Game 3 of the 2014 College World Series finals was a low-scoring, gritty affair that saw Vanderbilt and Virginia valiantly battle for the NCAA baseball title.
The game came down to one late swing of the bat. John Norwood delivered a solo home run in the top of the eighth to give the Commodores a 3-2 victory and their first men's national championship in any sport.
VANDERBILT COMMODORES 2014 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! pic.twitter.com/dWHJoEgj6u— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 26, 2014
This may be a big breakthrough for Vandy, but the SEC has been faring rather well in major sports this season:
Seven national titles in the 2013-14 academic year for the #SEC.— SEC Sports (@SEC) June 26, 2014
But this College World Series finale was truly unique, as highlighted by David Teel of the Daily Press:
Vanderbilt looked as though it would cruise in the beginning at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. However, given the resilience the Cavaliers have shown in this best-of-three series alone, it wasn't going to be easy.
Virginia Coach Brian O'Connor knew his team wouldn't give up after getting off the mat to win Game 2, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
I know the bounce-back this team has shown all year long. You know when you go through a season with a team, you start to learn and understand what they're made of and what the fiber of a team is. I told the team after the game last night that there is no panic in this ballclub. Come out tonight and play a great ballgame, and we'd have a chance to win.
That rang true again Wednesday when things went awry early.
Cavaliers Catcher Robbie Coman was thrown off when Commodores coach Tim Corbin called for a double steal in the top of the first. Coman sailed his toss to second base into the outfield, allowing Vanderbilt to draw first blood when Dansby Swanson came around to score.
ESPN's Mitch Sherman noted how Virginia starting pitcher Josh Sborz struggled through the opening frame:
The earned run allowed by Josh Sborz is the first he's allowed in his 13th inning of work this postseason. #CWS— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) June 26, 2014
Sborz was pulled after just the one inning, relieved by Artie Lewicki, who tossed six innings and conceded just one unearned run to keep the Cavaliers in it.
Norwood accounted for his side's second run, scoring on an infield single by Vince Conde. However, when Virginia made its push in the bottom of the sixth, Conde would concede a costly error in the field, allowing the tying run to score.
Coman redeemed his prior miscue by scoring off an RBI single to the opposite field from Daniel Pinero, then scored on the blunder at shortstop from Conde. Dan Phillips of Fox 17 noted how rare it is that Conde misplayed a ball in the infield:
Vince Conde can't handle liner. Gold glove winner w-error for 2nd night in a row. We're tied at 2. Bases still loaded. #CWSFinals— Dan Phillips (@DanoFox17) June 26, 2014
As for the winning dinger, ESPNU pointed out how seldom it is that Norwood hits for power. PerfectGame.org's Kendall Rogers was surprised that Virginia's Nick Howard would yield the solo shot to left:
This trove of treasured things comes in threes, and happened to be the amount of runs it took for Vandy to finally deliver a men's national champion to Nashville.
ESPN's Skip Bayless expressed gratitude for Norwood's clutch hit:
Thank you, John Norwood, for going Anchor Downtown - Vandy's lone CWS homer, in 8th, beats UVa 3-2.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 26, 2014
Freshman Hayden Stone did an admirable job spelling Commodores starter Carson Fulmer, using a slider with great effectiveness to log 1.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Then it was up to Adam Ravenelle to slam the door, which was rather suspenseful when Virginia threatened in the eighth:
A force at home followed by a grounder to Conde that got the third out at second helped Vanderbilt escape the danger posed by the Cavaliers' high-octane lineup. Right fielder Alan Wiseman helped Ravenelle out to start the ninth, robbing Virginia of a momentous base hit with a diving catch.
Ravenelle then struck out leadoff hitter Branden Cogswell and Pinero to end it, sending Vanderbilt's dugout to the diamond for a jubilant celebration.
CHAMPIONS!!!! https://t.co/IdfRt93t9O— Vandy Baseball (@VandyBaseball) June 26, 2014
Vanderbilt pitcher Brian Miller didn't play Wednesday, yet still had a special moment of his own, per Aaron Fitt of Baseball America:
Vanderbilt's Brian Miller just proposed to his girlfriend. (She said yes) pic.twitter.com/sjsezJ9cA8— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) June 26, 2014
Fitt also shared some valuable baseball-related insight, believing that this is just the beginning of great things to come for Vandy:
And #Dores have a real chance to repeat next year. Have a strong feeling they will be preseason No. 1 with all they have coming back.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) June 26, 2014
Corbin has left his imprint on this Vanderbilt program, bringing unprecedented pride to the university in terms of men's NCAA athletics. This is the culmination of 12 years of work for Corbin, who recently led the Commodores to their first CWS appearance in 2011. Knocking off the preaseason No. 1 team in Virginia has to make it all the more satisfying.
With as volatile as results can be in baseball, the Cavaliers can't be faulted for falling short. They had the target on their backs from the dawn of the season, yet still managed to make it this far. There is nothing for them to hang their heads about, especially after they rallied to win Game 2, forcing Wednesday's thriller.
Both teams can look to the future with optimism. But of course, only one team gets to go home happy. For the first time ever in school history, that is Vanderbilt.