OMAHA, Neb. — The young man did not back down when the lights shined on the big stage Monday. No, Jack Leiter proved he belonged with college baseball’s elite.
The Vanderbilt sophomore struck out 15 batters and was on the tough-luck side of a 1-0 loss to North Carolina State inside TD Ameritrade Park at the College World Series. That one run came off a solo home run in the fifth inning, the only blemish in an otherwise dazzling debut at the CWS.
“He did everything he could to put his team in great position,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Just such an outstanding young man. One pitch. One pitch, you know? It sucks. But it’s what it is.”
Leiter began the night with 12 straight outs, nine of which were strikeouts creating a buzz within the crowd of 23,712. But Terrell Tatum strode to the plate to start the fifth, took a strike and then blasted a home run out deep to right field.
It was the only offense either team could muster all night.
“I don’t know. I mean, I guess you could say that every pitch matters,” Leiter said when asked what he learned from Monday’s outing. “One mistake. I knew (Tatum) was a good fastball hitter, particularly on fastballs in. Catcher CJ (Rodriguez) set up away, the ball was middle-in and he hit it a long way and kind of made me pay for it.”
After the shock to the system that was Tatum’s tater, Leiter went right back to work.
He got two more Ks in the fifth, another in the sixth and two more in the seventh. Those later two came with the bases loaded and one out with the Wolfpack salivating at a chance to put the game away.
Leiter came back out for the eighth inning and induced a pop up to centerfield for the third out on his 123rd pitch of the evening.
“It’s just about continuing to make pitches. That’s really all it is.” Leiter said. “Whether things are going right or things are going wrong, it’s all about the next pitch. And that kind of simplifies things because the approach isn’t any different no matter how the game’s going.”
Despite Leiter’s performance, Vanderbilt is now staring down an elimination game at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Stanford (39-16). But the silver lining in defeat was the fact Leiter saved the Vandy pitching staff for another day as the Commodores (46-16) now have to defeat the Cardinal and then North Carolina State on Friday and Saturday to stay alive.
And it’s possible that if the Dores get past Stanford there’s a chance Leiter could get another opportunity to compete. And that’s what he does best.
“That’s a max competitor right there. He did everything he possibly could to put the team on his shoulders,” Corbin said. “He got most of the outs himself. It is a team game, but he was on an island tonight. He did such a good job of just shutting down the bats and competing, just competing at a high-level. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in the times that I’ve been to Omaha.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.