With his offense having struggled against Virginia's tough pitching through the first two games of the College World Series finals, Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin decided to shuffle his lineup. Part of that was inserting John Norwood into the four-hole -- the first time the junior had hit cleanup all year.
The Commodores are national champions because of it.
With the decisive Game 3 tied in the top of the eighth, Norwood turned on a high, inside fastball and delivered it over the left field fence, pushing Vandy to a 3-2 win and the first baseball national title in school history.
The homer was improbable on multiple levels. For starters, Norwood hasn't been much of a power threat, going deep just two previous times this season. The fact that he left the cavernous yard of TD Ameritrade Park is even more unlikely -- his shot was only the third home run of the 2014 College World Series. On top of everything, it came against one of the best closers in the country. Nick Howard, a first-round pick in this month's MLB Draft, had given up just two long balls in 30 appearances this season.
Virginia looked poised to climb back into the lead in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out against Vandy closer Adam Ravenelle. But Ravenelle coaxed a comebacker to the mound and got the force out at home for the second out. A groundout to the shortstop a batter later got the monster third out with no damage done.
The Cavs left the bases loaded twice, and left seven men on base over the last four innings.
Vanderbilt jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and rode the right arm of Carson Fulmer for most of the game. Just four days removed from a 90-pitch outing against Texas, Fulmer was dominant through the first five innings, allowing just two hits and keeping the Cavs off the board.
Fulmer had retired 10 straight before Robbie Coman led off the bottom of the sixth with a single. Two batters later, Daniel Pinero singled to bring in Coman from second, cutting the Vandy lead to 2-1. After a walk put men on first and second, Fulmer was finally pulled off the mound after 103 pitches. Reliever Hayden Stone hit the first batter he faced, loading the bases with two outs.
A costly error off the glove of shortstop Vince Conde was the break Virginia needed to tie the game. With the bases loaded, Kenny Towns lined a hard shot right at Conde, who booted it and allowed the tying run to cross the plate.
The Commodores, who finished third in the country in steals this season, relied on aggressive base running to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. The Virginia catcher airmailed a throw to second on a double steal attempt, allowing Dansby Swanson to stroll home for the first run of the game.
That was a good omen. Teams that scored first in Omaha this year were 12-3 coming in.
Artie Lewicki relieved Virginia starter Josh Sborz in the second, and he and Fulmer kept the game quiet through the middle innings.
Vandy jumped back on the board in the sixth to push their lead to 2-0. A throwing error from Towns at third base put a runner on second, and a groundout then moved him to third with two outs. The shortstop, Pinero, couldn't make a play on a ball chopped deep into the six-hole, and the second run scored.
Virginia, who filled the top spot in the national rankings for most of the year, finish their season 53-16.
For Vanderbilt, it's only the second NCAA championship in school history. The first was a women's bowling title in 2007.