OMAHA, Neb. -- The inclement weather that was expected at TD Ameritrade Park Saturday night during the Vanderbilt-Louisville showdown never arrived, but at least some elements of the unsettled weather had an effect on the nightcap.
As nightfall fell on downtown Omaha, winds whipped the center field flags straight in to home plate, something Vanderbilt sophomore righthanded pitcher Carson Fulmer quickly noticed. On this night, he thought, all he had to do is throw strikes and the duo of the ballpark and his team's defense would take care of the rest.
Fulmer was unable to go the distance against Louisville, but put together a quality start in a 5-3 win over the rival Cardinals to advance to Monday's winner's bracket contest against UC Irvine, which defeated Texas earlier in the day.
"Going into the game, I knew the wind was going to be a factor," Fulmer said. "It was blowing straight in, as you guys probably know. But when the ball goes up in the air and it's hit hard, you know the ball is going to have a good chance to stay in the yard."
Fulmer, who will certainly be one of the top prospects in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, got the starting nod on Saturday over heralded junior righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede. Beede, much like TCU's Brandon Finnegan, another heralded arm, was passed up to start the opening game in Omaha. Not necessarily out of distrust for his stuff, but Corbin thought the more athletic Fulmer would matchup better with Louisville's high pressure, potentially high-octane offense.
"Well, we wanted to matchup the skill set of our pitcher versus the skill set of Louisville. We thought he was one that could contain the running game well," Corbin said about the decision to start Fulmer. "Louisville does loves to get right on top of the plate, and you're pitching into a very small window. I thought he could execute that, and he did. I thought he came out and pitched very well the first three innings."
Fulmer was very crisp early during his performance. He had a quick 1-2-3 first inning, and had some tense moments in the second inning, with outstanding freshman outfielder Bryan Reynolds essentially saving a run with a fantastic grab against the wall to rob UL's Grant Kay of extra bases. He had a clean third inning and worked out of a potential jam in the fourth before getting lifted in the fifth inning with UL putting him on the ropes a bit. Still, Fulmer finished the night with six strikeouts and allowed just two runs in 5 1/3 innings against an electric offense. He sat 93-96 with his fastball and added a wipeout slider to go with it.
"Offensively, it was a tough night for us," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "I felt good about our offense because we had some good at bats. But you look at Fulmer's numbers and it's impressive stuff. The ERA, the batting average against, he's throwing mid-90s, and he has nasty stuff. I thought our hitters really competed."
Vandy closed the contest with an outstanding relief performance from righthanded pitcher Adam Ravenelle, who tossed 2 1/3 shutout frame. But in addition to Fulmer getting this team off to a hot start, it was Vandy's patience and approach against Louisville righthanded pitcher Kyle Funkhouser that propelled to victory.
Funkhouser, as with Fulmer, entered the contest with big-time stuff. He was consistently 92-95 in this game, but his command just wasn't there in the early going. Funkhouser walked five batters in the first three innings, and that backfired in the second frame as the Commodores scored three runs and took control of the contest, scoring two of the runs on an RBI triple by elite second baseman Dansby Swanson, and the other on a wild pitch, to go up 3-0. The Commodores extended the lead to 4-0 in the fourth inning when, who else, Reynolds, hit an RBI triple.
Funkhouser, who allowed more than three runs for the first since March 14 and for just the second time this season, was very much blunt about his start.
"Two-out walks will kill you and that was the definition of it tonight," Funkhouser said. "It's hard to win in the College World Series with a bad start, and that's what it was here tonight."
With the win over the Cardinals, Vandy is in good shape moving forward with Beede slated to start against UC Irvine and premium righthanded arms such as Walker Buehler and Tyler Ferguson waiting in the swings. Meanwhile, Louisville hopes to avoid emulating last season's CWS performance, which included a quick 0-2 exit.
"I feel much better about our club right now than I did at this point last season," McDonnell said. "I thought our hitters really competed and had a lot of good swings. But they made two really nice catches, almost making three diving catches."
Vanderbilt clearly made the most of its opportunities in a game that lasted a grueling three hours, 40 minutes. Now it hopes to take control of the bracket.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Dansby Swanson, 2b, Vanderbilt
Turning point: Every year we're here at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park, coaches talk about how having a 2-0 lead in this ballpark is like having a 7 or 8-0 lead at a regular ballpark. Well, in that case, the Commodores really broke this thing open for good in the second inning with a Swanson two-RBI double. Down 3-0 after just two innings, UL had to know it would be a tough road ahead.
Did you know? Louisville hasn't had much success in the College World Series thus far, but hopes to turn the tide the rest of the day. UL has been outscored 21-8 in its last four CWS contests, including a disappointing 0-4 record.