Henry Clay's Buehler key component of Vandy's run to College World Series

mfields@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2014 

  • SATURDAY

    College World Series at Omaha, Neb.

    3 p.m.: UC Irvine (40-23) vs. Texas (43-19)

    8 p.m.: Louisville (50-15) vs. Vanderbilt (46-19)

    TV: ESPN2

Walker Buehler didn't pitch in many crucial regular-season games for Vanderbilt this spring, but the sophomore right-hander has been a major presence on the mound in the postseason.

The 2012 Henry Clay graduate figures to get more time in the spotlight when Vandy plays in the College World Series in the coming days.

"It hasn't really hit me yet that we're going to Omaha," Buehler said.

Vandy (46-19) faces Louisville (50-15) on Saturday.

Buehler was a weekday starter for the Commodores this season and rarely worked weekends against Southeastern Conference opponents.

But he's been one of Vandy's most trusted and effective pitchers in the playoffs.

Buehler worked eight innings and got the win in the Commodores' 3-2 victory over Tennessee in their SEC Tournament opener.

He threw a complete game in Vandy's 3-2 victory over Oregon in the NCAA Tournament regional finals.

And Buehler got the start in the decisive super-regional game against Stanford. He didn't get past the third inning after giving up four runs, but Vandy never trailed and won 12-5.

Buehler sports an 11-2 record and 2.39 earned-run average and has 102 strikeouts and 29 walks in 94 innings.

Vandy Coach Tim Corbin saw Buehler's promise as a freshman, giving him nine starts. Buehler went 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 67 innings.

"I've been pretty lucky to get the opportunity to start some as a freshman," he said. "And I think it was a blessing in disguise this year to throw (mid-week) games.

"That lets you try to work on things and develop as much as you can."

Buehler's potential was obvious when he was at Henry Clay. His fastball topped 90 mph, and he was already a pitcher, not just a thrower.

After his senior year he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 14th round, but chose college over the pros.

He's glad he did.

He's a big fan of Commodores pitching coach Scott Brown, who arrived at Vandy midway through Buehler's freshman year.

"He's one of those guys who lets you do your own thing," Buehler said. "He's not going to cookie-cutter you.

"A lot of us have little things we do in our own way, and that doesn't bother him. He lets us work through things ourselves."

Buehler has worked through things so well and improved so much that Perfect Game Crosschecker rates him the No. 1 right-hander in the 2015 college draft class.

"It's definitely hard not to think about that," he said of his status as a top prospect.

"But you have no control over that, so you just try to win games for your team in college, enjoy your time here, whether it's three, four or five years, and hope it all pans out."

Buehler is thriving academically, too, as a political science major. But since classes ended for the semester last month, his focus has been on baseball, and now the College World Series.

"I think we've got a shot at (winning) it," Buehler said. "Any time you have arms like we do, and our hitters saved us last weekend."

Vandy has a score or two to settle with Louisville.

Vandy played the Cardinals in early May, and they roughed up Buehler for seven runs in 22⁄3 innings on their way to an 11-7 victory.

Louisville swept the Commodores in last year's super-regional, denying them their second-ever trip to the World Series.

"You want to beat whoever's on the other side of the field," Buehler said. "But we're very familiar with Louisville, and they're very familiar with us.

"It should be a fun one Saturday in Omaha."

■ Louisville's roster includes three players from Lexington: Shane Crain (Lexington Christian), a senior, is batting .300 while splitting time at catcher. Logan Taylor (Lexington Catholic), a freshman who sees part-time duty in the outfield, is hitting .238. Michael Bollmer (Bryan Station) is a redshirt freshman.

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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