- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. — Many preseason prognosticators believed Vanderbilt and Virginia had what it took to reach the College World Series finals again.

That the defending champion Commodores (50-19) returned is testament to their dominant pitching and the steady effort of a veteran group that got every opponent’s best shot.

That the Cavaliers (42-23) ended up making it is nothing short of a surprise given all the obstacles they had to overcome along the way.

The best-of-three finals start Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done and certainly glad to be here,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.

Virginia knew its young players would have to develop rapidly to make a title run. Injuries to veterans complicated matters. Outfielder Joe McCarthy had back surgery in January, utilityman John LaPrise’s season ended after four games because of a hip injury and ace pitcher Nathan Kirby strained a back muscle in mid-April.

The Cavaliers were just 18-18 in March and April, finished 15-15 in ACC play and didn’t qualify for the 10-team league tournament until the last week of the regular season. They were given a No. 3 regional seed and had to go to the West Coast for the start of the NCAA tournament.

Senior Kenny Towns said the sense of accomplishment is greater than last year.
“What we’ve been through this year, the ups and downs of the season, it’s a little bit more satisfying, just because where we’ve come from and how we’ve been able to have the success late in the postseason,” he said.

Vanderbilt swept three games in bracket play and is 8-0 in the national tournament. The Commodores dropped six of eight games in April, but since losing a series to Florida on May 9, they haven’t lost consecutive games.

Bryan Reynolds and Rhett Wiseman have led the Commodores offensively through the postseason, and a pitching staff featuring first-round draft picks Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler has a 1.33 ERA in the CWS and has held opponents to a .163 batting average.

Fulmer said the experience last year has helped during the current run.

“I think the biggest thing for anyone who comes here is to be comfortable,” Fulmer said. “With the people in the stands and the pressure that’s on the line, if you want to call it that, some people aren’t used to it. Just staying comfortable and knowing that you’re working with eight other guys, it’s big.”

Fulmer (13-2, 1.95 ERA) will start against Virginia’s Connor Jones (7-2, 3.05 ERA) in Game 1. Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said he hadn’t made pitching plans beyond Monday, but Vanderbilt will start Philip Pfeifer on Tuesday and, if necessary, probably Buehler on Wednesday.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first pick in the draft, was the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s tournament after batting .323 with three doubles and four stolen bases. He followed up by batting a team-leading .337 for the season, but has hit just .242 with 11 strikeouts in eight NCAA tournament games and is 1-for-13 with five strikeouts and an error in the Commodores’ three College World Series games.

He said he hasn’t been distracted since the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him with the top pick earlier this month.

“It’s one of those things you can’t control, what’s going on outside of you anyway,” he said. “You just play your best and your hardest and hopefully the results will speak for themselves.”

Virginia, in its fourth College World Series appearance, will be trying to win the first national title in baseball for the ACC since Wake Forest in 1955. The ACC has had many chances, with 91 teams appearing in the CWS — third-most behind the Pac-12 and SEC.

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