Either way, Vanderbilt’s season will end Wednesday.
It would help their chances for a second straight national championship if the Commodores could get off to a good start.
Tuesday they didn’t score at all and fell 3-0 to Virginia in Game 2 of the final series. That forced a winner-take-all third contest Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN).
“I think you have to, you have to just wipe the slate clean,” first baseman Zander Wiel said. “You can't carry the game with you. Obviously we struggled (Tuesday) night offensively. But we just have to have a clear mind going into (Wednesday) and do what we do every day, and that's trust our preparation and trust our (batting practice), and we'll be ready to go.”
Simply put: Most of runs the Vanderbilt has produced at Omaha have come in the later half of games.
The Commodores have scored 17 times in their five CWS games thus far but only three in their first three innings of those contests. They scored that many in the ninth of their opener, when they rallied to defeat Cal State Fullerton. A day later scored the only run they needed in the seventh inning against TCU.
A breakdown of when Vanderbilt has scored runs during the 2015 College World Series:
Innings 1-3: 3
Innings: 4-6: 7
Innings: 7-9: 7
Three of the last four games have been scoreless ties at least through five innings. Tuesday’s contest turned in the bottom of the sixth, when Virginia scored three times – all with two outs and all unearned.
“They got the timely hit,” coach Tim Corbin said. “They got the timely hit that we didn't. So you have to credit them.”
Vanderbilt has now played 16 all-time games at the CWS. Tuesday was just the second time it failed to score a run, also the second time in 70 games this season. At last season’s CWS, the Commodores bounced back from a 4-0 loss to Texas and won 4-3 in 10 innings, which clinched a spot in the championship series. They closed out the 2015 regular season with a 1-0 loss to Alabama then defeated Missouri 7-6 in 10 innings in their first game at the SEC Tournament.
In last year’s CWS final, Vanderbilt scored the decisive run on John Norwood’s solo home run in the eighth inning of Game 3. However, it started that contest with one run in the first and never trailed.
“They're trying. They're kids,” Corbin said. “They want to hit, too. … And I thought even during the middle of (Tuesday’s) game, even at the end of it I thought they were very positive. I thought we were going to crack it open at some point and always do. It just didn't happen.”
(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)
Everybody had fun last year.
So once again, with its baseball team in position to win a national championship, Vanderbilt will open its football stadium to anyone who wants to watch Tuesday’s College World Series Game. The contest, Game 2 of the CWS final between the Commodores and Virginia, will be shown on the stadium’s primary video board.
Admission and parking are free and gates open at 6 p.m., one hour before the start of the game. Fans may sit on the field (blankets upon which to sit are encouraged) or in the stands.
Concessions will be available but fans also will be permitted to bring their own food and drink. Alcohol of any kind is prohibited.
Vanderbilt won the best-of-three championship series opener 5-1 on Monday. With one more victory the team will win its second straight national championship, Vanderbilt’s third in a 13-month span and fourth all-time.
The women’s tennis team won the NCAA championship last month. The women’s bowling team won the school’s first national title in 2007.
A large crowd gathered to watch last year’s championship-clinching contest, a 3-2 victory over Virginia on June 26, 2014.
If the Commodores lose Tuesday, the stadium will be open again for Wednesday’s decisive contest.
If you’re going to win the College World Series for a second straight year, you might as well do so emphatically.
That’s what South Carolina did. After winning it all in 2010, the Gamecocks came back in 2011 and went undefeated at Omaha.
That’s what Oregon State did. The Beavers won the national title in 2006 then did it again in 2007, their encore performance a string of five straight triumphs without a defeat.
Following a 5-1 victory over Virginia in Game 1 of the 2015 final series, Vanderbilt is in position to become the third team in the last decade to repeat as CWS champions – and the third to go undefeated in the CWS the second time around.
The Commodores’ opportunity comes in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN). If they fail to sweep, the decisive Game 3 will be Wednesday.
