OMAHA — Luckily, at least for the Vanderbilt Commodores, championship baseball games aren’t decided on the first nine pitches.

The Michigan Wolverines opened the top of the first inning of the College World Series' decisive third game with three straight singles to take a 1-0 lead immediately. The early deficit did little to stymie Vanderbilt and starter Mason Hickman, however. In fact, it just made the night more memorable in the end.

Hickman responded with three straight strikeouts to get out of the first before firing five straight scoreless innings while his offense poured in the runs for him over the second, third and fourth innings to lead the Vanderbilt to its second College World Series championship in five seasons with a 8-2 victory over the Wolverines at TD Ameritrade Park on Wednesday night.

“It starts on the mound, Mason (Hickman) has created such harmony during this season in the way that he’s pitched,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.

“He pitched in some very difficult games down the stretch. He certainly gave us a great start tonight, then Pat (Demarco) got us going offensively. We were pretty clutch with two outs tonight. I thought this would be a nice night for the kids and it ultimately was. I’m so happy for the boys.”

The Michigan advantage didn’t last long. Vanderbilt’s Pat DeMarco led off the bottom of the second inning with a home run to left field to tie the game and wake up the Commodores’ offense, which was hard to put to bed after the powerful blast.

With two outs in the bottom of the third, Vanderbilt picked up three runs on three walks and two singles to take a commanding 4-1 lead. JJ Bleday, the fourth pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, delivered a two-run single in the fourth to push the Vanderbilt lead to five and take a lot of the Michigan crowd left in Omaha out of the game.

Hickman kept cruising as his teammates put runs on the scoreboard. He seemed to use Vanderbilt starter Kumar Rocker’s blueprint from Tuesday night to keep the Wolverines, who mustered just three hits after their big first inning, off the base paths by striking out as many as he could. Hickman fell one strikeout shy of Rocker’s record setting 11 Ks, but 10 was more than enough to lead his team to victory.

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Vanderbilt picked up insurance runs in the seventh and eighth. Michigan tried to rally in the eighth, but Vanderbilt reliever Jake Eder limited the damage to one run to end the threat.

With the win, the Commodores became the 14th team in NCAA history to claim multiple College World Series titles.

“At the end of the day, our number one reason for coming back for our senior year wasn’t to win a championship, we just wanted to be a part of something special,” Vanderbilt senior Ethan Paul said. “Winning a national championship is great, but the program means so much more to us. We have such a bond together, so I’m happy we got to have this moment forever.”

The loss brought an end to one of the most memorable college baseball runs in recent history as Michigan went from being one of the last four teams into the NCAA Tournament to just one win away from the team’s first title since 1962.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We talk about leaving a legacy at our program. It’s not about 50 wins or stats or accolades. It’s about … the seniors and upperclassmen that have inspired future generations of players that winning a championship is a possibility. This is very much a tipping point for us.”

The Big Ten remains without a college baseball championship since the 1966 season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or scarlson@journalstar.com.


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