Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer rightfully grabbed the headlines with a dominant outing on the mound.
Virginia starter Connor Jones was really good also, although his final line appeared to be only so-so.
Jones nearly matched Fulmer pitch for pitch through the first five innings of Monday’s championship series opener, which remained scoreless until the Commodores scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Prior to Zander Wiel’s seemingly harmless infield hit that started the two-out rally that allowed the Commodores to break through in that inning, Jones had sent down nine Vandy batters in succession.
He had allowed only three hits, one on a slow roller to second, through his first 5 2⁄3 innings of work.
“Personally, I always just try to go right after guys,” Jones said. “But I felt really confident in my split tonight. I thought that was really good. I kind of struggled to find my slider for a while, but it came around.”
Will Toffey’s two-run opposite-field double with two outs in the sixth finally broke Vandy through against Jones, who eventually allowed four earned runs before leaving with one out in the seventh.
“I was really proud there of Connor,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I thought he really battled and gave it his best out there, and gave us a chance, certainly.”
As the scoreless innings continued to mount Monday, one early play was looming large.
Jones picked off Bryan Reynolds at first base in the bottom of the second after Reynolds beat out a one-out infield single for the game’s first hit. The out was a big one because Jones walked Toffey immediately afterward, then gave up a two-out single to center field to Jeren Kendall.
Reynolds would’ve certainly scored on the play. But the pickoff by Jones kept Vanderbilt scoreless.
“We were a little snakebit at times,” Commodores coach Tim Corbin said. “We had some baserunning breakdowns that may have cost us a run early. ... We could’ve scored a run there.”
Jones escaped the inning when second baseman Ernie Clement made a leaping grab of Karl Ellison’s line drive with two runners on base.
Clement makes plays
The play on the Ellison liner was Clement’s biggest catch of the night, but it wasn’t his best.
The freshman also made a diving snag of a rope headed up the middle off the bat of Kendall to open the bottom of the eighth.
O’Connor, who wasn’t surprised, said he has full confidence in Clement’s defensive ability. In fact, the first-year infielder actually opened the year in the outfield for the Cavaliers this spring because of injuries.
“When we recruited Ernie, we thought he was a really athletic player,” O’Connor said. “Five days before the season, I didn’t know he’d make an impact in center field. And here he is playing great defense at second base. ... I like Ernie. He’s aggressive at the plate. He’s very athletic defensively. He’ll continue to improve. And he’s certainly been very, very clutch for us here in the postseason.”