“I think the thing that we've been preaching the past couple of years is just staying in the moment, worrying about what we can control right now,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “That's what we're going to do. We're going to worry about (Tuesday) when it gets here and our preparation when it's time for that, and then the game when it gets here. Just like we do, try to win innings frame by frame.”
A look at Vanderbilt’s results at the 2015 College World Series:
Vanderbilt 4, Cal State Fullerton 3
Vanderbilt 1, TCU 0
Vanderbilt 7, TCU 3
Vanderbilt 5, Virginia 1
Winning championships is never easy. There is reason to believe, though, that it does get a little easier the second time around.
A year ago Vanderbilt faced elimination twice before it hoisted the trophy. This time it has not trailed in any of its last three games.
South Carolina lost its CWS opener in 2010 then won six straight for its first title. Oregon lost its 2006 opener and then dropped Game 1 of the finals en route to that first championship.
It is not like the Commodores have dominated every step of the way since they got to Omaha this year. A rain delay that suspended play overnight was a big factor in the opening victory over Cal State Fullerton. They then were no-hit for more than six innings in the first game against TCU before Zander Wiel’s home run provided all the scoring.
“It's a game of baseball. You never know what to expect,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said Sunday. “And every time you go out there things could go your way or not. But at the end of the day we stuck to our routine and we stuck to what we do on a daily basis. And we're lucky to be here and get a chance to do it again.”
At this point, they have a chance to do it exactly the way the two most recent repeat champions did it.
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
Carson Fulmer did not go the distance.
The junior right-hander was not knocked out of Game 1 of the College World Series final on Monday, though. Far from it.
Fulmer capped one of the finest seasons ever by a Vanderbilt pitcher with 7 2/3 shutout innings during which he struck out eight, walked two and allowed two hits. When coach Tim Corbin went to get him after 118 pitches, the Commodores were well on their way to a 5-1 victory over Virginia, which left them one win shy of a second straight national championship.
“Obviously, I mean, when I see (Corbin) walking out, I know that's it,” Fulmer, the eighth overall choice in this year’s Major League draft, said. “And you have to put all frustration aside. And what made it big for me was not only did I have Coach there but I had the whole infield. And I consider those guys my best friends, and along with the other guys on my team. And for me being able to spend that moment with them and just look back on the brotherhood that we created, and I'm on top of it with a win at the end of the game.
“So it's definitely a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life, and I couldn't have asked for it to happen any better.”
It’s tough to imagine anyone could have pitched any better either than Fulmer did this season.
He was good enough in his biggest game of the year that he actually improved many of what already were gaudy stats. He became the fourth pitcher in SEC history (the first from Vanderbilt) to lead the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season. His numbers in those areas also rank among the best in program history for a single season.
TOP OF THE LIST
A look at Vanderbilt’s single-season leaders in wins, innings pitches and strikeouts:
Carson Fulmer (2015) – 14
Tyler Beede (2013) – 14
Grayson Garvin (2011) – 13
David Price (2007) – 133.1
Carson Fulmer (2015) 127.2
Sonny Gray (2011) – 126.0
David Price (2007) – 194
Carson Fulmer (2015) – 167
David Price (2006) – 155
A relief pitcher for the first half of his three seasons with the Commodores, Fulmer is the only player in Vanderbilt history to rank among the top five in career wins (24, tied for fourth) and saves (14, fifth).
He joined Jeff Peeples as the only ones ever to finish with an ERA of better than 2.00 more than once. Peeples did it three straight seasons (1971-73). Fulmer had a 1.83 this season after a 1.98 in 2014.
“I've used Joe Frazier, the fighter, as an analogy because he keeps coming and he keeps throwing punches and he's just looking for your jaw, he's not trying to maneuver around you,” Corbin said. “As a kid, we just haven't had many like him. He's one of the most special kids that we've ever had on our campus.
“… He's a special, special competitor, and he'll go down as one of the greatest pitchers to ever pitch at Vanderbilt.”
