After a number of hand-wringing moments in a classic College World Series final game, Vanderbilt is king of the hill in baseball.
They won it in a most improbable scenario when Vanderbilt rode outfielder John Norwood’s massive solo blast over the left field fence to take a 3-2 victory over Virginia Wednesday night in Omaha.
With the score tied 2-2 going into the eighth inning, Norwood went away from the Commodores’ penchant for playing small ball.
With Virginia star closer Nick Howard on the mound, Norwood played long ball. He laced a 97-mph fastball that was up and in, depositing it over the left field fence to give Vanderbilt a 3-2 lead with one swing of the bat.
It was up, up and away for Norwood.
It was only the third home run on the season for Norwood. It was also the third home run of the season surrendered by Howard, regarded by many as college baseball’s best closer.
“I was looking for a fastball,’’ Norwood said after the game. “It’s unbelievable. This is number one. I’ll never forget it.’’
Vanderbilt pitcher Carson Fulmer was more than happy for Norwood.
“Johnny’s been clutch for us all year,’’ Fulmer said. “He just put this team on his back.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since August.’’
It didn’t come without dramatic moments.
“There were a lot of things happening all at once,’’ Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin said. “It was a heck of a college baseball game. Our kids were tough. They hung in there.’’
After they retired Virginia in the seventh inning, Vanderbilt stood six outs from winning its first ever College World Series national championship.
It was far from over.
Corbin had to call on his closer Adam Ravenelle after Hayden Stone gave up a single and walk in the bottom of the eighth. It was Ravenelle’s second appearance in the championship series.
Virginia’s Derek Fisher bunted the runners to second and third and Ravenelle loaded the bases after he hit Kenny Towns. Ravenelle then fielded a grounder from John La Prise and tossed Mike Papi out at home on a force play. Brandon Downes bounced a grounder to shortstop and Conde threw to Swanson for the third out, keeping the Cavaliers off the board.
The win would not have been possible without former Vanderbilt reliever Carson Fulmer, who converted into a starter in mid-season. He was just what the doctor ordered. Fulmer was magnificent, at one time retiring 10 Virginia batters in a row.
The Commodores held on to a fragile 1-0 lead through five innings as Fulmer retired the Cavaliers in order from the third through fifth innings.
Vanderbilt added a second run in the top of the sixth. Norwood got on base via a throwing error by the third baseman that allowed him to advance to second. Norwood moved to third on Zander Wiel’s groundout to second base for the second out.
Vanderbilt’s Vince Conde, who was 2 for 23 in the College World Series, hit a grounder in the hole and Virginia’s shortstop couldn’t make a throw, allowing Norwood to race in from third.
Virginia catcher Robbie Coman broke Fulmer’s streak of retiring 10 batters in a row with a soft single to shallow center to open the bottom of the sixth. Branden Cogswell moved Coman to second as he made a fielder’s choice.
Daniel Pinero laced a shot to right center to knock in Virginia’s first run. Vanderbilt fans’ favorite villain Mike Papi was walked and Vanderbilt went to its bullpen, ending a splendid night for Fulmer.
Hayden Stone came on to face Joe McCarthy with runners on first and second, one out. The freshman from Columbia hit McCarthy, loading the bases for Derek Fisher. Stone retired Fisher on a nasty slider for the second out.
Kenny Towns slapped a shot to shortstop Vince Conde, who dropped it for an error as Pinero came home with the tying run. Stone then struck out John La Prise to end the inning and take the game to the top of the seventh all knotted up a 2-2.
The best was yet to come and it was Norwood who made it happen.