Javier Vaz scores the first run of the game for Vanderbilt (Twitter/@VandyBoys).
Javier Vaz scores the first run of the game for Vanderbilt (Twitter/@VandyBoys).

NCAA Super Regional: Vanderbilt advances to College World Series with 4-1 clincher over East Carolina

The Commodores return to Omaha for their second straight College World Series behind a spectacular performance from Leiter and timely hitting.

June 12, 2021

If Kumar Rocker dominates batters with a Mike Tyson-esque aggression, Jack Leiter manipulates hitters with a Floyd Mayweather-like precision. On Saturday morning, the sophomore starter proved once again that when Vanderbilt’s one-two pitching punch is on, they’re nearly unbeatable. Aside from a solo shot given up in the bottom of the seventh inning, Leiter handled the East Carolina Pirates with ease all day finishing with a line of seven innings, ten strikeouts, two hits, and one earned run to lead Vanderbilt to a 4-1 win in game two of the Super Regional. 

“Jack was great in every way. You could tell he had good confidence coming off the mound. He contained his heartbeat really well. He was efficient. He got deep into the ballgame. It’s what you want out of a starter—he was just outstanding,” Tim Corbin added postgame.

The win advances the Commodores to their second straight College World Series (CWS), following their national championship win in 2019. Vanderbilt is the first team to advance to Omaha in 2021 and will face the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Arizona series in their first matchup of the CWS. The Commodores are also the first team since Florida in 2018 to reach the CWS following a national championship win. This is the fifth CWS appearance in program history. 

For the East Carolina lineup, it was like deja vu having to face Leiter a day after getting utterly silenced by Rocker. The Pirates managed just five total hits and one run off the Vanderbilt starters, striking out 21 times in two games. 

East Carolina served as the home team in the game two contest, so Vanderbilt started the top of the first on offense. Enrique Bradfield Jr. worked a leadoff walk, but East Carolina starter Carson Whisenhunt went three up, three down on the next three Commodore batters to kick off a quality outing. 

ECU leadoff hitter Connor Norby smoked a single to right field on the first pitch of the game against Leiter, but Vanderbilt’s star remained composed and retired the next three batters, two via the punch-out. 

Parker Noland and Javier Vaz both slapped two out base hits to the opposite field in the second inning, but Jayson Gonzalez wasn’t able to bring them in. Much like yesterday, both starters began to settle in in the middle innings with just one baserunner from either side from the bottom of the second to the top of the fifth. 

Through four, Leiter flashed an impressive mix of his elite fastball—up to 99 mph on the gun—with a curveball he had hitters fooled on all day, allowing just two baserunners and striking out eight. 

“I felt pretty comfortable out there, landing off-speed pitches in fastball counts, mixing it up. I trusted the defense behind me; they’ve been so good all year,” Leiter added postgame.

The Vanderbilt offense finally got on the board in the top of the fifth. Vaz and Gonzalez managed back-to-back walks at the bottom of the Commodore order to force Whisenhunt out of the game after just 4 1/3 innings of work. He finished the day with two earned, two hits allowed, two walks and three strikeouts. 

East Carolina brought on reliever Matt Bridges to replace Whisenhunt. Vanderbilt successfully executed a double steal to move Vaz to third and Gonzalez to second with two outs. Carter Young, who had been in a major slump since returning from a shoulder injury, came up to the plate for Vanderbilt and launched a ball into right center to give the Commodores a 2-0 lead. 

Leiter continued to mow down Pirate hitters as the game turned to the bottom of the fifth. The right hander allowed a leadoff walk, but like yesterday, catcher CJ Rodriguez quickly took care of that by gunning down Lane Hoover at second. Leiter took advantage of the opportunity by retiring the next two batters. 

There was not another hit for either side until the seventh inning when Leiter allowed a solo shot to Josh Moylan, who hit it over the bleachers in right field. Alec Macarewicz walked directly after, but Leiter struck out the next batter then induced a double play to get out of the inning with no further damage. Nick Maldonado, celebrating his 21st birthday, took over in the eighth and went 1-2-3 to pick up where Leiter left off. 

Vanderbilt added some needed insurance in the top of the ninth. CJ Rodriguez walked to lead off the inning, and Parker Noland moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. Gonzalez poked an infield single into the soft spot of the shift to put runners on the corners for the Commodores, and Enrique Bradfield Jr. lined a double to right field to bring Rodriguez home and give Vanderbilt a 3-1 lead.

Carter Young was intentionally walked by ECU reliever Cam Colmore and then Dominic Keegan also walked to bring Gonzalez home and give Vanderbilt a 4-1 lead. 

Maldonado worked a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth with the pressure lessened from Vanderbilt’s big ninth inning. He finished his afternoon with two strikeouts and no hits allowed over two innings. 

For Vanderbilt and Tim Corbin, the ease with which they ran through the Super Regionals, after a perfect 3-0 showing in the Regional, should not be understated. Remember, the Commodores came into the postseason on a two game losing streak after losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament. Rocker and Leiter, while still good, hadn’t flashed their best stuff to end the regular season as both struggled with command issues. Now, left fielder Javier Vaz has been a revelation for the Commodores since his insertion into the lineup and the pitching and defense overall has been as good as it has been all season. Rocker and Leiter have risen their play to elite status, going a combined 4-0 this postseason. It is a testament to the job that Corbin has done yet again getting Vanderbilt to play their best baseball of the season at the perfect time and making the necessary adjustments to ensure that they do so. 

For the VandyBoys though, making it this far was the expectation.

“This is why you come to Vanderbilt—for moments like this. Honestly, the season would have felt incomplete if we didn’t make it this far. I’m just happy for the team and I can’t wait to celebrate with them. To see the journey the way it played out has been really special,” Leiter said after the game.

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