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
One year later nothing has changed.
Yet one year seemingly has made a huge difference in the burgeoning baseball rivalry between Vanderbilt and Virginia.
Just as they did last year, the schools will meet in the College World Series final, which begins Monday (7 p.m., ESPN) and will strengthen their reputations as two of the nation’s most prominent programs. Each has consistently risen to this point over the last 10-plus years and in each case the impetus for the climb was a change at the top.
Tim Corbin became Vanderbilt’s baseball coach in 2003, a year earlier than Brian O’Connor took over at Virginia – and the Cavaliers have been a step behind (maybe less, at times) the Commodores ever since. At least that has been the case when the two have gone toe-to-toe.
Their first meeting was in an NCAA Regional in 2004. It was Corbin’s second year in charge and O’Connor’s first. And what a difference a year made then.
The Cavaliers hosted the regional but the Commodores, the No. 2 seed, clearly were the class of that four-team field. They cruised to three straight victories, the last 7-3 over the host school in the first modern era meeting between the programs.
The teams then went their separate ways for a decade but continued to move in the same direction. They took some lumps along the way. Vanderbilt, for example, was routed by Texas in the 2004 Super Regional and didn’t make it to the College World Series until 2011. Virginia needed six tries to get out of the regional.
O’Connor and his group got a leg up when they made the College World Series in 2009, two years before Corbin finally got the Commodores there.
Yet when Vanderbilt and Virginia finally played again a decade after their first encounter – this time to determine the best team in the country – it was the Commodores that once again got the better of things, although the difference between the two had shrunk to a razor thin margin. The best-of-three 2014 CWS final series went the distance and Vanderbilt’s victories both were by a single run.
Vanderbilt has spent the last year basking in the glow of a national championship, the school’s first in a major sport. Players and coaches have talked about the value (and the burden) of that experience as they have worked to try to do it all again.
Virginia has spent the last year wondering what it could have changed or done better or whether it ever would get another opportunity to win it all.
Still, this past year is not what distinguishes one of these programs from the other. For that, you have to go back to 2003 when Corbin began to lay the foundation for success upon which his program currently stands – a year before O’Connor did the same at Virginia.
Maybe enough time has passed so that year no longer matters. Or maybe it makes all the difference.
After all, these things take time and Corbin has been at it just a little bit longer (one year, to be exact) than O’Connor.
Vanderbilt and Virginia will meet in the College World Series final for the second straight year.
It is a rare occurrence that bodes well for the Commodores’ chances to successfully defend their 2014 national championship.
Only twice previously has the championship series been a rematch. Each of the first two times the result was a repeat for the school that won the first time. Most recently (2006-2007) Oregon State and North Carolina went the full three games the first time around but the Beavers swept the championship series in the rematch.
Vanderbilt and Virginia do it all again beginning with Game 1 on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN).
“It was a great series last year,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “It really was. It was as competitive as it gets. It was a lot of fun. It really was. ... We'll see what happens. It's going to be a tall order. The Vanderbilt club is talented.”
DO IT AGAIN
A look at the times the same teams reached the College World Series final in consecutive years:
USC vs. ARIZONA STATE
USC 3, Arizona State 1
USC 1, Arizona State 0
USC 4, Arizona State 3
(championship was decided with one game)
OREGON STATE vs. NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina 4, Oregon State 3
Oregon State 11, North Carolina 7
Oregon State 3, north Carolina 2
Oregon State 11, North Carolina 4
Oregon State 9, North Carolina 3
VANDERBILT vs. VIRGINIA
Vanderbilt 9, Virginia 8
Virginia 7, Vanderbilt 2
Vanderbilt 3, Virginia 2
“I mean, there's just got to be a lot that has to go right,” Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “You both have to be on opposite sides [of the bracket] and play successful baseball in the postseason. It's never an easy road getting here and it's never and easy road getting back to the finals, so credit to Virginia for playing as well as they have.”
