Vanderbilt edges Virginia for first national title at CWS

vu-base-1-250Home runs were rare at the College World Series this June, and for the Vanderbilt baseball team since May. Commodores center fielder John Norwood ended both droughts with one aggressive swing.

Norwood hit a tiebreaking solo home run in the eighth inning, and Vanderbilt defeated Virginia 3-2 in the third and deciding game of the College World Series championship series Wednesday night.

Vanderbilt (51-21) won its first NCAA baseball crown in only its second CWS appearance, and it won the school’s first NCAA title in any men’s sport.

With one out in the top of the eighth, Norwood, the cleanup hitter, lined a high 1-0 fastball from Virginia closer Nick Howard down the left field line and into the Virginia bullpen before 18,344 fans at TD Ameritrade Park.

It was Norwood’s third home run this season, only the third home run hit in the CWS, and the first home run by a Vanderbilt player since May 16, when first baseman Zander Wiel homered against South Carolina.

“I’m very excited for the kids, the university. We played an outstanding opponent,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “We’re fortunate in a lot of different ways. That was a heck of a college baseball game. The kids, they’re tough. They hung in there. I’m just so proud of how they matured over the course of 72 games.”

Norwood finished 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs. He was among four Vanderbilt players named to the All-CWS team, which included second baseman Dansby Swanson, who was selected the CWS’ most outstanding player.

“Coach talks about maintaining the momentum on our side, and if it stays on our side long enough, we’re going to get a big hit like that,” Vanderbilt starting pitcher Carson Fulmer said of Norwood’s blast. “Johnny’s been clutch for us all year, and he saw the fastball up and he just put the team on his back and put us in a great position.”

Virginia (53-16) loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth, but Vanderbilt reliever Adam Ravenelle got out of the jam with two ground-ball outs.

Ravenelle pitched a perfect ninth inning for his third save, striking out the final two batters swinging to set off a dog-pile celebration at the mound.

Commodores freshman Hayden Stone, who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Fulmer, earned the victory.

“We had opportunities, and it just didn’t happen for us,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “Like I said, it wasn’t for a lack of want-to or effort or the right approach or anything. Really, the credit goes to Vanderbilt. They made some outstanding pitches in the clutch. They really did. Stone had a really good breaking ball going, and Carson Fulmer is a really talented young man, and the guy they had in there at the end did a tremendous job, too.”

Virginia forced a 2-2 tie with two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Shortstop Daniel Pinero singled to drive in catcher Robbie Coman, and Pinero later scored on a bases-loaded, two-out error by shortstop Vince Conde on Kenny Towns’ hard-hit grounder.

Vanderbilt led 1-0 after five innings. Swanson, who led off the game with a single, scored the run on an error.

Swanson was at second base when Vanderbilt attempted a double steal, and he came home when Coman’s throw sailed into center field.

Left fielder Bryan Reynolds, who was at first base, tried advancing to third on the play, but he was thrown out. That was a big lift for Cavaliers starting pitcher Josh Sborz, who then allowed a walk and a single.

Sborz got out of the jam with a strikeout, but he threw 26 pitches in the inning and didn’t return. He was replaced in the second by Artie Lewicki, who had thrown seven innings of shutout relief over three CWS appearances. Lewicki held Vanderbilt scoreless over the next four innings before surrendering an unearned run in the sixth.

Fulmer pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks. He struck out five.

Photo courtesy of VU Athletics

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