Call her the closer.
For the third time in as many days, Astra Sharma earned the decisive point for Vanderbilt’s women’s tennis team. The only difference Tuesday was the point she earned made the Commodores national champions.
The redshirt freshman from Perth, Australia, needed four match points before she finally broke serve and won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 at No. 2 singles, which gave Vanderbilt a 4-2 victory over defending champion UCLA.
"The seniors on that team have been to four straight final fours," Vanderbilt coach Geoff Macdonald said of the Bruins, via NCAA.com. "We were in new water for us. I have to say, hats off to my team for handling an incredibly large moment, with class, guts, and great spirit. It's a dream come true. It's such an elusive, difficult thing to accomplish."
The national championship is the first for the women’s tennis program and the school’s third all-time. The baseball team won the College World Series last year, and the women’s bowling team won in 2007.
Sharma, who also closed out matches vs. Florida on Sunday and USC on Monday, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“There are so many opportunities for us for the future," Sharma said. "I just think the work ethic and discipline of this team is amazing. We know now what it takes to win a national championship. I think next year, we will be just as good.”
Vanderbilt won the doubles point with a sweep of the three positions and quickly earned the first two points of singles. Courtney Colton’s 7-6, 6-5 victory at No. 4 and Ashleigh Antal’s 6-1, 7-6 triumph at No. 6 made it 3-0 and meant the Commodores needed one point for the title.
UCLA finally got on the board with a win at No. 1 singles. Things got interesting when Vanderbilt’s Frances Altick fought to extend her match at No. 3 singles to a third set. At 5-5 in a second set tiebreaker, she called a ball out but the chair umpire overruled her. It was the third time that happened, which meant that UCLA not only got that point but Altick was penalized a point and lost the tiebreaker 7-5, not to mention the match 6-4, 7-6.
Sharma, though, was not finished. Before long, UCLA was.
“I knew that Vanderbilt was going to be a tough team,” UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. "I had no idea how tough because we'd never played them. We fought really hard to stay in it and came out a little short. We had our best team out there, and they were just able to be a little more consistent than us.”
(Photo: Vanderbilt athletics)
Joe Fisher did not know what he was going to say in the event Vanderbilt’s baseball team won a national championship on Wednesday.
Likewise, he had no idea what he actually did say when the Commodores defeated Virginia 3-2 in the decisive game of the 2014 College World Series on Wednesday.
“After the game people were asking me what I said, and I had to tell them I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember,” Fisher told the Nashville Post. “… I spent a lot of time thinking about it, hoping not to screw it up. I didn’t really decide what to say, but I tried to say to myself, ‘I’d better keep this simple because if I don’t then I’m going to get emotional and I won’t be able to finish it.’
“I was really just kind of focused on trying to be as simple, direct and straight-forward as I possibly could to explain what just happened.”
That’s why his call of Adam Ravenelle’s game-ending strikeout of Daniel Pinero won’t make any anthologies of athletic poetry. The words themselves don’t exactly leap off the page:
One-and-two the count to Pinero.
Swing and miss, strike three!
Dreams do come true!
The Vanderbilt Commodores are college baseball’s national champions.
What he did, though, was vary his volume, pitch and passion, emphasizing a few key words to drive home the point that this was a memorable moment in Vanderbilt athletics history. In particular, he hammered out those last two: national champions.
In a way, Fisher had been building to that moment for some time.
He has been the play-by-play voice of Vanderbilt football, men’s basketball and baseball for 16 years and for some of those the real challenge was to feign enthusiasm more than it was to reign it in. Four times in the last six years, though, he was on the mic when the football team played in bowl games, three of which they won. Two years ago he called the men’s basketball team’s victory in the SEC tournament championship game, its first in 62 years.
“Years ago I thought, ‘Boy it would sure would be great if I had an opportunity to do one really meaningful game – oh, to get to a bowl game, oh, to get to the NCAA Tournament,’” he said. “Now it’s kind of expected.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’ve sort of been in the golden age for Vanderbilt athletics and I would have to say that’s correct.”
Wednesday night, he got his crowning moment.
