If it were going to take a miracle for Virginia to win this College World Series rematch against Vanderbilt, after Monday night, it’s going to take something more. In its 5–1 Game 1 victory, Vandy looked every bit as strong as a team with three first-round draft picks could possibly look.
Even with Virginia getting a strong start from righthander Connor Jones, who matched Vanderbilt ace Carson Fulmer zero for zero before finally giving up a pair of runs in the sixth, Vandy broke the game open with three in the seventh. The Cavaliers were simply no match for the Commodores, who are now one win away from repeating as champions.
Before the series, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor would not commit to a Game 2 starter, and with good reason. His staff is thin right now. Virginia’s best pitcher, lefthander Nathan Kirby, missed nine weeks with a lat injury and just returned to the mound in the CWS, but he did not last three innings in his start against Florida. Virginia’s other lefthander, Brandon Waddell, was brilliant in the Cavaliers' 1–0 win over the Gators, but threw on Saturday so he’s not available.
Meanwhile, after Fulmer dominated Monday night by giving up only two hits in 7 2/3 innings, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has two more aces up his sleeve. Lefthander Philip Pfeifer will get the ball in Game 2. He threw seven shutout innings against TCU a week ago. If it goes to Game 3, Corbin has Walker Buehler, who was selected No. 24 overall by the Dodgers.
• CORCORAN: Picking players most likely to reach 3,000 hits
Vandy has now won nine games in a row. Since the NCAA tournament began on May 29, the Commodores have not allowed an opponent to score more than four runs in a game. Three of their nine NCAA tourney wins have been shutouts, and their arms have been simply overpowering.
Fulmer, who was taken No. 8 overall by the White Sox, unsurprisingly impressed in what will be his final game in a Commodores uniform. He combined a 94 mph fastball with a tight slider and an 82 mph changeup that had the Cavaliers chasing balls out of the zone all night long.
The only two hits Virginia mustered off Fulmer were an infield single in the third and a double in the eighth. Fulmer struck out eight and walked only two. The one time Fulmer got into a little trouble, in the third when he gave up an infield single and hit a batter, he responded by getting a fly out and a groundout. That was as close as the Wahoos came to scoring off the Vandy ace. If Virginia can take anything away from Game 1, it did come to life against Commodores closer Kyle Wright, getting a couple of hits and a run. But it was much too little and much too late.
All the Cavaliers can hope for at this point is to pull off what they did a year ago when they bounced back from a Game 1 loss to force a winner-take-all Game 3. Of course, last year’s Virginia team was a No. 3 national seed that had talent on par with Vanderbilt. This year’s Virginia squad has been on a Cinderella run in the postseason, and it's beginning to look like midnight.