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Connor Jones gave it his all over 6.1 innings, but a two-run double by Vanderbilt's Will Toffey helped kick-start the Commodores in a 5-1 win in Game 1 of the College World Series Finals in Omaha on Monday.
When the tide turned
Jones got two quick outs in the sixth, a strikeout and groundout, to retire the first 17 batters he faced without allowing a run. But, an infield single by the Commodores' Zandier Wiel wasn't moving quick enough toward UVa third baseman Kenny Towns, and Towns' off-the-bag throw to first was a hair late. Jones quickly issued a four-pitch walk to Bryan Reynolds after that, setting the stage for Toffey.
Toffey swung on the first pitch he saw -- Jones' 99th pitch on the night. He drove the ball deep to left field away from a sprinting Kevin Doherty, who could only watch as the ball sailed over his head and bounce to the wall. Doherty's throw was cut off, and both Wiel and Reynolds came home.
Jones gave up an RBI single to Ro Coleman in the seventh with no outs, and was relieved by Doherty. Doherty gave up another run to make it 4-0 in the seventh after Dansby Swanson doubled to deep right on a play similar to Toffey's.
Players of the game
Virginia: Connor Jones. Yes, Jones had four earned runs. Any pitcher bears some responsibility for runs given up, but it's hard to pin the loss on either Jones or Doherty, as the Cavaliers went 4-for-31 on the night. A lot of the contact that Vandy got in their onslaught over the sixth and seventh innings came off the end of the bat, and it was only fatigue in the end that got to Jones. In other words, Jones lost the pitchers' duel, but he wasn't going to win it with the offense going that quiet.
Vanderbilt: Carson Fulmer. We'll stick with the pitching theme, as Fulmer gave up just two hits in 7.2 innings of work. In likely the junior's final outing as a Commodore (he was drafted by the White Sox), he had total command of his slider to keep the Cavaliers guessing at the plate and put Vanderbilt on the brink of their second straight national championship.
- We've seen this movie before. A first-inning meltdown in Game 1 last year was followed by a 7-2 Virginia win the next night. It's going to be decidedly harder to win the national championship after tonight, to be sure. However, if there's one thing that Brian O'Connor's bunch has shown this year, it's that their fight and will to win is second to none.
- With that said, the bats need to wake up. Fulmer and the Vanderbilt bullpen did an outstanding job, to be sure. That doesn't mean a team like Virginia can't get more than four hits over nine innings. I think it's safe to consider tonight an aberration, but it's a correctable one that came at a pretty bad time.
- Six good innings out of tomorrow's starter, whoever that may be, are so critical. "Good" doesn't mean scoreless in this case, it just means doing enough to ensure that Vanderbilt can't get an early grip on the game. Brandon Waddell gave up five hits and two runs (one earned) over nine innings in Game 2 last year, and a performance like that could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Hoos will try to keep their season alive against Vandy on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.