OMAHA, Neb. -- One of the beautiful things about the College World Series is there's really no such thing as going by the script through the entire tournament.
If there was, Virginia sophomore lefthanded pitcher Nathan Kirby would've gone out there Monday night and chewed up Vanderbilt's offensive lineup, and Commodores third baseman Tyler Campbell, who replaced Xavier Turner a couple of games ago under unfortunate circumstances, wouldn't even be in the lineup right now. Then, there's Vandy lefthanded pitcher John Kilichowski, a freshman lefty who hadn't thrown since a short outing on May 17th against South Carolina. Surely, he wouldn't be thrown into the role of potential Omaha savior, right?
Pretty much everything leading up to the CWS Finals has gone by the script. Vanderbilt and Virginia, both favorites, won their respective brackets, with the Cavaliers entering the series with high acclaim as the nation's preseason No. 1 team. So, it's quite ironic that everything about Vanderbilt's 9-8 win over the Cavaliers in Game 1 went against the norm.
"Well, we're fortunate to win that game for sure. No one could have scripted that particular game, and if anyone said they could, they'd be lying," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "I don't think you could've called a nine-run inning. But in order for us to win that game, we had to pass the baton from a pitching standpoint, and we did.
"We talked as a group today about trying to get a Tyler Campbell from the pitching staff who hadn't been there yet but who could pick us up," he continued. "Johnny [Kilichowski] certainly did that tonight."
While the Commodores had some guys step up on the mound later in the game, the big key to the victory was capitalizing off a very uncharacteristic performance by Kirby, a first-team All-American.
Kirby was terrific his first start here in Omaha, chewing up hard-hitting Ole Miss, allowing just a run and a hit in seven innings. And for the first two innings against the Commodores, it looked like the lefty was going to have another game for the ages, retiring the first six hitters he faced and tallying three strikeouts in the process.
But then there was the third inning. Kirby entered the game having not walked more than three batters in a start, not allowing more than five runs in a start, and not having a performance less than 4 2/3 innings pitched. And the Cavaliers as a whole? They hadn't given up nine runs the entire season.
They did that on Monday. Kirby was completely out of sync in the third inning, struggling with his release point and walking five batters, while the Commodores made him pay for that by stretching their lead to 6-2 with bases loaded and two outs, spur of the moment legend Tyler Campbell at the plate, who had already hit a double earlier in the inning.
Campbell laced a 2-2 pitch from Virginia righthanded pitcher down the left-field line, clearing the bases, and allowing the 'Dores to stretch their lead to a seemingly insurmountable 9-2.
"I'm confident. Yeah, against Texas the other night with the walk-off, I didn't I feel I had a great game, but I think that actually helped me just stay with my approach and try to hit balls hard on the ground," Campbell said. "I feel like I'm seeing pitches well, so that is the best deal."
Carrying a 9-5 lead after the third inning, the Commodores appeared to be in great shape, but as with any great club in Omaha, the Cavaliers didn't go away quietly, and actually came close to making a full-scale comeback.
Virginia scored three runs in the bottom of the third, two more in the fifth, and had a chance to tie the game in the eighth inning. The Cavaliers, down 9-7 in the eighth inning, began the frame with a pair of singles from Branden Cogswell and Daniel Pinero, bringing up the clutch and powerful, All-American first baseman Mike Papi. Virginia elected not to let Papi swing away, instead having him sacrifice bunt. O'Connor played the percentages, and it almost worked out when Joe McCarthy smacked one up the middle, only to have the ball carom off John Kilichowski's glove and go straight to shortstop Vince Conde, who then made one of many nice plays on the night with a strong throw to first.
"It was [playing the percentages]. That's a great question. Certainly Mike Papi has 11 homers and has driven in a lot of runs. But we've played this style of offense all year long where it's opportunistic and the game tells us what to do," O'Connor said. "We've had a philosophy, and each player has a role depending on what the situation is, and they need to do their job, and Mike did his job. Unfortunately, we just couldn't sneak that ball through."
Virginia scratched across a run in the eighth, but it wasn't enough, as Kilichowski, who allowed just a run in three innings of work, escaped further damage, and righthanded pitcher Adam Ravenelle had an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the contest and preserve the victory.
With the series opening win over the Cavaliers, the Commodores move one step closer to notching the first major sports national title in university history. Teams that win the first game of the CWS Finals have won the national title 9 of 11 times, and the 'Dores hope to continue that trend with criticized righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede, a first-round pick, on the mound in Game 2.
And we just thought we had the script right.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Tyler Campbell, 3b, Vanderbilt
Turning point: Entering the third inning down 2-0 with Virginia ace lefthanded pitcher Nathan Kirby on cruise control, Vanderbilt appeared to be in a heap of trouble. However, Kirby struggled mightily with his command in the third, and the Commodores erupted for a huge inning. Vandy had a 6-2 lead with bases loaded and two outs when Tyler Campbell, who had 15 at bats going into the CWS, came to the plate. Campbell laced a 2-2 offering from Whit Mayberry down the left-field line, clearing the bases, and suddenly giving Vandy a 9-2 lead. There were tense moments the rest of the way, but Campbell's hit essentially proved to be the game winner.
Did you know? There were 16 runs scored in the first 30 innings of the College World Series over the course of the past two weeks. The Commodores and Cavaliers scored 17 runs in nine innings Monday night ... Also, despite the losing cause, Virginia tied the record for most hits by a team at TD Ameritrade Park in a CWS game, recording 15 hits in the loss to the Commodores.