Big 1st inning sends Vandy past MSU 8-2 in CWS finals opener

OMAHA, Neb. — Vanderbilt gave Jack Leiter a big early lead and went on to an 8-2 victory over Mississippi State in Game 1 of the College World Series finals Monday night to move within a win of a second straight national championship.

The Commodores (49-16) scored seven runs off Christian MacLeod and Chase Patrick in the first inning of a game delayed an hour because of the threat of inclement weather that never materialized.

Mississippi State (48-18) led 1-0 against its Southeastern Conference rival after Kamren James hit Leiter’s low 93-mph fastball into the left-field bleachers in the top of the first.

But McLeod struggled for a second straight CWS start and got only two outs in the bottom half. The redshirt freshman left-hander walked two of the first three batters and hit two in a row to bring in Vandy’s first run. CJ Rodriguez’s two-run single and Isaiah Thomas’ RBI double brought on Patrick. Jayson Gonzalez greeted him with a three-run homer.

McLeod (6-6) lasted only 1 1/3 innings against Virginia last Tuesday in what at the time was his shortest outing of the season.

Cade Smith, Brandon Smith and KC Hunt held Vanderbilt hitless from the second inning until Carter Young singled in a run in the seventh.

Leiter (11-4), the national strikeouts leader and a projected top-five pick in the Major League Baseball draft next month, allowed two runs and three hits and fanned eight in six innings. Nick Maldonado pitched three innings of shutout relief for his ninth save.

Vandy won the 2019 title and is trying to become the first back-to-back national champion since 2011, when South Carolina won the second of two straight. There was no CWS last year because of the pandemic.

The Commodores won two of three in the regular-season series against Mississippi State in Nashville.

They advanced to the finals without completing bracket play. North Carolina State was removed from the tournament early Saturday because of COVID-19 protocols and the winner-take-all bracket final matching those teams was declared a no-contest.

Fans in Mississippi State maroon overwhelmingly outnumbered Commodores supporters in the crowd of 24,052, many showing up early for tailgating and ringing cowbells in the parking lots.

Inside TD Ameritrade Park, some of the MSU faithful taunted the superfan known as the “Vandy Whistler” by chanting “Let’s Go State” after each of his series of three quick whistles between pitches.

Since the best-of-three finals started in 2003, 11 of the 17 Game 1 winners have claimed the national title.

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