For the first time in school history, the Virginia Cavaliers are your NCAA Baseball National Champions after downing the Vanderbilt Commodores 4-2 in the NCAA Championship Game in Omaha.
It’s also the first time an ACC school has won the College World Series since Wake Forest took home the crown in 1955. And it’s the fewest total wins in a season by a National Champion (44) since USC in 1968.
The Hoos owe it all to starting pitcher Brandon Waddell, who struggled early, but settled in, retiring the last eleven batters he faced, and not allowing a run over his final six innings of work. He allowed just four hits and struck out two in seven total innings.
Once Waddell was done for the night, Nathan Kirby, who was the 40th overall pick in the MLB Draft, came in to finish it up, and clinched the hardware. It was Kirby’s first relief appearance since 2013, but it was certainly a timely save for the highly-rated prospect who had been dealing with a lat injury over the final two months of the season.
Both teams had opportunities to score in the first inning, but only Vanderbilt was able to take advantage and take the early lead.
Virginia got its first two hitters of the game on board, and eventually loaded the bases. But Walker Buehler induced a Robbie Coman fly ball to end the threat.
Vanderbilt then put its first two runners in scoring position, and scored the first run on a Dansby Swanson groundout to third.
Zander Wiel would tack on the second run with a double down the left field line, scoring Rhett Wiseman from third.
The two starting pitchers would each settle in a little bit for a couple of innings, but the Cavalier offense woke back up in the fourth inning.
Kenny Towns walked to start the inning a couple pitches after what looked to be strike three. Then Pavin Smith hit a bomb to right to tie the game up at two. It was the first home run Vandy had given up in the postseason.
After a walk to Coman, Buehler was taken out of the game for John Kilichowski. He would keep the game all square after the fourth thanks to a couple of groundballs.
Vanderbilt would get a runner to third with two outs in the bottom half of the fourth, but Kenny Towns made an extraordinary play at third to preserve a run.
It even caught Vandy legend David Price’s attention, who was at the game.
Virginia would take the lead in the ensuing at bat. A single through the left side by Pavin Smith would bring in Adam Haseley to put the Cavs up 3-2 in the 5th. That was after two Vanderbilt pitching changes. Colin Snider threw just one pitch, which was a Towns fly out to right. Then Ben Bowden gave up the RBI single.
Towns would come up big again in the top of the 7th, extending the lead to 4-2 with a single up the middle off of Kyle Wright after a missed interference call on a sacrifice bunt earlier in the inning. That was Towns’ 7th RBI of the College World Series, and also gave him a hit in each of the final ten games of the 2015 season.
The way Waddell was able to shake off that rough first inning and eventually dominate for seven innings was crazy impressive. No one thought this Virginia team would be in this position after suffering several injuries throughout the season. Nevermind that they barely scraped their way into the eight-team ACC Tournament with a 15-15 conference record, and then scraped their way into the NCAA Tournament as a 3-seed that was shipped out to California for the first weekend.
This is the third time a team that was a 3-seed or higher has won the National Championship since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
Congrats to Virginia on a remarkable finish to their season, and for evening the score after Vanderbilt took the National Championship against them in 2014.
See you in February college baseball.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports