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Instant Analysis: Vanderbilt Wins Second National Title

College World Series

OMAHA — Vanderbilt won its second College World Series title with an 8-2 victory against Michigan on Wednesday night. Mason Hickman limited Michigan to one run over six strong innings of work, and the Commodores broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the third inning, then tacked on two more in the fourth to create some breathing room.

Michigan had been so good at limiting free bases during its four College World Series wins, but walks doomed the Wolverines in the last two games of the CWS Finals. Starter Karl Kauffman started off the third inning with two quick outs, then walked three of the next four batters, jumpstarting the Vandy offense. Stephen Scott capped that three-run rally with a two-run single to center field. An inning later, Kauffmann walked the leadoff man and then exited, but reliever Jeff Criswell issued another walk two batters later. Both runners who reached via free passes wound up scoring in that inning, as JJ Bleday delivered an RBI single and Ethan Paul drove in another with a sacrifice fly.

That was all the support Hickman and the Vandy bullpen would need. The game started out ominously for Hickman, who allowed three straight bullet singles to open the game, as Michigan scored in the first inning for the fourth time in five CWS contests. But Hickman then struck out three straight batters to strand a pair of baserunners. He stranded a runner at second base in the second, and then wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, getting Ako Thomas to line out sharply to left.

By that time, Michigan was already down three runs, and that missed opportunity took the wind out of the sails of the Michigan offense. Hickman retired the next seven batters he faced before exiting; he finished the CWS with 12 innings pitched, six hits allowed and just one run. Hickman and freshman righty Kumar Rocker combined to allow just three runs total in 24.1 innings over four appearances, leading the Commodores to the promised land. Vandy’s vaunted offense went quiet for much of the CWS, but Hickman, Rocker and star closer Tyler Brown (7.2 scoreless innings and three saves over four appearances) held down the fort, and the Vandy bats came to life in the winner-takes-all Game Three of the Finals.

Vanderbilt has been widely regarded as the most talented team in college baseball all season long, and in the end, performance matched talent. D1Baseball’s preseason No. 1 finished the year 59-12, with an SEC regular-season and tournament championship, and now a national title. Given that body of work, this group of Commodores can stake a strong claim for the mantle of best team of the 21st century.

We’ll have much more coverage from TD Ameritrade Park later tonight.

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