Against a Vanderbilt lineup stacked with top pro prospects, Cal State Fullerton had the matchup it wanted — Tyler Peitzmeier, the Titans' left-handed closer, facing Jeren Kendall, a left-handed hitting freshman.
Kendall had struck out against Peitzmeier in an earlier at-bat, but he got the ultimate redemption. He knocked a ninth-inning, two-run homer deep into the Fullerton bullpen in right field to give the Commodores a 4-3 walk-off win Monday afternoon in the College World Series opener for both teams.
"That's who we wanted. Numbers-wise, everything dictates that guy doesn't handle left-handers very well," Fullerton Coach Rick Vanderhook said. "He went up there and took a big at-bat in a big moment and did what he was supposed to do."
Kendall's blast was the first walk-off home run in the College World Series' five-year history at TD Ameritrade Park.
"I dream a lot about big moments," Kendall said. "I can't say I dreamt specifically of this moment, but just being on a big stage like that has definitely been thought about."
In College World Series games at TD Ameritrade Park, teams leading after eight innings had a record of 176-4.
Fullerton led, 3-1, heading into the ninth inning with Peitzmeier cruising. The senior from Yutan, Neb., just outside Omaha, had retired the first six batters he faced.
Even after Zander Wiel hit a leadoff double, Peitzmeier came back to strike out Will Toffey. But Peitzmeier left a pitch up to Bryan Reynolds, who hit a run-scoring double just inside the left field line to trim the lead to 3-2.
That brought up Kendall, who fouled off a fastball before jumping all over a slider down and away.
"It was a good slider," Peitzmeier said. "He just got ahold of it."
Said Vanderhook: "The pitch was down enough. He just went down and got it. He got it really good."
The game started Sunday but was suspended in the sixth inning by rain and lightning. Fullerton had built a 3-0 lead behind Thomas Eshelman, who allowed only four hits in 5 2/3 innings.
"It was a tale of two different games," Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin said. "Last night was frustrating for the Vanderbilt side because of how Eshelman pitched and their ability to score some runs on some walks and some big hits. Today was a reset situation for us."
Play resumed with Fullerton freshman Chad Hockin taking over on the mound and facing Wiel with a 3-and-2 count and a runner on third base. Anticipating that Hockin was going to try to attack with a strike, Wiel stroked a double into the right-center field gap to pull Vanderbilt to within 3-1.
Hockin was able to escape further damage and turned the ball over to Peitzmeier, who was making his latest in several recent long-relief appearances. He had pitched at least two innings in six of his last seven outings — with four of those lasting three or more innings.
But he was unable to finish off his third inning against Vanderbilt.
Wiel, Reynolds and Kendall each finished with two hits for Vanderbilt, the defending national champion. Fullerton had five hits, only one on Monday.
"It probably made a difference," Vanderhook said of the postponement. "But probably made a difference for them too. We both had the same chance."
The Titans will play Louisiana State in an elimination game Tuesday at noon PDT.
Vanderhook said freshman Connor Seabold would start for Fullerton. Seabold made 10 starts this season, compiling a 5-3 record with a 2.84 earned-run average in 66 2/3 innings.
LSU plans to start Freshman All-American Alex Lange, who has a record of 11-0 with a 1.89 ERA.