OMAHA—At three hours, 40 minutes, it was the longest nine-inning College World Series game in TD Ameritrade Park's three-plus-year history. Blame the TV commercial breaks if you want. Blame the practice of coaches calling pitches from the dugouts, and catchers checking their wristbands before signaling to pitchers. Blame the beach ball delays and the buffoon who ran on the field in the middle of the action.
Or credit Vanderbilt's relentless, disciplined offensive approach. Facing a strikeout pitcher who sometimes takes a few innings to find his command, the Commodores worked deep count after deep count against Kyle Funkhouser, fouling off pitch after pitch and drawing five walks in the first three innings, while driving his pitch count up past 90 after just four innings. That approach led to three runs in the second inning, and Vanderbilt never looked back, beating Louisville 5-3 Saturday night in Omaha.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: The Commodores took control of the game with three runs in the second inning, taking advantage of Kyle Funkhouser’s spotty control and command in the early going. A pair of walks and a wild pitch set the stage for Dansby Swanson’s two-run double to left-center on a 93 mph fastball right over the heart of the plate.
The Hero: Vandy’s Bryan Reynolds made the best defensive play of the day in the second inning, making a leaping catch while crashing into the left-field wall on a Grant Kay fly ball in the second, saving a run and giving the Commodores early momentum. Then made a difference with his bat in the fourth, ripping an RBI triple to right-center that put Vandy up 4-0.
You Might Have Missed: After Louisville cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 4-3 in the top of the seventh, the Commodores tacked on a big insurance run in the bottom of the seventh thanks in part to their aggressive style of play. After Vince Conde walked with one out, he attempted on his own to steal second, and Zander Wiel drove the pitch right where the second baseman would have been if not for the runner in motion. Conde reached third on the play and scored on a passed ball. It looked like a hit-and-run, but it wasn’t by design.
"In my opinion with Conde stealing that base, it kept us out of a double play," Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. "Because Zander drove the ball pretty well, but it was right at the second baseman, he vacated that spot and Vinny was able to go first to third . . . Creating movement is very big in this tournament."
"I just thought offensively they did a really good job tonight one through nine in their lineup," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said of the Commodores. "They were just tough outs, very competitive, and seemed to put a lot of pressure on us, and seemed to get things going with two outs, which hurts, because you feel like you're one pitch away from running off the field and getting ready to score some runs."
Vandy's second-inning rally started with two outs and the bases empty, in the bottom third of the lineup. John Norwood worked a seven-pitch walk, Ro Coleman singled, and Karl Ellison followed with another seven-pitch walk to load the bases. Funkhouser continued to struggle with his location against the next hitter, Dansby Swanson, throwing a fastball in the dirt for a wild pitch that scored Vandy's first run. Then Funkhouser missed his spot with a 93 mph fastball over the heart of the plate, and Swanson lined it into left-center for a two-run double.
"We were just able to see some pitches there, and I was able to lay off of him," Swanson said. "I thought we had good discipline for the first couple of innings, made him work, and when he came in the zone, we were able to put some good swings on some good pitches. Just trying to remain in control of the counts and when he gave us a good pitch to hit, just be on it and try to keep the ball out of the air because, as we talked about, the wind was a huge factor."
Swanson sparked another two-out rally in the fourth, singling up the middle with the bases empty, then scoring when Bryan Reynolds smacked a triple to right-center to put Vandy up 4-0. The charismatic Swanson later chuckled as plain-spoken freshman Reynolds sat next to him and described that at-bat.
"Well, that at-bat I had Dansby start us off, and he threw me some good pitches, then he threw me a curveball down. I tried to stay on it and drive it," Reynolds said matter-of-factly.
Maybe Reynolds lacks a veteran presence on the postgame dais, but his game is mature beyond his years. The freshman leads Vanderbilt in hitting on the season and in the postseason (he was batting .520 in the NCAA tournament heading into the CWS), and he has made just as big an impact with his defense in left field. He made a brilliant diving catch to help preserve Vanderbilt's super regional-clinching win against Stanford, and he gave Vanderbilt some early momentum Saturday with a leaping catch against the left-field wall in the second inning, saving a run.
"You know, he's been unbelievable for us all year, and he's continuing to get better and stronger, and just learning as he goes," Swanson said of Reynolds. "We're all proud of him and we trust him because at this point of the season, he's not really a freshman anymore. We're 60-something games into it, and he's pretty much a sophomore now, and he comes out and brings it every day, which is impressive. So his consistency has really helped us, and we feed off of it."
After Reynolds' triple gave the 'Dores a four-run lead in the fourth, it looked like they might cruise to an easy victory with Carson Fulmer on the mound. But the Cardinals turned in plenty of competitive at-bats of their own, allowing them to chip away at the deficit. They broke through for a pair of runs in the fifth, then chased Fulmer after Corey Ray's 11-pitch walk in the sixth. Nick Solak's RBI single in the seventh against Hayden Stone cut Vandy's lead to 4-3, but two batters later the Commodores called upon Adam Ravenelle, and he stopped Louisville's momentum in its tracks.
Ravenelle stranded the two runners he inherited by getting Alex Chittenden to fly out, then worked a 1-2-8 eighth. At the tail end of a long game that featured so many deep counts on both sides, Ravenelle needed just seven pitches to retire the first four batters he faced. Then he slammed the door in the ninth, finishing his outing by retiring seven of the eight hitters he faced on just 22 pitches, 15 for strikes.
"Those quick outs, I thought, brought the momentum back, and the fact that he was able to grab the first out of the inning, because we weren't able to do that in the middle part of the game, and that's where Louisville started to catch up," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "I thought (Ravenelle) was very valuable tonight. He did a good job and had a good heartbeat for the game."
And he ended a grueling slog of a game in what seemed like a heartbeat.