Vanderbilt takes down TCU to advance to championship
Commodores' repeat chance begins on Monday against Florida or Virginia
OMAHA, Neb. -- A year after winning its first College World Series, Vanderbilt will get the chance to play for another national title. With a 7-1 victory over Texas Christian on Friday night, the Commodores advanced to the best-of-three championship series that begins Monday.
Junior right-hander Walker Buehler set the tone early, retiring the first 10 Horned Frogs on just 32 pitches. The 24th overall pick in the Draft last week by the Dodgers, he had more power than usual, overmatching TCU hitters with mid-90s fastballs and low-80s curveballs.
"We ran into a heck of pitcher today who smothered us, especially in the early innings," Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "And we never really recovered from it."
In the middle innings, Buehler's fastball settled in at 90-92 mph and his breaking ball remained effective. The Horned Frogs (51-15) didn't score off him until a single run in the seventh inning, at which point Vanderbilt (50-19) already had a commanding 7-0 lead. Buehler went 6 2/3 innings, allowing the lone run on four hits and a walk while striking out five.
"He was attacking with all his pitches and throwing them for strikes," said TCU senior shortstop Keaton Jones, who struck out twice and singled against Buehler (5-2). "He was tough. It wasn't like he was throwing it down the middle. He was hitting hit spots in and out, and throwing his breaking ball on the corners as well."
It was the highlight of a season that has featured more adversity than expected for Buehler. In 2014, he led the Commodores with 12 victories, played a major role in the CWS championship, then won another title and ranked as the top prospect in the Cape Cod League during the summer.
Buehler entered 2015 as a possible top-five-overall Draft pick, but he missed his first two starts with elbow soreness, never really found his stride and went nearly two months between victories. He still got chosen in the first round but lasted longer than expected. Because he's Vanderbilt's No. 3 starter and the Commodores needed only two games to dispatch Illinois in the super-regionals, he hadn't pitched since June 1.
"If we win two games in the super-regionals, I have no problems not pitching," Buehler said. "This season hasn't gone as well for me personally as I hoped, but it doesn't matter. You always have personal goals but the team goals are more important. We've accomplished most of our team goals, so it's fine."
After scoring a total of five runs in its two CWS games -- both one-run victories thanks to late-inning home runs by freshman outfielder Jeren Kendall and senior first baseman Zander Wiel -- Vanderbilt got untracked offensively. Sophomore center fielder Bryan Reynolds (a potential first-round pick in 2016) singled in runs in the first and third innings and Kendall (a likely first-rounder in 2017) chased Texas Christian starter Tyler Alexander (a second-rounder by the Tigers) with another RBI single in the third.
Junior right fielder Rhett Wiseman, a Nationals third-rounder, delivered a two-run homer off sophomore right-hander Brian Trieglaff in the fourth inning. Reynolds tripled for his third hit to spark another two-run burst in the fifth.
Wiseman's blast over the right-field bullpen came after Alexander (6-3) drilled him in the neck with a fastball in his first plate appearance. He said he never contemplated leaving the game.
"It's the College World Series," Wiseman said. "You've got to kill me to take me out of this game... It's easy going back out there following Walker's lead on the mound. He's just so effective at bringing everyone that plays behind him into the game and brings so much energy to the table that by the third inning, I had forgotten about the neck."
Vanderbilt will have the advantages of an extra day of rest and a less fatigued pitching staff in the finals. The Commodores will send junior right-hander Carson Fulmer, the No. 8 overall pick in the Draft by the White Sox, to the mound with seven days of rest Monday night. He'll face the winner of Saturday night's Florida/Virginia game.
Florida 10, Virginia 5
Vanderbilt 7, Texas Christian 1 (Texas Christian eliminated)
Florida at Virginia, 8 p.m. ET (loser eliminated)
Florida/Virginia winner at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET
Vanderbilt at Florida/Virginia winner, 8 p.m. ET
Florida/Virginia winner vs. Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET (if necessary)