After struggling through the first two games of the College World Series, Vanderbilt came out looking like a team that belonged in the final pairing in a much tighter game three. The Commodores drew inspiration from energetic and emotional starting pitcher Carson Fulmer, who really limited the Virginia bats for the first time this series. Timely hitting finally arrived for Vandy as well: Although they only plated one run in an extended first inning, the only inning for UVA starting pitcher Josh Sborz, VU claimed the only home run of the series, John Norwood’s solo blast that proved to be the game winner, in the eighth. After that, Vanderbilt reliever Adam Ravenelle dealt two innings of solid relief to close the door on Virginia and secure the 3-2 victory. (Fans of the MLB team that drafted Ravenelle, the Detroit Tigers, are already asking whether he’s available to help stem the club’s bullpen woes this season.)
For Vanderbilt, a charter member (1932) of the Southeastern Conference and a university with an interscholastic athletic history dating to the 1800s, last night’s win was especially remarkable, because it was the school’s first-ever national championship for a men’s team, and just its second national championship overall. (The women’s bowling team claimed the school’s first national championship in 2007.) This win certainly feels like the culmination of the steady development of the VU baseball program by coach Tim Corbin, and with a very young roster, it shouldn’t be surprising if his Commodores are back in Omaha next year to defend their title.
The outcome of tonight’s game between Vanderbilt and Virginia will decide the College World Series. A victory for the end of the alphabet is guaranteed, but for Vanderbilt, the stakes are higher: a win would be the school’s first national championship for a men’s team, and only its second overall. (The VU women’s bowling team won it all in 2007.)
After winning game one of the best-of-three series on Monday, the Commodores had a chance to clinch last night. They were unable to hold an early 2-1 lead, however, and ended up falling 7-2. While some are criticizing Vandy coach Tim Corbin’s decision to leave starting pitcher Tyler Beede in to pitch the seventh inning, during which Virginia’s 4-2 lead expanded to a 6-2 lead, the real problem lies with Vanderbilt’s absentee offense. There remains plenty of attention on Vanderbilt’s nine-run third inning in the first game, but UVA still owns the run differential advantage, 15-11, over the two games. Take out that wild third in the opening contest, which was as much a result of an early and unexpected pitching collapse as it was Vandy plate discipline or hitting, and that expands to a 15-2 advantage for Virginia. The truth is that VU has been unable to generate its own offense in this series, and outside of one disastrous frame, Virginia has been in control. The Commodores aren’t a power-hitting bunch, and the conditions in Omaha won’t do anything to change that, but one has to believe the Vandy bats are due to come alive. They must do so tonight if the Dores are going to claim this national championship.
While a Vanderbilt win tonight would make school history, and last night’s bid may itself have been historic as (possibly, I haven’t researched this) the school’s first actual opportunity to win a men’s national championship, the Cav-Hoos are carrying the mantle and burden of a conference into tonight’s game: The ACC has just one College World Series win, and it came in the 1950s, when Wake Forest topped the Broncos of Western Michigan.