Virginia (42-23) is 8-1 since the start of the NCAA Tournament, has come from behind for six of those victories and the last five have been by one or two runs. The Cavaliers faced elimination Saturday but defeated Florida 5-4.
“The majority of our games in this postseason, we found a way to win the game from the seventh inning on,” O’Connor said. “We certainly haven't walked away from any games and run away from anybody. We've just done enough.”
Vanderbilt (50-19) is a perfect 8-0 since the SEC Tournament and has outscored the opposition 12-4 at Omaha, 65-11 since the start of the NCAA Tournament. It has three shutouts in its last six games.
The Commodores’ last two victories were against TCU, the only team other than them and Virginia that made it to the CWS last year and this one.
“I think the biggest thing for anyone who comes here is … to be comfortable,” Vanderbilt pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “And obviously with the people that are in the stands and the pressure that's on the line, if you want to call it that, it's definitely … I mean, some people aren't used to it.
“I feel like last year really helped us become comfortable especially in this tournament so far and we'll definitely keep that mindset going forward.”
In this case, even the opponent is nothing new.
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
David Williams said that in recent months he and other Vanderbilt officials “have worked quietly” to raise funds for enhancements to the school’s baseball facilities.
Now that Tim Corbin’s team has reached the College World Series final for the second straight year, the school has decided to pump up the volume.
Details of the project are vague but are designed to, according to a release from the university’s athletics department, “focus on success.” It says only that the school plans to provide additional room for instruction, team-building and interaction with former Vanderbilt players now in professional baseball.
What is clear is that additional contributions are needed before work can begin.
From the release:
“The planned project builds on Coach Tim Corbin’s vision for our baseball program – to not just prepare our players for success in baseball, but to ensure they have the skills, network and lifelong ‘home’ where they return frequently to help us build the next set of leaders and players,” said David Williams, Vanderbilt athletics director and vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs.
“During the last several months, we have quietly worked with some of our most dedicated supporters to secure lead gifts for the project, and we are working hard to raise the remainder.”
There’s no question that any money used for the baseball program is money well spent. Corbin has made the baseball program one of the country’s elite and a legitmate option for any player with professional aspirations.
That the school felt the need to begin raising funds quietly makes no sense. A public announcement as soon as the plan was conceived probably would have had just as much impact.
Corbin is undeniably the most successful coach on campus and probably the most popular one. Chances are there is no shortage of people who want to help and be connected to his program.
“The new facility will be a continuation of creating the environment of a ‘home’ where mental and physical development takes precedence for our current players while serving the development of our alumni in the off season,” Corbin said in the release.
Rather than take a step back, Jason Esposito decided to walk away.
A first-team All-American in 2011 (American Baseball Coaches Association) and a key member of Vanderbilt’s first College World Series team, the 24-year-old called it a career last week after a three-plus seasons of professional baseball during which he never advanced beyond Class AA.
He started this season with Bowie, the AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, but was reassigned last week to Class A Frederick, where he spent the last two seasons, when the Orioles promoted another player.
After 47 games, he was batting .190 with three homers, 16 RBIs and an OPS of .512. So this past Tuesday when the Orioles promoted third baseman Drew Dosch from Frederick to Bowie, they sent Esposito back to Frederick. But the 24-year-old right-handed hitter never reported to the Keys and has chosen to retire.
Like so many others, Esposito appeared to have enhanced his professional prospects by playing at Vanderbilt. He elected to attend college after the Kansas City Royals selected him in the seventh round in 2008. In 2011, the Orioles drafted him in the second round.
He was a minor league Gold Glove winner in 2014 but his career average in 397 career minor league games was .230. He had 21 home runs and 158 RBIs but struck out 390 times, an average once every 3.8 at-bats.
Vanderbilt certainly looks like a team that could win a second straight College World Series.
If it happens, though, it would be inaccurate to say the Commodores repeated.