“I guess when you win a national championship you’d have to put it up there,” Fisher said. “I’ve had some great ones — Shan Foster’s senior night; Worth Scott’s home run years ago; Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to beat Tennessee — but never one that had this much on the line.
“It certainly ranks up there.”
Tim Corbin never has enjoyed the way a college baseball season ends.
The latest one is no different.
Even though his Vanderbilt Commodores won the College World Series and were feted with an on-campus celebration that drew several thousand fans Thursday evening, Corbin was uncomfortable with what comes next.
Every year, within a day or two of their final game players fan out across the country to participate in summer leagues. Or they sign professional contracts and immediately move into that phase of their career. Or they go home.
“The unfortunate thing is the schedule of school is difficult when it comes to closure with these kids because they do just up and leave,” Corbin told the Nashville Post. “That part I find to be unfortunate and I find frustrating because you would like more time to decompress and share your thoughts with them.
“But you’re not given that time with them.”
These players won’t be in class next week, which means they won’t share time in study hall. They won’t receive pats on the back as they walk across campus. They won’t gather in small groups at night in dorm rooms to play video games or meet up in the cafeteria to relive all they accomplished. They won’t be drawn to the locker room to bask in the glow of the trophy.
When the players do come back for the fall semester and gather for the first time, they will be a different team.
So just like that, it’s over. Just as it was for the first 11 teams Corbin coached at Vanderbilt.
The difference comes later. Much later.
As the first Vanderbilt men’s team in any sport to win a national championship, the 2014 Commodores can look forward to a banner raising and ring presentation. Team members will be inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame. There will be reunions. Heck, there probably will be a time when a statue of Corbin is unveiled in front of Hawkins Field.
They’ll go their separate ways now but what they accomplished will tie them together forever.
“The thing that’s going to be strange is that we don’t have a little more time with them, maybe, to process the whole situation,” Corbin said. “But I think future events will bring this group together again.
“They, obviously, will be back on campus again and we will re-create these memories at some point.”
As Vanderbilt players and coaches celebrated their College World Series championship on Wednesday night, it was impossible not to think back to the fall of 2008.
That’s when 23-year-old David Price, a former Vanderbilt standout, became an unlikely playoff hero and closed out Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.
After the final out that landed the Tampa Bay Rays a spot in the World Series, the tall left-hander threw his arms into the air and let loose a cathartic roar that echoed all the way back to Middle Tennessee. In the days, weeks, months and years that followed Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin talked about that moment as Baseball’s payback for what it had taken from Price a year earlier.
There was no doubt that the 2007 Commodores were the best college baseball team in the country that year and that Price was the best player. A long run at the top of the rankings, a 54-13 record and Price’s bevy of All-America and Player of the Year honors were testament to each.
That team was not a national champion, though. It fell short because Price gave up a most unlikely home run against Michigan. It provided the difference in the decisive game of the NCAA regional at Hawkins Field and brought about a premature end to an unforgettable season.
Baseball can be a cruel game, Corbin has said often, but typically it also is a forgiving one. With that moment in Boston a little more than a year later Price and Baseball were even.
The 2014 Commodores probably are not as talented as that 2007 team. Or the one in 2011, Vanderbilt’s first to make the College World Series. Or last year’s, which not only won 54 games but set an SEC record with 26 wins in conference play.
Unlike those or any others, however, the 2014 Commodores are national champions. What they lacked in star power they more than made up for in pitching depth, patience at the plate — oh, and just a bit of karmic balance.
At a College World Series where home runs were a rarity, for a team that had not hit one over the fence since the last weekend of conference play center fielder John Norwood drove a fastball over the left field fence in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday night. It wasn’t just any fastball either. It was thrown by Virginia closer Nick Howard, who had not allowed a run in four previous NCAA Tournament appearances, including a four-inning stint in a 15-inning victory over TCU.
That was the difference as Vanderbilt won 3-2 in the decisive game of the best-of-three championship series over a team that was the preseason No. 1 that featured three of the top 38 picks in the 2014 MLB draft, including Howard (19th overall).
Years after it settled with Price, Baseball is now square with Corbin and everyone else associated with his program. Norwood’s home run not only settled the debt of seven years earlier, it did so — based on the fact it happened in a national championship game — with interest.
