After five years of near-misses under Coach Tim Corbin, the Vanderbilt Commodores are finally headed to Omaha.
The 'Dores booked their first ever trip to the College World Series this weekend, defeating #16 Oregon State in two games to earn a spot on college baseball's biggest stage. Corbin's team continued a hot postseason run behind dominant pitching and explosive work at the plate, outscoring the Beavers 20-4 and never trailing during the Super Regional.
The wins capped a 5-0 NCAA Tournament run in which the Commodores have rarely been threatened. In five games, the team has trailed only once, and just for half an inning, against Troy. However, the team will now have to prove that they can perform similarly away from Hawkins Field. All of Vandy's Tournament wins have come in the friendly confines of Nashville.
Vanderbilt jumped all over Oregon State on Friday night to take an early lead, and that's all that ace Sonny Gray would need to deliver a 1-0 series lead. Gray, the 18th overall pick of the Oakland Athletics in last week's draft, allowed just four hits in 6.2 innings of work. Corey Williams, another early pick in the MLB Draft, closed out the 11-1 win with 2.1 innings of perfect relief. Mike Yastrzemski and Jason Esposito added four hits, four runs, and seven RBI to power the Commodores, each homering to put the game out of reach.
Aaron Westlake's career day would seal the Super Regional 24 hours later. Westlake homered three times - the last coming as the Hawkins Field crowd chanted his name at the plate in the eighth innings - to single handedly double the Beavers' offensive output for the day. SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin didn't have his best stuff, allowing 10 baserunners in just 4.1 innings, but Will Clinard's shutdown performance ensured that Oregon State wouldn't steal Saturday's game. Clinard earned the win thanks in part to eight strikeouts in long relief.
With the win, Vanderbilt joined North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and South Carolina at the College World Series. The trip is an affirmation of how far this team has come in the past two decades. Just 15 years ago, this was a team that needed to hold fundraisers to buy new uniforms. Now, they're attracting some of the best recruits in the country, playing in front of a rabid fanbase, and headed to Omaha to prove their mettle amongst the NCAA's elite teams.
Now, this team can cap that meteoric rise by bringing a national championship home to Nashville. If they can, it'll look pretty nice next to out 2007 Women's Bowling NCAA Championship in the trophy case.
*Sorry about the lateness of this post - had to attend a wedding. Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis tomorrow and as the week rolls on.