“We did it a different way last year,” coach Tim Corbin said. “We had to beat Texas in the second game. So this is new and different for us. But we'll make decent use of the two days that we have leading up to Monday.”
Corbin and his players have a little time to rest because they beat TCU 7-1 on Friday night to sweep their bracket and earn a spot in the CWS championship series.
They have won eight straight games beginning with the NCAA regional they hosted two weeks ago. They have not had to go outside their three primary starting pitchers and – at times – have made it look easy. They have had three shutouts and won three times by eight runs or more.
A year ago, the Commodores faced elimination in the Super Regional against Stanford, in CWS pool play against Texas and in the final series.
Fifteen players from that team are back to try and do it again.
“It's so special,” outfielder Rhett Wiseman said. “I mean, when you look at it, I guess I find so much excitement out of it because the guys that weren't here last year, especially the guys that were on the team that were redshirted. That's where I get even kind of choked up talking about it like just for them to be able to get back here after hearing about what it was like last year.”
Vanderbilt’s second straight CWS final appearance makes it eight straight years that at least one Southeastern Conference team has gotten there.
In the last 40 years only four schools have won back-to-back College World Series titles. The last to do it was South Carolina in 2010 and 2011.
“I think anytime you get back to the series that we're about to go into it's pretty exciting, and it's your goal coming into the year first to come to Omaha and when you get here it's to get to that series,” pitcher Walker Buehler said. “No, I don't think there's any damper on it since we were here last year.”
The best-of-three final begins Monday and is guaranteed to enhance the feeling of familiarity. Vanderbilt will face either Virginia – the team it beat in the 2014 CWS final – or Florida – the team that beat the Commodores twice in their first CWS appearances in 2011 and in this years SEC Tournament championship.
The Cavaliers and Gators play an elimination game Saturday to decide which team advances.
“I think when you have an older group, they understand what the coaching staff wants and they implement it themselves and I've said all along I do feel like a parent that's in the back seat letting your kids drive the car because you trust them. And when you trust a group of kids, it's the greatest feeling a parent can have. And that's how I feel. I told them three weeks ago, complete peace with them. I am. They do things right. They take care of one another. They take care of people. They engage with other people. They do the small things well.
“And because of that they see success. But a lot of the success they see is deserved and has nothing to do with baseball. But it comes full circle around to help them in baseball.”
Now they’re right back where they were a year ago, albeit via a different path.
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
Rhett Wiseman was a pain in the neck for TCU.
That made things even.
The junior right fielder was hit in the throat by a pitch during his first at-bat Friday but stayed in the game and went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. His two-run home run in the fifth inning was the big blow as Vanderbilt advanced to the College World Series final for the second straight year with a 7-1 victory over TCU.
“Obviously after he took the ball to the neck, hitting the home run and just staying in the game was such a big moment for him and our team,” coach Tim Corbin said.
Wiseman received treatment throughout the contest and his neck showed the effects of the high and inside pitch as he tried to bunt against TCU’s Tyler Alexander but remained a factor throughout.
His leadoff single in the third inning led to two runs that made it 3-0. His home run made it 5-0 and got things rolling again after a fourth-inning rally was cut short when umpires ruled Zander Wiel left third base early on an apparent sacrifice fly. Rather than score, Wiel was called out, the third out of the inning.
“It was just a 1-0 slider that was a little bit up in the zone,” Wiseman said of his home run. “Didn't break the way he wanted it to. And runner on second base. That was in our game plan there – runner on second, looking for some off-speed pitches and fortunate enough to get one up in the zone. Just put a good swing on it.”
Wiseman was one of three Commodores with multiple hits in the game. He also had a hit in each of this year’s first two CWS games – and he was not about to let getting hit by a pitch stop him from getting a couple more in the latest.
“College World Series, baby,” Wiseman said. “Would have to kill me to take me out of that game. I think that's probably what I said. … ‘I'm not coming out of this game,’ especially that early in the game. … By the third inning I had forgotten about the neck and was back in the game.”
(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS