Jack Leiter (W, 11-4) earned his first College World Series victory thanks to a gutsy six inning performance on Monday. (Vanderbilt Athletics).
Jack Leiter (W, 11-4) earned his first College World Series victory thanks to a gutsy six inning performance on Monday. (Vanderbilt Athletics).

College World Series Final: Jack Leiter propels VandyBoys to Game 1 victory over Mississippi State, 8-2

The VandyBoys jumped on the Bulldogs in the first inning and rode Jack Leiter one last time in Game 1 of the College World Series final.

The No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores and No. 9 Mississippi State Bulldogs had to wait an extra hour to kick off the 2021 College World Series final Monday, but the wait was well worth it for a rowdy group of Vanderbilt fans at TD Ameritrade Park.

The Commodores rewarded a faithful crowd of supporters with seven first-inning runs following the weather delay, wasting no time to erase their recent struggles at the plate. They put themselves in good position to claim the Game 1 victory, 8-2 over the Bulldogs thanks to the first inning rally and a gutsy pitching outing that just about encapsulated the legendary college career of Jack Leiter.

“I’m really just focused on helping the team win and that’s all I am thinking about right now,” Leiter said after the game when asked about his future. “Obviously, we have one more to win and that’s all I’m focused on.”

The righty (W, 11-4) delivered a prototypical Jack Leiter performance in his final start in the black and gold—clean, poised and competitive. The sophomore embraced his second and final College World Series game on Monday, striking out eight Bulldogs over six innings pitched while allowing just two runs against a feisty Mississippi State batting order. After a dominant eight-inning performance in the Commodores’ 1-0 loss to North Carolina State, Leiter finally got his taste of College World Series glory.

“Jack certainly set the tone tonight. It was tough pitching, that team does not give in,” Tim Corbin said after the game. “They fight you on every pitch. They make it difficult.”

Although his first inning got off to a bumpy start, Leiter matched each sniff of Mississippi State momentum with poise and heart, forcing the Bulldogs into three 1-2-3 innings over his 107 pitches.

He surrendered his 12th solo home run of the season in the first inning to Mississippi State’s Kamren James. After receiving no run support in his last outing, an early deficit seemed problematic for the Commodore righty. But Vanderbilt was able to jump all over Mississippi State junior Christian MacLeod (L, 6-6), blowing the game open early.

MacLeod looked hesitant and tight early, following a pair of walks with a pair of hit batsmen that plated Vanderbilt’s first run of the game. For a team that has struggled at the dish, capitalizing on early Mississippi State pitching miscues paved the way for the Commodore victory.

With the bases still loaded, after Parker Noland was hit by a pitch, CJ Rodriguez—who received an unexpected phone call from MLB Hall of Famer Iván Rodriguez before the game—knocked a single through the left side to score two more Commodores and give Vanderbilt a 3-1 advantage. MacLeod’s day ended after Isaiah Thomas ripped a double down the left-field line that scored Noland. At the time, his line read just 0.2 innings pitched, two hits, four earned runs and two walks. But that would not be all for the Commodores in the first.

Sidearmer Chase Patrick relieved MacLeod but was met with further resistance from a motivated Commodore bunch. He inherited two of MacLeod’s base runners before red-hot Jayson Gonzalez stepped to the plate. The senior continued a storybook conclusion to his 2021 season, tallying his fourth, fifth and sixth RBIs of the College World Series by ripping a hanging breaking ball over the left-field fence. That put the Commodores up 7-1 before Leiter settled into a groove.

The Golden Spikes Award finalist fought through every whiff of Mississippi State momentum, matching the Bulldogs by dropping nasty curveballs through the zone and locating his mid-90s fastball.

After surrendering the first-inning home run, Leiter fanned five of six batters before the Bulldogs showed some life once again. Thanks to the talented bats of Tanner Allen and Logan Tanner, Mississippi plated their second and final run of the game. Allen belted a double before Tanner took advantage of a hanging 0-2 pitch to knock the SEC Player of the Year home, but Leiter limited the damage to just one run.

Mississippi State notched a leadoff baserunner once again in the fifth. But a pivotal—arguably game-defining—double play crushed the Bulldogs’ hopes once again and kept Vanderbilt in the driver seat. Leiter’s day ended after the sixth inning, during which he stranded two more Bulldogs on base.

Mississippi State’s bullpen—a group that boasts five members with sub-3.00 ERAs—kept it in the game, but it simply wasn’t to be for the Bulldogs. Cade Smith and Brandon Smith combined to down the Commodores in order four straight times in their four innings of work. They retired ten Commodores in a row at one point and limited Vanderbilt to just one baserunner from the second to the sixth innings.

But once Br. Smith was removed after the sixth inning, the Commodores added one more insurance run. A bit of small ball helped Gonzalez move to second before Carter Young broke his slump with an RBI single that made the score 8-2.

Nick Maldonado once again proved reliable for Corbin, pitching three clean frames in relief of Leiter to help Vanderbilt secure the victory. He downed the Bulldogs in order in the seventh and eighth innings before working out of a ninth inning jam to finalize the game.

Despite their explosion for eight runs, the Commodores still tallied just five hits. But once again, Corbin’s team showed its maturity and opportunistic approach. Vanderbilt capitalized on Mississippi State’s miscues and left just three men on base in the decisive victory.

The VandyBoys will now have a chance to clinch their third College World Series final on Tuesday. A win would give Vanderbilt its sixth national championship as a university and would make Corbin’s team the first back-to-back College World Series champion since South Carolina in 2011. Tuesday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributor
Justin Hershey
Justin Hershey, Former Sports Editor
Justin Hershey ('22) was Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Deputy Sports Editor and Lead Sports Analyst. He majored in human and organizational development with minors in business and economics. In addition to writing, he hosts The Hustler Sports 30 Podcast, enjoys playing golf and is waiting for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers to complete The Process. For tips and comments, feel free to reach out to: [email protected]    
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