Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter had the big arm and the big-league lineage, but Sam Highfill and N.C. State had all the answers to post a monumental College World Series win Monday night.
Highfill threw 7⅓ scoreless innings and Terrell Tatum gave the Wolfpack the only run it needed with a solo home run in the fifth inning as N.C. State beat the Commodores 1-0 at TD Ameritrade Park.
The win gives the Wolfpack (37-18) three days off from games and puts it one win from the College World Series championship series.
The No. 4 national seed and reigning College World Series champions from 2019, Vanderbilt (46-16) now faces an elimination game with Stanford Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Stanford stayed alive in the tournament by pounding Arizona, 14-5, earlier Monday.
The Vanderbilt-Stanford winner will play N.C. State on Friday and will need to beat the Wolfpack twice to reach the best-of-three national championship series.
The son of 19-year Major League Baseball veteran pitcher Al Leiter, Jack Leiter (10-4) struck out 15 Wolfpack batters over his eight innings of work. Tatum’s home run accounted for the only run he allowed.
But Highfill (9-2), a freshman right-hander from Apex High School, topped that performance. He struck out seven over his 7 ⅓ innings while allowing just two hits and two strikeouts.
Vanderbilt didn’t manage to get a runner in scoring position against him until the eighth inning.
But that’s when lefty relief ace Evan Justice replaced him. With the tying run on second base, the junior got Jayson Gonzalez to ground out to second before lead-off man Enrique Bradfield, Jr., struck out looking.
In the ninth inning, Justice issued a lead-off walk to Carter Young. But Dominic Keegan hit into a double play and pinch-hitter Tate Kolwyck struck out to secure the Wolfpack win and put N.C. State three wins from a national championship.
Leiter held the Wolfpack hitless over the first four innings. Only one NC State batter managed to hit a fair ball out of the infield as Leiter struck out nine of the first 12 batters he faced, starting with 0-2 counts on seven of the first 11.
But Tatum picked on a belt-high fastball on the inside part of the plate to change the game’s mood with a long home run to right field. With that blast, Leiter’s perfect game, no-hitter and shut out were gone and NC State had a 1-0 lead.
Up 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, N.C. State loaded the bases with one out as Tyler McDonough singled, Tatum drew a walk and Jose Torres legged out a slow roller to third base for an infield single.
But Leiter locked down to strike out Luca Tresh with a 96 mph fastball on his 103rd pitch of the game. Devonte Brown couldn’t catch up with another 96 mph fastball and became Leiter’s 14th strikeout victim on his 109th pitch.
The bottom of Vanderbilt’s batting order mounted the eighth-inning rally that drove Highfill from the game. Highfill walked CJ Rodriguez to start the inning and a sacrifice bunt moved him to second before Justice escaped damage to keep Vanderbilt scoreless.