Connor Harrell’s historic blast and four-plus shutout innings by the bullpen lifted Vanderbilt to its first College World Series victory.
Tied in the sixth inning, Harrell hit a two-run home run and Vanderbilt never looked back on its way to a 7-3 victory over North Carolina in the opening contest of the 2011 CWS on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
Vanderbilt (53-10) advances to the winner’s bracket and will play Florida, 6 p.m. on Monday.
"Obviously a big victory for us," coach Tim Corbin said. "Sometimes you never know how you're going to react out here for the first time. But I thought the kids were very comfortable during [batting practice]."
Harrell became the first player to hit a CWS homer in the new TD Ameritrade Park when he laced a shot over the left-field wall. It was his eighth home run of the year and it came immediately after Conrad Gregor smacked a two-out, game-tying double off the wall in left-center.
"[The pitcher] was sort of living off the plate, throwing breaking balls," Harrell said. "[His] breaking ball was pretty good, but he was able to leave it up for a second and I got under it, extended, and got it in the jet stream."
The Commodores added two more runs in the eighth — again with two outs — as three Vanderbilt relief pitchers closed the door.
Vanderbilt starter Sonny Gray lasted just 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with five walks and five strikeouts. North Carolina (50-15) took a 3-2 lead in the fourth when the right-handed Gray hit Colin Moran with the bases loaded. Gray, who entered with a 12-3 record, got into a similar jam in the fifth with the bases packed after giving up a single and two hits.
The Commodores’ ace was then pulled for Corey Williams (2-0). The left-hander entered and promptly struck out Chaz Frank.
"[Gray] doesn't walk that many people and he doesn't have that hard of a time throwing strikes, typically, but he didn't feel great," Corbin said. "He was grinding through it. Gave us what he had. You can't knock him. He's done such a good job to put us in this position to begin with."
Williams pitched into the eighth inning, retiring the first seven batters he faced. He allowed two hits, walked one and struck out a career-high five. After he gave up a pair of singles in the eighth, Williams was replaced by Will Clinard, who got out of the inning without allowing a run.
North Carolina left a total of 16 runners on base and was 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
The Tar Heels had a runner on third in the ninth when VU freshman Kevin Ziomek replaced Clinard and, following a walk, got the last out. First baseman Aaron Westlake dove and stopped a hard ground ball, got to his feet and stepped on the bag to end the contest.
Tony Kemp led Vanderbilt with three hits and an RBI. He began the game with a bunt single and eventually scored on Westlake’s sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.
Fellow freshman Gregor chipped in two hits, scored two runs and had an RBI. Six different Commodores knocked in runs as they scored five in six innings off North Carolina starter Patrick Johnson (12-2).
"Everyone was loose, making jokes, laughing, just like they do every game," Kemp said. "And then we prepared the same. And then luckily we were able to get the 'W' [Saturday]. So it was a good job by the team."