inning. For those who did not see it, Papi was caught in a rundown between third and home in the eighth, and as he headed back to third base he plowed into Campbell, lowering his shoulder. The contact was hard and unnecessary, as UVa. coach Brian O'Connor later acknowledged, but Papi was not ejected. The two trail runners were sent back to first and second; here is the pertinent NCAA rule: "If the runner attempts to dislodge the ball or initiates an avoidable collision, the runner shall be declared out, even if the fielder loses possession of the ball. The ball is dead and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the interference." Of course, the runners were already standing at second and third when the contact occurred, so the rule might have been improperly applied. The point is moot anyhow; Virginia did not need any more insurance, and Papi would not have been suspended for Wednesday's game even if he was ejected (there is no automatic suspension for an ejection in the NCAA tournament, unless it is for arguing a call).
For five innings, the Cavaliers were held at bay by Vanderbilt righthander Tyler Beede. Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Virginia got the leadoff man aboard, then elected not to bunt or put the runner in motion—and Branden Cogswell hit into a 4-6-3 double play. In the eighth inning of Monday’s loss to Vandy, the Cavs had runners at first and second, and they chose to have Mike Papi sacrifice bunt; they wound up stranding the tying run at third base.
So Virginia mixed up its offensive attack in the sixth. After Papi led off with a single, the Cavs put him in motion on a 1-1 pitch, and Joe McCarthy hit it through the right side for a single, allowing Papi to reach third easily. He scored on Derek Fisher's fielder's choice to tie the game.
The Cavs stayed aggressive as that crucial inning unfolded. Fisher stole second, and Kenny Towns singled to put men on the corners. Again, Virginia went to the hit-and-run, this time in a 1-0 count to John La Prise—who hit a ground ball to second base. It would have been a perfect double play ball, but the hit-and-run eliminated the play at second base, allowing another run to score and Towns to reach second. He then scored on Brandon Downes' triple to right-center, giving Virginia a 4-2 lead.
"It's a lot of fun," Towns said of playing that uptempo style of offense. "It puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and we were doing a great job of executing whatever motion was put on. It was really getting to them, and it was giving us situations where we could just start scoring some runs."
Towns came through again with a two-run single in the seventh that essentially put the game out of reach and chased Beede, who allowed six earned runs on 10 hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings. He gave Vanderbilt a chance for a while, but it's awfully difficult to subdue the Cavaliers a third time through the lineup.
"Our offensive ballclub, you know, just would not be denied," O'Connor said.
Beede said he was not able to execute his pitches as effectively the third and fourth times through the lineup.
"Certainly I was only working with two pitches there, fastball-changeup, so it was kind of 50-50," Beede said. "But I could have executed better. They were finding holes, and certainly a talented hitting team."
Beede's counterpart, Brandon Waddell, would not be denied, either. The sophomore lefthander gave up a run in the second and another in the fourth on John Norwood's RBI double to left-center, but he minimized the damage in that inning by picking Norwood off second base after Rhett Wiseman failed to get a bunt down. "Didn't get a bunt down and we got picked off, so the inning crashed," said a terse Tim Corbin.
It was a key turning point. Waddell struck out the next two batters of the inning, and Vanderbilt did not get another hit against him until the ninth. He finished with five strikeouts, three walks and five hits allowed in his first career nine-inning complete game.
Waddell looked like a good matchup against Vanderbilt because of his athleticism off the mound (which is crucial against Vandy's bunt game) and his ability to hold runners (important against Vandy's high-octane running game). But in the second half of the game, the Commodores did not get a chance to bunt or to run, because they had very few baserunners. Waddell's feel for his 80-84 slider was superb; he threw it for strikes and used it as a chase pitch, as usual. And he located his 89-90 fastball effectively.
"Change speeds and pitching to the defense—I thought he did a very nice job of that," Corbin said. "They defended us well. We were making early contact and hitting into the teeth of the defense, and didn't really make a good adjustment with him. Now, it's not easy, obviously. The kid's throwing a good fastball. He's throwing it to both sides of the plate. He's decelerating the baseball with a changeup and throwing the breaking ball. He's a three-pitch, four-pitch guy. You have to be on, but you really, really have to be able to stay inside the baseball and use the other side of the field. He didn't allow us to do that."
By going the distance in a 115-pitch outing, Waddell left the Cavaliers in outstanding position heading into Wednesday's winner-takes-the-title showdown. O'Connor said Josh Sborz will probably start (against Carson Fulmer, most likely), but Artie Lewicki and Nick Howard are fresh and ready to go as long as the Cavs need them. With Waddell on the mound and in control, the Cavs had the peace of mind to bide their time; they never pressed, even when they trailed with 12 outs remaining.
"He was tremendous throughout the whole game," Downes said of Waddell. "He gave us a lot of confidence even if we weren't going to be able to come through one inning, he was going to come out there and pitch his bag off like he did, and it gave us the opportunity to come through."
Fulmer and Sborz are both on three days of rest, so the bullpens figure to factor prominently into Wednesday's game. Corbin said everyone in his relief corps will be available Wednesday, so expect to see Brian Miller and Hayden Stone. Both of them were outstanding against Texas on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and they have been Vanderbilt's two most effective pitchers in Omaha. But it won't be easy to contain a varied Virginia offense brimming with confidence after out-hitting Vanderbilt 28-11 in the first two games of the Finals.
"Certainly there is a lot of real athletic skill in that lineup," O'Connor said of his club. "Just the ability of guys to get down the line and the pressure that that puts on infielders through most of our lineup. We've got very much a veteran lineup. I remember back a month and a half, two months ago, coach (Kevin) McMullan and I had a conversation, and we just believed that at some point this would all come together and we'd have a real complete lineup that we feel like we're capable of. Fortunately, it's shown up here in Omaha, and fortunately it's shown up in the last two ballgames."