Vanderbilt salutes the fans after its victory over Louisville. "That was a well-played game by both teams," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "At the end, we got some very clutch hits."

Vanderbilt gave Louisville a dose of its own comeback magic Friday night at the College World Series.

As a result, the Commodores will be moving on to the championship final while the Cardinals will head home.

Vanderbilt rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth to defeat Louisville 3-2 in front of 24,673 at TD Ameritrade Park. The Commodores advanced to play Michigan in the best-of-three final series starting Monday night.

“That was a well-played game by both teams," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “At the end, we got some very clutch hits."

Both finalists finished bracket play 3-0, meaning there will be no games Saturday. There also won’t be games Sunday, a predesignated day off before the final.

The Cardinals had kept their season alive Thursday night by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth to eliminate Mississippi State 4-3. But Friday night, it was Vanderbilt that came storming back.

Louisville trailed 1-0 most of the game but pushed across a pair of runs in the seventh to take the lead. One scored on a throwing error by catcher Ty Duvall and the other on an RBI single by Lucas Dunn.

After retiring Vanderbilt in order in the eighth, Louisville starter Luke Smith went back to the mound for the ninth. He had thrown 105 pitches but had yielded three hits and one run.

“I absolutely wanted it," Smith said. “I had confidence in myself going back out there."

After Austin Martin grounded out to start the inning, JJ Bleday drew a walk. Ethan Paul then lined an RBI double into the right field corner, bringing Bleday home with the tying run.

That was it for Smith, who threw 121 pitches.

“You don’t want to take your pitcher out too early or too late," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “I’d feel worse now if I’d taken him out in the ninth and we blew the lead."

Luke Smith

Louisville's Luke Smith is hugged before being taken out of the game. “You don’t want to take your pitcher out too early or too late," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said.

Philip Clarke greeted reliever Michael McAvene with a single and Pat DeMarco followed with a run-scoring double to left, giving Vanderbilt a 3-2 lead. The Commodores then loaded the bases but McAvene avoided further damage, striking out Harrison Ray and retiring Duvall on a grounder to second.

Enter Vanderbilt closer Tyler Brown, who struck out pinch-hitter Zach Britton to start the bottom of the ninth. Drew Campbell then hit a grounder that struck the first base bag and went into right field for a double.

Brown then fanned Justin Lavey and got Henry Davis to pop out to second baseman Ray for the final out to secure his 17th save.

Brown “controls his emotions better than anybody I know," Corbin said. “He’s elite, and extremely good."

The loss ended the season for 51-18 Louisville, which suffered both of its CWS losses to Vanderbilt.

“Obviously, this one hurts," Lavey said. “We fight until the last out and leave it all on the field."

McDonnell congratulated Vanderbilt while also giving credit to his own team for its deep CWS run.

“I’m super proud," he said. “I told the guys to keep their heads held high."

It’s on to the final series for the Commodores, who will be seeking their second championship. They’ll be taking on the Wolverines, though that’s something Corbin didn’t want to address after Friday night’s emotional win.

“I don’t have thoughts right now about that," he said. “I just want to enjoy this win tonight and focus on the kids."


Play of the game

The winning hit could not have been more perfectly placed. Vanderbilt’s Pat DeMarco smacked a bouncer over the head of the third baseman and just inside the third-base foul line. It put the Commodores ahead 3-2 in the top of the ninth.

Player of the game, Part I

Senior shortstop Ethan Paul. Standing on the cut of the infield grass in the seventh inning, Paul backhanded a grounder and threw a dart to home plate — gunning down a Louisville runner. Then in the ninth, it was Paul’s double into the right-field corner that tied the game at 2-2, setting up DeMarco’s go-ahead base hit.

Ethan Paul

Vanderbilt's Ethan Paul celebrates after scoring the go-ahead run. Paul also hit the tying double in the top of the ninth.

Player of the game, Part II

Louisville’s Luke Smith ended up suffering the loss. But he was so brilliant for much of the night. The junior right-hander struck out 10 batters and surrendered four hits. He held Vanderbilt to one run through eight innings before running out of gas in the ninth.

Defining moment

After Paul tied the game at 2-2, Vanderbilt’s players flooded out of the dugout to celebrate. It was such a raw display of elation. The Commodores leaped, and screamed, and pumped fists. The game had such an intensity to it, and Vanderbilt didn’t hold back when it sensed the momentum flipping in the ninth.

Key decision

Leaving Smith in. As strong as his performance was through eight innings, he had thrown 105 pitches heading into the ninth. He needed seven pitches to retire the first batter. Then he walked the second man. Then came the tying double.

Our take

Louisville showed some mettle Friday night. But Vanderbilt had an answer late. As expected. The Commodores (and their 13 MLB draft picks) came into this event as the most talented team, and now they are headed to the CWS championship series.

He said it

Louisville coach Dan McDonnell: “They do everything well. I think what’s probably most impressive about this (Vanderbilt) team — nothing against past teams, Tim (Corbin) has had a ton of great teams — but the lineup, it’s such a really good lineup. I mean, you have the middle of the lineup beat us there.”

— Jon Nyatawa