OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Vanderbilt made it to Omaha with a young team, one almost entirely different from the one that won the national championship here in 2019.
It was one of the Commodores’ old hands, though, who got them off to a winning start at the College World Series this year.
Jayson Gonzalez singled through the infield with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 12th inning, giving Vandy a 7-6 win over Arizona on Saturday night.
Gonzalez grounded a 1-2 pitch beyond diving shortstop Nik McClaughry’s glove to end the first extra-inning game at the CWS since 2014. It lasted 4 hours, 51 minutes, making it the fourth-longest game in CWS history.
“It’s a dream come true to be here, to be in the situation,” said Gonzalez, one of Vandy’s three seniors. “We’ve all worked so hard to get to this moment, so it’s a pretty special moment.”
Arizona’s Vince Vannelle (5-3) worked out of a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the 11th, but the Commodores (46-15) wouldn’t be denied in the 12th.
Isaiah Thomas led off with an infield single and Parker Noland bunted for a hit before Vannelle walked Javier Vaz. Gonzalez then came through for the second time in the game. He had hit a tying home run in the fourth inning.
“Any time you win a game like that … it wasn’t easy, it was long, and I think it gives you a certain amount of confidence, as it should,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said.
Chris McElvain (5-1) held Arizona (45-17) scoreless in the top of the 12th after Donta Williams doubled to the wall leading off, getting a flyout and two strikeouts.
The game marked the roughest postseason start for Vanderbilt star Kumar Rocker.
Rocker, projected to be a top-10 pick in the Major League Baseball draft next month, gave up three runs in the first inning and was pulled after Ryan Holgate’s two-run homer in the sixth put the Wildcats up 5-3.
Vandy took a one-run lead in the seventh on Carter Young’s homer into the right-field bleachers, but Williams forced extra innings with a sacrifice fly for Arizona in the ninth.
“The first game is the toughest game to play (here), especially if a lot of guys haven’t played a lot,” Corbin said. “We were in deficit mode several times and had to come back. And we took a gut punch in the ninth when they tied it and we took another gut punch when we had them loaded and couldn’t score. I thought they hung tough, and we hit the ball pretty well at the end of the game.”
Rocker walked none and struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings, and two of the five runs against him were unearned.
The 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player entered the game having won all six of his previous NCAA Tournament starts, allowing three runs in 42 2/3 innings.
But he struggled locating his fastball in the first inning, and Arizona’s potent offense capitalized.
Williams reached on an error to start the game, Jacob Berry and Branden Boissiere hit back-to-back doubles and Daniel Susac delivered a two-out RBI single to make it 3-0.
Rocker ended the first inning with a strikeout, but not before throwing 36 pitches.
Vanderbilt got one run back in the bottom half, and it was tied 3-all in the fourth when Gonzalez homered to right center, punctuating his trip around the bases by stomping his right foot on the plate.
Gonzalez began his career at Vanderbilt in 2017 and said he always planned to return this year after most of the 2020 season, along with the CWS, was called off because of the pandemic.
Gonzalez bounced around the batting order and now bats out of the No. 9 hole. He takes no offense.
“I would have the same approach if he put me higher in the lineup,” he said. “I’m glad I’m ninth because I get to see a lot more at-bats, see a lot more pitches. I get to know what the pitcher has and what he can land. I would have the same approach whether I batted bottom, middle, top. It doesn’t matter.”
Holgate’s homer came after Rocker had rebounded to retire 15 in a row. That streak ended when Rocker hit Kobe Kato with a pitch, and Holgate followed with his tiebreaking, no-doubt shot deep to right.
Asked if Arizona’s batters began pressing once Rocker found his footing, Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said no.
“Someone’s going to give that dude $7 million in a few weeks,” he said.
Arizona: Plays Stanford in an elimination game Monday afternoon.
Vanderbilt: Plays North Carolina State on Monday night.
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