OMAHA, Nebraska — If Vanderbilt wins the national title at the College World Series, the Commodores will be able to point to not one but two improbable contributors.
John Kilichowski's turn came in Monday's 9-8 win over Virginia. The 6-foot-5 freshman left-hander pitched perfect sixth and seventh innings, and made a kick save — and a beauty — on a ground ball to keep the Cavaliers from tying the game in the eighth.
Kilichowski was limited to 20 innings this season because of back problems, and he hadn't pitched since May 17.
"We talked as a group about trying to get a Tyler Campbell from the pitching staff that hasn't been in there yet that could pick us up, and Johnny certainly did that," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.
Campbell is the third baseman who has starred as the replacement for Xavier Turner, who was ruled ineligible Friday for violating NCAA rules.
Kilichowski said he wasn't as rusty as one might think for not having appeared in a game since getting one out against South Carolina five weeks ago.
"I do pitch. I pitch in scrimmages all the time," Kilichowski said to reporters. "So I haven't pitched in a game, but that's as much of a game as there is. It's just you guys aren't there for it. We treat it like a game. We have hitters. They're calling balls and strikes. We have a guy back there calling them, and it's as serious as any game, and I take them like that."
Kilichowski entered the game at the start of the sixth with his team leading 9-7 after Virginia got 13 hits off Walker Buehler and Jared Miller. Virginia's Joe McCarthy hit a hard comebacker that Kilichowski redirected with his cleat. The ball went to shortstop Vince Conde, who barely threw out McCarthy. One run scored on the play, but the tying run also would have come in if Kilichowski hadn't gotten his foot on it.
"It happened so fast. You throw it, you hear the sound of the bat, and all of a sudden it's under your foot," he said. "I'm just trying to be a shield out there. Whatever I can do. If I have to put my chest in front of it, I have to put my chest in front of it."
RUN, RUN, RUN: Vanderbilt will go into Game 3 of the finals with 15 stolen bases, the most since Miami stole 14 in 1985. The Commodores need two more to match the record 17 by Oklahoma State in five games in 1955.
The Commodores are 15 of 21 on steals in the CWS and 27 of 35 in the NCAA tournament.
CLOSE GAMES: Vanderbilt's 9-8 win over Virginia on Monday was the seventh one-run game at the CWS, tying the record for the metal-bat era that started in 1974. There also were seven one-run games in 1977 and 1985.
There have been 47 one-run games in the NCAA tournament, five more than the record set in 2001.
ATTENDANCE DECLINE: The crowd of 24,308 on Tuesday raised the tournament total to 329,396 through 15 games. It's the ninth straight year the CWS has gone over 300,000 in total attendance.
The average of 21,959 is down 10 percent from last year's record of 24,392.