Vanderbilt edges Virginia, wins first men's national championship
JUN 26, 2014 2:05a ET
OMAHA, Neb. -- The rapper Eminem said it best.
"Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?"
John Norwood captured it, showing up hateful TD Ameritrade Park with an eighth-inning home run in Wednesday's Game 3 of the College World Series finals that handed Vanderbilt its first national championship with a 3-2 win against Virginia.
If there were any Virginia fans among the masses fussing about the lack of home runs in the TD Ameritrade version of the College World Series, those words aren't tasting so good right now.
With only the third home run in the two-week event in Omaha, Vanderbilt's cleanup hitter muscled a laser into the left-field bullpen that will be seen for generations to come, the shot that gave Vanderbilt the first men's championship in school history. The trophy will look just fine adjacent to the women's bowling championship hardware.
"It's an amazing feeling, but it's not just myself," Norwood said. "You don't get there without the rest of your team, and that is the biggest thing. Home run is awesome, but like I said, we don't get there if Carson (Fulmer) doesn't throw or Dansby (Swanson) doesn't play great D and hit. It's just everybody. Everyone's picking each other up no matter what."
As if the long ball wasn't a weird enough way to end the mostly-defensive two weeks, the laser shot off the quick hands of Norwood came against the arm of Virginia (53-16) closer Nick Howard. Howard is considered by many as the game's best closer. Picked at No. 19 in the Major League Baseball draft, the fireballer had allowed seven earned runs in 30 previous appearances, only two home runs in 35 2/3 innings. Norwood's dinger came off a 97-MPH fastball, the only run Howard allowed all NCAA Tournament long.
"Johnny's strength and bat speed with the velocity of Howard, that doesn't happen to that kid," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "A 97-mile-an-hour fastball and someone to turn it around like that takes a great amount of ability."
It was power-on-power. No one expected it. Norwood knew it when the barrel hit it. Three must have been the magic number. It was also his third homer of the season and he'll never hit a bigger one in a Game 3, against the No. 3 national seed. The Commodores (51-21) hadn't homered -- anywhere -- since May 16. The stadium smiled on Norwood, a junior, a rare time in the entire series that there was no wind blowing in. The flags in center field fell still. Nashville danced.
Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference's seventh consecutive team to make the finals, became the fourth SEC team to win it all in that stretch. The winning ball came to rest underneath the outfield sign of fellow-SEC World Series team Ole Miss, a home run that adds fuel to the fire that already broods hate toward the mighty SEC.
"Words can't describe this experience. This is definitely a day that I'll never forget," said Fulmer, who started and at one point retired 10 straight.
Norwood also made his smart coach look even smarter. Corbin bumped Norwood up a spot in Wednesday's lineup, part of a few changes to try and get the middle of the order out of a funk.
"We really wanted to get Johnny up there closer to the top to where he would see a series of at-bats," Corbin said. "You could see the way he was taking pitches today, that he was seeing the ball really well. His heartbeat was right, his emotions were right, and it does make you look good when kids produce, but the kids have to produce."
Things smell great in Music City. It was the first time Norwood hit fourth all season. He had already reached base his first three times up, a pair of walks and a single in the sixth that eventually became a 2-0 Vanderbilt lead. When Virginia tied it on Brandon Towns' grounder and E6 in the bottom of the sixth, Norwood had the answer.
The answer came on a 1-0 pitch, off a high fastball coming in on him. With one swing, Norwood shocked an entire stadium, a crowd of 18,344. He entered the game with a series-high five RBI, none that loud, none that anyone will remember more than that one. Hayden Stone and Adam Ravenelle finished it off, leaving the dangerous Mike Papi with a bat in his hand on deck.
Ravenelle's heroics got lost in the moment. After the home run, he escaped a bases-loaded jam to pick up his third save. Another No. 3 that went toward Vandy's first title and irritates even more the rest of the country tired of the SEC.
Left fielder Bryan Reynolds made one of the top plays of the World Series when he took a body shot to the wall to catch a fly ball in Vandy's Omaha opener. Norwood cleared the wall for the Wednesday win. Corbin has taken Vandy full circle. The smallest SEC school, by a longshot, Norwood will get the biggest spotlight in the biggest highlight in Vanderbilt history. But not many players could have turned Howard's fire into a home run and Corbin deserves a lot of credit for putting the right guy in the right spot.
Corbin has gotten Vanderbilt, ranked all year by Baseball America, to Omaha twice in his 12 years. It's not easy. It took Ole Miss 42 years to get back.
Virginia had 28 hits in the first two games, to Vandy's 11, the first real offense of any of the eight teams that began the event. Vandy was outscored 31-29 in seven games in Omaha and had a 4.29 team ERA, nearly two points higher than the other seven teams' average. Dominated in a series split, one unexpected hit is all that will be remembered.
Corbin said it best.
"It's just still a little bit weird to think of because I don't want anyone to stop the dream," he said. "But I'm just happy for the kids and the university."