Vanderbilt capitalized on Virginia starter Nathan Kirby's sudden loss of control to score nine runs in the third inning, then held off the Cavaliers to win, 9-8, in Game 1 of the College World Series finals Monday night.
The Commodores (50-20) can win their first national championship in a men's sport with a win Tuesday night.
Tyler Campbell continued his improbable breakout for the Commodores, doubling twice in the third inning. His second double came off reliever Whit Mayberry with the bases loaded to put Vanderbilt up, 9-2.
But Virginia (52-15) chipped away, scoring three runs in the third, two in the fifth and another in the eighth to make it a one-run game.
Adam Ravenelle came on in the ninth to get the last three outs for his second save of the CWS.
It was the highest-scoring CWS game at TD Ameritrade Park, which opened in 2011, and the most runs given up by Virginia since an 11-6 loss to Mississippi State in super regionals last year.
The nine runs in the third, off three hits, five walks and a hit batsman, were the most in an inning in the CWS since Stanford scored 11 against Florida State in the ninth on June 14, 2008, at the old Rosenblatt Stadium.
Jared Miller (7-2) got the win for two innings of relief of Walker Buehler. Kirby (9-3) took the loss after his shortest outing of the season.
The Cavaliers got back into the game on Brandon Downes' two-run single in the third, and Nate Irving's double and Daniel Pinero's base hit in the fifth pulled the Cavaliers to 9-7.
Vandy's John Kilichowski, a 6-foot-5 freshman left-hander making his first appearance since May 17, pitched a 1-2-3 sixth and seventh inning, but gave up back-to-back singles to start the eighth. After Mike Papi's sacrifice moved over the runners, Joe McCarthy's RBI groundout made it 9-8.
Virginia held the Commodores scoreless every inning but the third. That inning proved too much to overcome.
Things went south for Kirby in a hurry after he struck out Chris Harvey to start the inning. He walked Jason Delay on four pitches, gave up Campbell's first double, and walked Dansby Swanson to load the bases.
Bryan Reynolds' infield single drove in a run, and then Kirby issued the first of three straight bases-loaded walks — all while Whit Mayberry was warming up in the bullpen. By the time Mayberry came on, after Rhett Wiseman reached on an error, Vandy led, 5-2.
Of Kirby's last 50 pitches, 31 were balls. He walked five in the third inning after having never walked more than three in a game in his 18 previous career starts.
Buehler wasn't nearly as sharp as he was a week earlier when he pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit relief against UC Irvine. He gave up five runs on eight hits in three innings before Miller took over.
Virginia reliever Austin Young kept the Commodores from adding to their lead in the seventh, striking out pinch-hitter Nolan Rogers and Delay after they had gotten two runners on base with one out.