OMAHA, Neb. -- Vanderbilt outfielder John Norwood was determined to do something special Wednesday night.
When the Commodores won the bracket championship over Texas in what now seems like an eternity, Vanderbilt sports information director Kyle Parkinson walked into the Vandy locker room, grabbed players for the press conference, and Norwood wasn't one of those guys despite having a pair of hits and an RBI against the Longhorns.
"What do I have to do to get to the press conference?," Norwood asked after the Texas game.
"You have to do something big," Parkinson replied, as he went on his way to the press conference with other players.
Norwood, an undrafted junior, heeded that advice, and joined the legendary likes of guys like LSU's Warren Morris, South Carolina's Michael Roth and others Wednesday night with an epic performance and an eighth-inning home run to left field in a 2-2 game off Virginia big-time closer Nick Howard to propel the Commodores to a 3-2 victory and to the highest status in all of college baseball -- National Champions.
"I was just hoping that it didn't have so much top spin that it would hit the fence. But Johnny's strength and bat speed against Nick Howard's velocity. That doesn't happen to that kid," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "A 97-mph fastball and for someone to turn around on it like that takes some ability."
Perhaps Corbin and his coaching staff were feeling some potential heroics from Norwood. Upon first glance at the ballpark earlier today, Vandy's offensive lineup looked rather interesting and different. Guys were moved all around the lineup, shortstop Vince Conde moved down in the lineup, Rhett Wiseman, who's been very productive in Omaha, moved up to the two-hole, and Norwood? Corbin's staff decided to put him in the four-hole.
"That's Travis Jewett, myself and my staff getting together at lunch. Travis had a couple of lineups and he said, how do you think these feel?," Corbin said. "He said I've got a knee-buckle lineup, and I've got a conventional lineup. The knee buckle one was different. We wanted to get Johnny up there closer to the top where he would see a series of at-bats.
"You could see the way he was taking pitches today," he continued. "He was seeing the ball well. His heartbeat was right, his emotions were right, and it does make you look good when kids produce."
While Norwood's home run gave the Commodores the lead, they still had the tough task of getting through the teeth of Virginia's potent offensive lineup. That's when righthanded pitcher Adam Ravenelle, who assumed a much more important role this season, took the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ravenelle, who hadn't had a save in his collegiate career before the College World Series, escaped a massive jam in the bottom of the eighth.
He went 1-2-3 in the ninth inning to secure the national title, earning his third save in Omaha, something he absolutely couldn't have imagined just a few weeks ago.
"Every performance for me was a new situation and coming into the College World Series, I couldn't tell you that I was going to be closing games out here," Ravenelle said. "But it's just an opportunity and I was just trying to take it pitch by pitch, and let my defense work, and I've trusted these guys all year. These guys are the best defense, so that's all I was trying to do."
As was the case throughout this magical run to the program's first national title, the Commodores had more than just Norwood and Ravenelle stepping up in the winning cause. Sophomore second baseman Dansby Swanson, who earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors, had two hits in the game and played yet another game of spectacular defense.
Then, on the mound, the Commodores gave the starting nod to hard-nosed sophomore righthander Carson Fulmer on just three days rest. Fulmer was electric for 5 1/3 innings, flashing a fastball up to 96, while consistently sitting in the mid-90s and flashing dominant breaking stuff. Fulmer struck out five, walked two and allowed just two runs on three hits. After the game, the emotional Fulmer was clutching the national championship trophy like the important prize it is. The Commodores also received 1 2/3 shutout innings of relief work from freshman righty Hayden Stone, who likely will enter the 2015 college baseball season with the nation's best slider.
"You know, I look back at my first day here, and I knew that I got into something very, very special," Fulmer said after the game. "I look at all my teammates as my brothers. I look at coach as my pitching coach, and I look at them as father figures.
"Words can't describe this experience."
With Norwood's home run and Fulmer, Stone and Ravenelle's pitching performances, an enormous weight also was lifted off head coach Tim Corbin's shoulders. Corbin established himself as one of college baseball's elite head coaches quite a long time ago, but had some special teams that were unable to capture the program's first national title.
This team got that elusive national title, and Corbin, after the game as he waited in the press conference room for his players to enter, just stared off, in a daze, tough exterior and all, and cracked a special smile.
"I wanted that to be a part of us [national title], but I never thought about myself as a coach that could win it. I wanted to be a high school coach, but was always fascinated with the College World Series," Corbin said. "To be a part of a team that's here, that's winning it, it's probably magical in a lot of different ways.
"I just hope it's not a dream and someone snaps their fingers, and this is indeed true," he continued. "It's something that's a package and gift that's given to you."
It's a well deserved gift Vanderbilt University will cherish forever.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: John Norwood, of, Vanderbilt
Turning point: With the Cavaliers and Commodores tied 2-2 going to the eighth inning, tension filled the air at TD Ameritrade Park. Despite a tie game, the momentum seemed to be in Virginia's corner as coach Brian O'Connor turned the game over to righthanded pitcher Nick Howard, one of the nation's elite closers and a PG Second Team All-American. Howard induced a line out to right field from Bryan Reynolds to start the inning, but Norwood joined the likes of LSU's Warren Morris, South Carolina's Whit Merrifield, and others, as he hit the game-winning home run to left field on a 1-0 count and off a 97 mph fastball from Howard. The 'Dores had to quell a potential rally by the Cavaliers in the bottom of the inning, but Norwood's homer was the decisive blow and will go down in the history books as the most important play in not only Vanderbilt's baseball history, but also the athletic department's history.
Did you know? Until Wednesday night, Vanderbilt University had never won a men's national title, and only had one overall national title in the athletic department's history -- a 2007 women's bowling national title. It's safe to say the baseball team's national title is the most significant accomplishment in school sports history ... And here's another crazy statistic for you, before Norwood's home run in the eighth inning, the 'Dores hadn't hit a home run since May 16th.