A pair of Pittsburgh natives are not just playing in the 2021 College World Series, but are making instant impacts on college baseball’s biggest stage.
Mars Area High School alum and Mississippi State pitcher Will Bednar dazzled over six innings in his first start with the Bulldogs in Omaha and Pine Richland’s Tory LeNeve drove in the first score of Vanderbilt’s tournament run in a 6-5, extra-inning win over Arizona on Saturday night.
Following a lackluster outing by his own standards in the Super Regional, Bednar dominated a talented Texas lineup. Against Notre Dame, he lasted just three innings and surrendered four runs on seven hits and a pair of walks, and for the past week, he’s been trying to lock in command of his pitches in preparation for this night.
“Obviously that start wasn’t great, but I kind of used this week to work on what I needed to work on,” Bednar said in a media availability on Friday. “I felt like fastball command was a big thing I worked on this week as well as slider command. I didn’t really throw a whole lot of changeups but I really focused on fastball and slider command this week.”
Bednar said he was told by upperclassmen to soak in every moment of his time in Omaha and not take this experience for granted. On Sunday night against Texas, facing another one of the nation’s best arms in Longhorn right-hander Ty Madden, Bednar did more than just become accustomed to the stage, he took it over.
Bednar rendered a performance that he called one of his personal bests and Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis called “one of the best” in the history of this tournament.
He exited in the top of the seventh after surrendering his lone walk of the evening. But even then, Bendar wasn’t satisfied. Still, he became a full-fledged cheerleader from the dugout for his replacement, Landon Sims.
“When I came out of the game, I wanted to stay in,” Bednar said postgame. “I was pretty mad when coach [Lemonis] came out to get me. … but I went in there and got back in on the bench and was yelling at Landon to keep it rolling.”
Over six-plus innings and 108 pitches, he allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out 15, a Mississippi State record for a single College World Series game. Backed by a run-scoring walk from second baseman Scotty Dubrule and an RBI triple from left fielder Brad Cumbrest, Bednar’s start propelled the Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over Texas in their first game in the College World Series.
All 15 K’s for Will Bednar pic.twitter.com/JPeH3ajFMa
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) June 21, 2021
LaNeve also played a key role in a wild Vanderbilt win on Saturday night. Commodores head coach Tim Corbin knew that keeping pace with Arizona’s Division I-leading offense would be a tall task, but that his team was more than capable.
“I just think that everything is different,” Corbin said. “On paper, statistically, whether it’s offense or pitching, things look a certain way but they always seem to play out a little bit differently when you’re here or maybe in a tournament in general. But we just have to be able to slow them down enough and we have to get comfortable in the batter’s box in order to be able to get some baserunners and move runners. I think it’s as simple as that.”
Arizona lived up to their billing in the first by tagging one of Vanderbilt’s star starting pitchers, left-hander and presumed top-tier draft pick Kumar Rocker, for three runs in the top of the first. But LaNeve helped cut into the deficit quickly in the bottom of the inning. He doubled to plate the Commodores first run of the game and provide a quick response to halt the Wildcats’ momentum.
Vanderbilt met every one of Arizona’s vicious punches on Saturday night with a counter.
“You could feel they were deflated a little bit like kids would be,” Corbin said postgame. “But I thought they hung tough. And the pitching allowed us to do that. If we don’t pitch the way we do, then we don’t get those moments. But I thought they hung tough.”
After falling behind by three runs early, they tied the game in the fourth with LeNeve’s double and a two-run homer off the bat of the ninth-hitting third baseman Jay Gonzalez.
When the Wildcats went back out in front by way of a two-run bomb of their own from Ryan Holgate, the Commodores put up three runs in the bottom of the seventh to retake the lead. Arizona tied things up one more time in the top of the eighth, but the Commodores eventually prevailed in the 12th inning.
To cap an outstanding night, Gonzalez singled past the dive of Wildcat third baseman Tony Bullard to score the winning run and push his team to the next stage of the College World Series.
The Commodores will be back in action on Monday night for a 7 p.m. first pitch vs. NC State on ESPN. Mississippi State draws Virginia next. The Cavaliers and Bulldogs will square off on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.