OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — UC Irvine came back once to take the lead against Vanderbilt. The Anteaters couldn't do it a second time, not with Walker Buehler on the mound.
Buehler pitched 5 1-3 innings of no-hit relief, with Irvine managing to get only two balls out of the infield against him in a 6-4 loss at the College World Series on Monday night.
Irvine had scored four times against first-round draft pick Tyler Beede to erase an early two-run deficit. But John Norwood's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth inning put Vanderbilt up 5-4, and his two-strike, two-out single in the seventh made it a two-run game.
"For us to go back down one and then two runs, it seemed like it was going to take a lot," Irvine's Kris Paulino said. "Buehler was starting to throw well, and you felt he was on a roll."
Irvine (41-24), one of the last four teams selected for the 64-team NCAA tournament, now must win three games to reach next week's best-of-three finals. Vanderbilt is within one win of the championship round. The Commodores (48-19) will play in a bracket final Friday against the winner of a Wednesday elimination game between UC Irvine (41-24) and Texas.
UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said watching Buehler work "felt like a root canal."
"The score wasn't indicative of the difference between the two teams tonight," Gillespie said. "So we'll show up on Wednesday and try to give a better account of ourselves."
Buehler (12-2) retired the first nine batters he faced and finished with seven strikeouts in only his third relief appearance of the year.
Buehler said pitching coach Scott Brown told him before the game to be ready.
"You expect your guys to go out and perform as well as they can. I was happy I got to pick him up," Buehler said.
Elliot Surrey (8-5) took the loss, allowing five runs in 4 1-3 innings in just his third start.
Beede, the 14th overall draft pick by the San Francisco Giants, continued to struggle with his command. He failed to make it past the fifth inning for a second straight start and sixth time in 18 outings.
The Anteaters had no answer for Buehler, though. The 6-foot-1, 160-pounder mixed a biting curveball with a fastball in the mid 90s. It was an impressive bounce-back from his last outing, a super-regional start against Stanford that lasted three innings.
"The game turned around when Walker came in," Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. "He pounded the strike zone from the minute he got in there to the minute he finished."
Buehler's biggest challenge came in the eighth when he issued a walk and hit a batter with two out. Brown went to the mound for a visit, and Buehler then ended the threat by striking out Adam Alcantara on three pitches.
"Every time he comes out he tries to make me laugh and smile and relax me," Buehler said. "It obviously worked out. I wouldn't say the wheels were spinning. But you're in the College World Series, and you walk a kid and hit a kid, it's nice to have a guy come out and settle you down a bit."
Surrey came into the game having given up no runs in eight innings and two in his previous 15. But Vanderbilt turned three singles and a walk into a 2-0 lead in the first.
Irvine batted around while taking a 4-2 lead in the second. The Anteaters tied it when Grant Palmer scored from third on Alcantara's bunt, and Taylor Sparks gave them the lead with a two-run single for his fourth hit in his first six CWS at-bats.
The Commodores regained the lead in the fifth, tying it when Bryan Reynolds scored from second after Zander Wiel hit a ball over Alcantara in left field for a double. After Evan Brock relieved with the bases loaded, Norwood's sacrifice fly to left put Vanderbilt back in front.