The game now owes someone else. On balance, most would have to say the wait was well worth it.
The celebration starts in earnest at 1:30 p.m. on West End.
That’s when Vanderbilt’s baseball team, direct from Omaha and its College World Series triumph, returns to campus. The party continues with a 6 p.m. celebration at the soccer/lacrosse stadium.
From the Vanderbilt athletics department:
The team will arrive back from Omaha around 1:30 off of Jess Neely Drive in front of the McGugin Center, and a victory celebration will take place at 6 p.m. at the Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium and will feature Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin and the Commodore team. Admission is FREE and fans will have the opportunity to hear from members of the team, get autographs and take photos with the championship trophy. Championship merchandise will also be available for purchase.
Free parking is available in the Medical Center lots located at the corner of Natchez Trace and Jess Neely Drive. Fans can enter the Soccer/Lacrosse via the ramp located on the east side of the McGugin Center.
It wasn’t a walk-off, but John Norwood’s eighth-inning home run Wednesday ensured that Vanderbilt did not walk away from the 2014 College World Series empty-handed.
The Commodores left Omaha with the NCAA championship trophy.
Norwood, a junior center fielder, delivered the decisive run with a solo shot to left field that was the difference in Vanderbilt’s 3-2 victory over Virginia in the decisive game of the best-of-three championship series.
“He put a heck of a swing on an elevated fastball,” second baseman Dansby Swanson, the CWS most outstanding player, said. “He hit it and he knew it was gone.”
It was VU’s only home run in seven games at this year’s CWS and its first since Zander Wiel hit one during the final weekend of conference play.
For his career, Norwood had four home runs in his career, two this season, before he got a hold of a fastball from Virginia closer Nick Howard, the 19th overall pick in this year’s Major League Baseball draft and the Atlantic Coast Conference record holder for saves in a season.
“Johnny’s strength and bat speed matched with the velocity of Howard … I mean, that doesn’t happen to [Howard],” coach Tim Corbin said. “A 97 mile-per-hour fastball and someone to turn it around like that takes a great amount of ability.”
Norwood produced his share of runs throughout the CWS. He drove in six runs in seven games at Omaha, including one in each of the last four. He also had four multi-hit games.
His recent play prompted Corbin to bat Norwood fourth for the first time all season Wednesday. In that spot he was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI – courtesy of one unforgettable home run.
“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’s the biggest thing.”
Vanderbilt’s first national championship in a men’s sport was a long time coming.
It didn’t come easy either.
Tim Corbin’s Commodores won the 2014 College World Series on Wednesday when they defeated Virginia 3-2 in the decisive game of the best-of-three championship series at Omaha.
Along the way Vanderbilt overcame a loss to Stanford in the second game of the Super Regional, a loss to Texas in CWS pool play and a loss to Virginia in the second game of the final series. Each time it staved off elimination with a victory in the next contest.
The last team to lose three times in the NCAA tournament and still win the national championship was Fresno State in 2008.
“I just credit our kids,” Corbin said. “Our ability to come back and be resilient … there’s a toughness, team-character trait that grew within this team and it took a while to grow. But I think they realized if it did they could be in a situation like this.”
Additionally, the Commodores became the 10th Southeastern Conference team (all since 1990) to win the College World Series. However, they were the only one among that group that lost at least 20 games.
SEC COLLEGE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS
2014: Vanderbilt (51-21)
2011: South Carolina (55-14)
2010: South Carolina (54-16)
2009: LSU (56-17)
2000: LSU (52-17)
1997: LSU (57-13)
1996: LSU (52-15)
1993: LSU (53-17-1)
1991: LSU (55-18)
1990: Georgia (52-19)
“I just can’t describe the love and respect that I have for every one of my teammates,” starting pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “My first day here last year … I knew that I had gotten into something very, very, very special.
“I look at all my teammates as my brothers. I look at [Corbin], our pitching coach [Scott Brown] as father figures. Words can’t describe this experience. … I just can’t thank enough everyone being there to pick each other up. It’s something that we always dreamed of doing as a team and we finally accomplished it.”
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS