JOE BIDDLE: Vandy is Avis of NCAA Regionals - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Vandy is Avis of NCAA Regionals

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin was hoping to be the No. 1 seed among the 16 teams that drew home field regionals.

But Corbin discovered Monday his team was No. 2, behind Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion North Carolina.

No. 2 has seemed to work for Avis Rental Cars for years. Their longtime TV ads proclaimed. Avis: We Try Harder.

The Commodores lost out of the top seed when they lost the first game of the SEC double elimination tournament and was edged by LSU, 5-4, in 11 innings in the championship game Sunday in Birmingham.

It matters not which seed a team draws at this point. You have to win your way to Omaha, no matter what team steps in front of your path.

Corbin alluded to how far this program has come since his first team needed a walk-off home run from Worth Scott in the final inning of the regular season to beat Tennessee, 6-5, and punch its ticket to the SEC Tournament. It was 2003 and the first time Vanderbilt made the SEC Tournament since 1996.

When they arrived at the Hoover Met, Corbin noticed all the SEC team banners hanging around the minor league park.

"They spelled Vanderbilt, Vanerbilt (sic),'' Corbin said at a Monday press conference after the ESPN announcement of the 64-school field.

"They didn't ever think about changing it. I told our guys it was almost like – they'll only be here a couple of days, don't worry about changing it.''

Corbin thought back to that year and reflected on the journey.

"You look back at what we've done and it is unique,'' he admitted. "I would like to think we've moved forward a little bit and maybe gained a little bit of respect.''

They have an opportunity to extend the season all the way to Omaha and what would be the Commodores' second College World Series appearance under Corbin.

But tournament baseball brings out the best in all teams. Vanderbilt's opening opponent at Hawkins Field is Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champion East Tennessee State.

Even the 4-seeds in the four team double elimination regionals believe they have a chance to advance to Omaha. East Tennessee does have a gem of a starting pitcher in right-hander Kerry Doane. Doane leads the NCAA in complete games. He is an impressive 13-1 with a 1.99 ERA. The Bucs were 36-22 in the regular season and 17-10 inside the A-Sun.

But it only takes one swing of the bat to turn a dream into a nightmare, as Corbin painfully learned in 2007 when underdog Michigan sent freshman Alan Oaks to the plate in the top of the 10th inning to pinch-hit off David Price, last season's Cy Young winner with Tampa Bay and the first player picked in the Major League's June amateur draft in 2007.
 
Price fell behind 3-1 in the count when his next pitch met the meat of Oaks' bat and the ball sailed over the fence, knocking Vanderbilt out of the tournament with its second 4-3 loss to the Wolverines in 72 hours.

It remains to this day the most devastating loss in Corbin's career, and it probably ranks right up there with Price.

To add salt to the wound, Oaks previously had attended one of Corbin's baseball camps.

So nothing is ever certain in baseball. Vanderbilt players must put the LSU loss behind them.

"You get to this time of year, everybody is feeling good about themselves,'' Corbin said. "I think it's a start-over. Everyone gets refreshed. You get to jump in the car, line up on Friday and start the season all over again.''

Corbin noted that when something becomes relevant, it is fun.

"And,'' he said of the regional, "this is relevant.''

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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