College World Series: Vanderbilt walks off Arizona, 7-6, in 12 innings

Jayson Gonzalez played the hero Saturday night, knocking in Isaiah Thomas to walk off the Wildcats.

Carter+Young+ripped+his+16th+home+run+of+the+season+to+help+propel+Vanderbilt+to+a+7-6+win.+%28Twitter%2F%40VandyBoys%29.

Carter Young ripped his 16th home run of the season to help propel Vanderbilt to a 7-6 win. (Twitter/@VandyBoys).

Justin Hershey, Sports Editor

For the first time in nearly two years, the College World Series returned to Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday with two marquee matchups. In the second game of the doubleheader, the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores bested the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats 7-6 in a gutsy walk-off victory. After blowing yet another ninth-inning lead, the Commodores escaped the Wildcats in the 12th inning thanks to a bit of classic Tim Corbin small ball.

“Tough ballgame in a lot of ways. I guess both sides felt like that thing would never end. We certainly had to contain them, especially after the first inning,” Corbin said after the game.

Vanderbilt entered the ninth with a 6-5 lead, but the Wildcats didn’t let up. A leadoff double from Arizona’s Daniel Susac prompted Corbin to turn to the bullpen. Luke Murphy entered the game—relieving Nick Maldonado—and was unable to shut the door on the Wildcats. Later in the inning, Susac scored on a sacrifice fly, forcing the game to extra innings before the Wildcats opened the door for Vanderbilt.

After Isaiah Thomas hustled out a ground ball up the middle to begin the bottom of the 12th inning, Parker Noland laid down a beautiful bunt that he safely beat down the line to put runners on first and second. Then, with one out, a Javier Vaz walk loaded the bases for Jayson Gonzalez, who capped his three-RBI night with a walk-off single up the middle to give Vanderbilt the victory. Gonzalez—the senior—totaled three hits on the day, none bigger than the walk-off single.

“Jayson is a team guy, he always has been. Regardless of whether he is in the lineup or out of the lineup he never changes his personality. He’s a phenomenal kid,” Corbin said. “He is one of those guys I will always be close to. It was good to see what he did throughout the game.”

The Commodores secured the all-important opening victory of the College World Series in dramatic fashion. 35 of the last 39 College World Series champions have won their first game in Omaha, and thanks to Gonzalez, Vanderbilt was able to do just that.

A buzzing TD Ameritrade Park was the site for the first-ever matchup between the Commodores and Wildcats. 23,780 fans were met with a treat: future first-round pick Kumar Rocker (ND, 13-3) against the potent offense of Arizona. Rocker entered the game after two dominant regional starts in which he did not surrender a single run, but Arizona posed a unique challenge. Eight of Arizona’s starting nine players boast batting averages over .300 and the Wildcats showed Vanderbilt why they are one of the most prolific offenses in the country early on.

Arizona’s Donta Williams began the game by ripping a line drive that Dominic Keegan was unable to handle at first base. Then, consecutive doubles from Jacob Berry and Boissiere plated two unearned runs before Susac singled home another on a hanging breaking ball. Rocker struggled locating his off-speed pitches in the first inning, missing high and generating very few swing-and-misses on his patented slider.

But the righty bounced back, at one point retiring 15 straight Wildcats after finding his slider. Four straight 1-2-3 innings after a 36-pitch first nearly salvaged an impressive outing, but Arizona’s talented lineup got the best of the junior in the sixth. Rocker hit Arizona’s Kobe Kato in the foot with two strikes before Ryan Holgate launched his 11th home run of the year to put the Wildcats up 5-3. The Vanderbilt ace was then relieved by Nick Maldonado following 5.2 innings pitched, three earned runs and seven strikeouts.

“I think [Kumar] landed the breaking ball. I thought he was more attacking after the first inning,” Corbin said. “We only walked one hitter. That says a lot about the pitching staff. I thought they were efficient. Kumar had to be to get into the sixth.”

Vanderbilt dragged its way through six innings before striking for three runs in the seventh. Arizona’s Chase Silseth (ND, 8-1) forced the Commodores to play from behind for much of the evening. He pitched to weak contact and despite a number of hittable pitches, Vanderbilt was unable to find holes in the Arizona defense.

The Commodores slowly chipped away at their initial 3-0 deficit beginning in the bottom half of the first inning. After Keegan poked an opposite-field single, Troy LaNeve also went the opposite way with a double to cut the Wildcat lead to 3-1.

Silseth methodically worked through the second and third unscathed before Gonzalez notched his eighth home run of the season in the fourth, a high fly ball to deep right field. The homer scored Javier Vaz and tied the game at three.

“It’s just a dream come true to be here, be in this situation. We have all worked so hard to get to this moment so it’s a pretty special moment,” Gonzalez said after the game.

Silseth’s day ended after he walked Gonzalez in the seventh inning. He allowed just four earned runs over that span and exited with his team leading 5-4, but was unable to get the win.

He gave way to righty Preston Price and the Commodores made their move. With Enrique Bradfield Jr. at the plate, Gonzalez advanced to second on a passed ball before Bradfield Jr. muscled an RBI single into right field. Then, Carter Young stepped up and bashed his 16th homer of the year that appeared to turn the tides of the game.

The Wildcats notched one run in the ninth to move the game to extras before the Gonzalez walk-off single.

The Commodore bullpen was certainly one of the keys to the victory. Maldonado, Murphy and Chris McElvain combined to pitch 6.1 innings while allowing just four hits and one earned run. They also combined for 12 strikeouts. Overall, Commodore pitchers held Arizona—the nation’s leader in hits (721)—to just 9/46 (.196) at the plate.

After North Carolina State routed No. 9 Stanford in the first game of the afternoon, the Commodores will take on the flaming hot Wolfpack, while the Wildcats will take on the Cardinal in an elimination game Monday afternoon. Jack Leiter is expected to take the hill for the 7 p.m. CDT start.