Rain forced a two-hour delay before Game 2 of the College World Series final from Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday. And when play did begin, it was No. 7 Mississippi State that rained on No. 4 Vanderbilt’s championship hopes, demolishing the defending national champions 13-2 and forcing a pivotal Game 3 matchup on Wednesday.
“It’s embarrassing to play a 13-2 game. It’s not fun to play like that. But it’s a loss. A loss is a loss is a loss,” head coach Tim Corbin said after the game. “One isn’t worth more than another. What you are left with is a next game. And everyone would sign up for that.”
The story of the game was errors and miscues on the Vanderbilt side. Corbin’s team tallied three errors and walked ten Bulldogs in the defeat. Mississippi State plated runs five times in their eight trips to the plate, including eight runs across the first five innings alone.
As poor as Vanderbilt’s pitching and defense was, its approach at the plate was not much better. The Commodores offense showed little life from the jump, paving the way for the Bulldogs to steamroll the mistake-ridden Vanderbilt squad. CJ Rodriguez and Maxwell Romero Jr. both ripped solo home runs, but the Commodores pushed nothing else across all night long.
The pitching matchup featured 17-year-old freshman Christian Little (L, 3-2) for Vanderbilt and junior college transfer Houston Harding (W, 8-2) for Mississippi State. Harding got the best of Little, tossing four very clean innings using a number of different off-speed pitches.
After three Commodore errors plagued Little’s first College World Series start on June 23, defensive miscues once again forced Little to play from behind and limited him to just two innings pitched.
He put down the first two Bulldogs of the game before Jayson Gonzalez committed his 15th error of the season on a routine ground ball, putting Kamren James on first base. Luke Hancock then knocked him home with one swing of the bat—a deep RBI single down the right-field line.
Later, in the third inning, another routine grounder to the left side got stuck in Carter Young’s glove, enabling Tanner Allen to reach base safely. Little then walked three straight batters to give Mississippi State a 2-1 advantage. The righty just couldn’t find the zone after confidence-rattling errors and tallied just 27 total strikes compared to 31 balls over his 58 pitches. He gave way to Patrick Reilly who inherited the bases loaded and zero outs in his first College World Series appearance.
The Bulldogs immediately capitalized, using a line drive off the foot of Reilly to grow their advantage to 4-1. The freshman pitcher then walked one to load the bases once again before CJ Rodriguez mishandled a ball in the dirt, allowing Scott Dubrule to score on a wild pitch. Reilly was promptly pulled in the fourth inning after he too struggled with command. This time, Corbin turned to lefty Nelson Berkwich, who hadn’t pitched since May 27.
Berkwich did a nice job getting out of the fourth-inning bases-loaded jam, but another defensive blunder from Young negated a potential inning-ending double play and helped the Bulldogs push across one more, making the score 6-1. The Bulldogs tagged Berkwich for two more runs in the fifth using four singles to push their lead to 8-1.
Mississippi State capped its scoring in the seventh, registering five more runs on Vanderbilt’s Hunter Owen to explode their lead to 13-1. In all, the Bulldogs notched 12 singles compared to just two extra base hits.
On the other side, the Commodores notched just four hits total. Vanderbilt went a combined 3-27 (.111) at the plate and because of its lifeless offensive performance, Mississippi State was able to preserve stud reliever Landon Sims for the deciding Game 3 contest. Instead, Preston Johnson was able to finish off the remaining five innings while allowing just two hits and striking out seven.
Mississippi State’s hopes are still alive after its decisive Game 2 victory. The Bulldogs will now have a chance to claim their school’s first-ever national championship tomorrow night, while Vanderbilt will look to solidify its college baseball dynasty with a third College World Series in seven years. Mississippi State ace Will Bednar is expected to pitch for the Bulldogs against Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker in the winner-take-all matchup. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT.