Expected and unexpected heroes came through for Vanderbilt

OMAHA, Neb. -- Ten members of Vanderbilt third baseman Will Toffey's family sat nervously in Section 116, minutes after the sun set on a warm and windy Monday night. If TD Ameritrade Park wasn't abuzz with energy amid a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth inning, Toffey -- waiting to bat outside Vanderbilt's third-base dugout -- could have asked his brother, feet away, for advice in the biggest moment of his athletic career.

John Toffey, drafted out of his Cape Cod high school by the Colorado Rockies and later from UMass by the Tampa Bay Lightning, coached his younger brother last year in baseball and hockey at Salisbury School in Connecticut.

The younger Toffey, a 23rd-round pick of the New York Yankees, picked Vanderbilt for baseball over an opportunity to play hockey at Yale. Above the noise Monday, his brother's longtime words of guidance echoed in Will Toffey's mind.

Stay positive. Find your pitch and drive it.

With two outs and none aboard, Vanderbilt's Zander Wiel bounced a single on the infield. Virginia pitcher Connor Jones walked Bryan Reynolds on four pitches to face Toffey, a true freshman with one hit in 10 at-bats in this College World Series.

Then before the gravity of the situation took over, Toffey sliced the first pitch from Jones to left field. It scored two runs, the decisive hit in Vanderbilt's 5-1 win to open the CWS finals.

"I've seen him do it a lot of times before," John Toffey said two innings later on the stadium concourse near his seat. "Obviously, this stage is a little bit different."

Will Toffey, the surprise star, and record-setting pitcher Carson Fulmer, the expected hero who fired 7.2 shutout innings, propelled Vanderbilt to the brink of a second straight national championship in Omaha. It can win the title Tuesday night (8 ET, ESPN) with another victory over Virginia in the best-of-three series.

Fulmer, the recent No. 8 overall draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, won his 14th of 16 decisions to equal a single-season school record. The hard-throwing right-hander from Lakeland, Florida, lowered his ERA to 1.83 and struck out eight to increase his junior-season total to 167.

It was almost certainly the last outing of his college career, all but locking up the pitching version of a Southeastern Conference triple crown, which has been won just three times -- most recently by Luke Hochevar of Tennessee in 2005.

Fulmer exited with two outs in the eighth inning after an emotional meeting at the mound with coach Tim Corbin and the Vanderbilt infielders.

"I consider those guys my best friends," Fulmer said. "And for me, being able to spend that moment with them and just look back on the brotherhood that we created ... it's definitely a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Corbin said Fulmer has earned a spot among Vanderbilt's greatest pitchers, a group that includes big league stars David Price and Sonny Gray.

"I'll tell you what," Corbin said, "he's a special guy."

Fulmer retired the first seven batters he faced Monday. He allowed just one hit through seven innings and no runners passed second base. "I'm impressed," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "I saw Carson pitch in high school, and he's continued to develop. I like his competitive spirit. Certainly, he's going to come at you and give it his best. He's aggressive. He's proven that he can make big pitches.

"I would imagine that the guy's going to be pitching for a long, long time."

Vandy shortstop Dansby Swanson nearly brought Fulmer to tears after the game while speaking to the media.

"He's meant so much to not only me," Swanson said, "but to this team, the university as a whole. And to be able to see that recognition is something special.

"I love him to death. He's my best friend."

Swanson, the No. 1 overall draft pick last month of the Arizona Diamondbacks, contributed two hits Monday, including an RBI single in Vanderbilt's two-run seventh. Before that, he was 1-for-13 at the CWS.

But Toffey came up with the most-clutch delivery.

"I wasn't trying to do anything special," Toffey said of the sixth-inning double. "I saw an elevated fastball up over the plate and just did my best to stay with it and drive it that way. It really kind of comes down to Carson, keeping those zeroes up on the board. We knew something was going to happen. It just happened to be me."

Behind the dugout, Toffey's brothers, John and Sam; his parents, Jack and Debby; and Will's aunt, uncle and cousins jumped wildly and hugged each other as the double kicked near the left-field corner.

His mom cried -- a normal reaction, Will said, after his major achievements in baseball and hockey over the years.

John couldn't hide his smile later in the game. He said he noticed his brother strike several balls hard in Omaha; the hits just had yet to fall. John said he figured it would happen soon.

After all, Will has known only success in sports. The baseball team at Salisbury High School went 76-1 over his final three years, winning titles every year. The hockey team won championships, too.

This year at Vanderbilt, Will has started 65 games. After Monday, he's hitting .297 with four home runs and 49 RBIs.

"I think he's pretty confident," John Toffey said of his brother. "It was nice to see him put a good swing on it."

Another night like Monday, with heroics expected and unexpected, will bring the Commodores a repeat title.