It was nip and tuck there for a while. Xavier struck first on an 0-2 base hit from Dan Rizzie that scored Rylan Bannon in the fourth inning. Vandy struck back for one in the fifth, but then Dan Rizzie doubled in the sixth and scored on a throwing error Vanderbilt catcher Jason Delay to put Xavier up 2-1.
Before we talk about what happened in the seventh, let's take a minute to talk about Zac Lowther's effort today. Pitching in one of the biggest games of his career, going up against a guy who is soon going to receive a check with more than one comma in it, he knew he was going to have to be really good today.
He was. He danced into and out of trouble a couple of times and got plenty of help from his defense, perhaps most notably with two on and two out in the third when Matt Fallon did this:
He was cruising through the bottom of the sixth, but every out is important and he got an impressive one to end the frame thanks to Joe Gellenbeck's commitment:
By the time his day was done, Zac Lowther had given Xavier seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball and struck out eight. That kept Xavier's offense in the game long enough to chip away at Vanderbilt ace Jordan Sheffield. When the wheels finally came off, they were his.
The seventh started innocuously enough, with a walk to Chris Givin. Will LaRue then laid down a sac bunt, but Sheffield glanced at second and cost himself the chance to get the speedy LaRue at first. David Morton followed suit, but his bunt down the third base line had eyeballs and he legged it out for a single. Matt Fallon reached on an error, setting the stage for Rylan Bannon to come to the plate with the sacks chucked and nobody out.
At this point in the game, Xavier was up 3-1 and the result was still very much in doubt. With the kind of offensive firepower Vandy has, a two-run advantage can disappear in a heartbeat. A 7-1 lead, on the other hand, is much more secure, and that's just what Bannon provided in driving a Sheffield fastball into the furthest reaches of the left-center bleachers.
To the credit of Xavier's offense, they didn't change their approach one whit after that blow. A Dan Rizzie single chased Sheffield, and Joe Gillenbeck followed with a double. A hit batsman loaded the bases, and Xavier pushed across runs in eight of their next nine plate appearances.
That 13-run inning turned the game into a laugher. Xavier closed the deal with limited fanfare - Lowther came back out for one more shutdown inning before turning it over to the bullpen - and the hottest team in the nation stayed that way to move to 1-0 in regional play. Xavier will play again against UCSB at 9pm tonight. The winner of that game will be positioned really well on championship Sunday.