June 14, 2014 - June 25, 2014 • TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska • Attendance: 347,740
REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD
A College World Series dominated by pitching and defense ended with a blast, thanks to Vanderbilt’s John Norwood.
Norwood rocketed a 97 mph fastball from Virginia closer Nick Howard into the left-field bullpen in the eighth inning Wednesday night to give the Commodores a 3-2 win at TD Ameritrade Park in front of 18,344 in the final game of the college baseball season.
Norwood’s homer and clutch relief pitching by Adam Ravenelle in the final two innings capped a 51-21 season for the Commodores, who won their first national championship in a men’s sport. The school’s only other title came in women’s bowling.
“There’s a toughness trait that grew within this team, and it took awhile to grow,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I think they realized that if they did, they could be in a situation like this. I’m just happy for the kids and the university.”
Much was said and written over the 12 days of the 68th CWS about the lack of offense, not only in Omaha’s cavernous ballpark but in college baseball in general. Pitchers and defenders had been the stars of the show in many of the games at TD Ameritrade, but the final hero was Norwood.
His third homer of the season was Vanderbilt’s first in 17 games since May 16. It was also just the second homer Virginia pitchers had allowed in 105 innings in 11 NCAA tournament games.
“Going into it, you don’t think there’s a likelihood that somebody is going to hit the ball out,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “You’ve got to credit Johnny Norwood. The pitch was up in the zone, and he took an aggressive swing.
“I said it the other night, a lot of times in the history of this series, somebody has a defining moment. Norwood stepped up, took a great swing and drove the ball out of the ballpark.”
Norwood downplayed his game-winning blast, instead praising the starting pitching of Carson Fulmer and the defense of Dansby Swanson, the outstanding player of the CWS. Fulmer held Virginia scoreless through the first five innings. Swanson’s outstanding defensive play in the sixth kept Virginia (53-16) from having a bigger inning than it did, when it scored twice to tie the game.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but it’s just not myself,” Norwood said. “You don’t get here without the rest of your team. The home run is awesome, but it’s just everybody. Everyone’s picking each up, no matter what.”
At the end, it was Ravenelle who provided Vanderbilt with its final boost to the title. Virginia came right back after Norwood’s homer to put its first two men on base in the eighth against winning pitcher Hayden Stone.
Corbin called for Ravenelle, who had saved Vanderbilt’s 9-8 win in the opening game of the best-of-three series. Virginia advanced the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice, and then Ravenelle hit Kenny Towns with a pitch to load the bases.
He came back to get the Cavaliers’ next two hitters. John La Prise and Brandon Downes hit into force plays to wiggle out of the inning. Stone also had left Virginia with the bases loaded in the sixth after Vince Conde’s fielding error had allowed the Cavaliers to score the tying run.
Ravenelle had not saved a game prior to Vanderbilt’s arrival in Omaha, but the junior right-hander picked up three in the Commodores’ five CWS wins, including two in their final three games.
“Coming into the College World Series, I couldn’t tell you I was going to be closing games here,” Ravenelle said. “It’s an opportunity, and I was just trying to take it pitch by pitch and let my defense work.
“I’ve trusted those guys all year. These guys are the best defense in the country.”
Nate Irving, C, Virginia
Kevin Cron, 1B, TCU
Dansby Swanson, 2B, Vanderbilt
Tyler Campbell, 3B, Vanderbilt
C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Texas
John Norwood, OF, Vanderbilt
Rhett Wiseman, OF, Vanderbilt
Brandon Downes, OF, Virginia
Branden Cogswell, DH, Virginia
Artie Lewiciki, P, Virginia
Brandon Waddell, P, Virginia