Vanderbilt Overcomes 124 Years of No Men’s National Championships: An Opinion

by BoCarter | Posted on Friday, June 27th, 2014

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By Bo Carter

The dust has cleared, and Mighty Casey (er, Vanderbilt) has not stuck out but, amazingly, has come away with its first NCAA men’s championship in 124 years of intercollegiate athletics on the final night of the 2013-14 NCAA academic competition calendar.
Ironically, head coach Tom Corbin, who has guided VU to an unprecedented 10 NCAA appearances in 12 years at the helm, gave a “you have to visualize a title” pep talk to Vandy’s only previous NCAA championship squad – the 2007 women’s bowling team coached by former Ole Miss and Tennessee high school football standout John Williamson.
Yet another historic irony is that National Baseball Hall of Fame honoree and multi-awarded sports writer Grantland Rice once was head coach of the VU baseball team while he also served as sports editor of the Nashville Tennessean in 1908. The team closed the year with a respectable 12-8 record.
While some 4,000-plus VU partisans lounged at Vanderbilt Stadium and cheered on the diamond squad on the LED scoreboard screen, somehow the Commodores edged favored Virginia 3-2 one night after the Cavaliers thumped Vandy and its No. 1 rotation hurler Tyler Beede.
It was a somewhat unexpected upset. UVa had hammered VU pitchers for 28 hits and 15 runs in the first two games in the best-of-3 title series, and only two home runs were hit in the first 15 games of the 68th annual CWS.
Enter unsung hero John Norwood of Peapack and Gladstone, N.J. (where? A borough of 2,582 people in Northwest New Jersey and once the home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the set for The Guiding Lift TV soap opera) with a monster solo home run into the leftfield bullpen to five the Commodores a 3-2 lead, which lasted from the top of the eighth until the final out despite a bases-loaded jam with one out in the bottom of the eighth. It was Norwood’s fourth career homer in 200-plus career games.
Even more intriguing about the Commodores’ victory was that Vandy lost three games in its Nashville, Nashville Super Regional and Omaha tourneys. The only other champ with three NCAA postseason losses was Fresno State in 2008. VU was the third school to lose as many as 20 games (51-21 overall with a school mark for wins in season) and capture the trophy.
Corbin almost looked stunned after his starting pitcher Carson Folmar, who wept during one ESPN pre-tourney interview because he always wanted to pitch in the CWS, and relief men Hayden Stone (winning pitcher and upped his mark to 4-0) and Adam Ravenelle (just his third save of the season with the eighth-inning bailout and a 1-2-3 retirement in the ninth) did a number on hearty Cavalier batsmen.
“I’m very excited for the kids, the university,” Corbin said. “We played an outstanding opponent. “We’re fortunate in a lot of different ways. That was a heck of a college baseball game. The kids, they’re tough. They hung in there. I’m just so proud of how they matured over the course of 72 games.”
Though it came down to Norwood’s dinger (“the best baseball memory of my life” he noted in postgame comments), Vandy’s work in the field with a number or circus catches in the final elimination game – a 4-3 win over Texas – was the difference.
Norwood’s homer could not have come at a better or more surprising time, either, for a power-drought team with no prior four-baggers in the postseason and only a May 16 circuit clout by 1B Zander Wiel to show for the final 17 games of the 2014 campaign.
Plus, the 2014 CWS had the intrigue of two teams in the finals seeking their first NCAA baseball crowns in history (Virginia owns 20 all-time NCAA team crowns with 11 combined in men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse), Texas Tech making the field for the first in school annals, TCU taking its second trek to Omaha, Texas making its NCAA-record 35th appearance in Omaha and overcoming a two-year hiatus from any kind of postseason activity to being within one victory of the championship round, and seven of the eight schools (only Louisville repeated from the 2013 field and closed 0-4 over the last two World Series) were new to the 2014 contingent.
The suspense and surprise elements were almost more than many poor, long-suffering fans (including this 1974 VU grad and attendee at athletics events in Nashville since 1961 – most notably many low-scoring football defeats in the 1961-72 era) could bear.
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