OMAHA, Neb. — The moment Vanderbilt fans have dreamed about their entire lives became a reality on Wednesday evening.
For the first time in Vanderbilt men’s athletics history, the Commodores are national champions.
Vanderbilt center fielder John Norwood forever etched himself into Commodores lore with the game-winning home run in the top of the eighth inning, turning a 97-mph fastball from first-round pick Nick Howard around and planting it into the bullpen behind left field to break a tie ballgame.
The Commodores finished off the College World Series on Wednesday with a 3-2 win over Virginia in the deciding game of the national championship series.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin shook up his lineup on the final day of the season in search of offensive answers after the Commodores had scored just three runs in their last 15 innings of play.
Everyone except lead-off man Dansby Swanson received a new spot in the batting order from the night before.
All of that rearrangement was necessary to put Norwood in the box at that moment in time. He began the tournament hitting sixth and finished batting fourth.
Norwood’s home run was just his third of the season and the first Commodores home run since Zander Wiel hit one against South Carolina on May 16.
Vanderbilt pitcher Adam Ravenelle worked the Commodores out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth inning, inducing a come-backer and a ground ball to shortstop Vince Conde to end the Cavaliers threat.
Ravenelle also pitched the ninth inning for the save.
Vanderbilt faced elimination three times in the NCAA tournament, and each time Corbin’s team responded with a victory the next day.
This time, it was thanks to a brilliant effort from sophomore pitcher Carson Fulmer, who gave the Commodores 5⅓ innings of one-run ball while pitching on three days rest. He didn’t factor into the decision, but his 103-pitch outing went a long way in putting Vanderbilt in a position to win the game.
Winning on this stage was a long-time coming for a program that has put 73 players into professional baseball over the past decade, including 12 players that have reached the major leagues.
One-by-one the great Commodores baseball teams of the past fell short of reaching this crowning achievement.
From the heartache of a pinch-hit home run from Michigan’s Alan Oaks off Vanderbilt ace David Price to end the 2007 Commodores’ dream season short of Omaha, to the 132-pitch effort by Sonny Gray that left Vanderbilt just short when the 2011 team was eliminated from the program’s first-ever trip to Omaha, Vanderbilt supporters had the carrot dangled in front of them only to have it taken away, the moment that had eluded them may have seemed as though it was never going to come.