OMAHA, Neb. — Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the opponent.
Vanderbilt was beaten this week at the College World Series. Beaten by a combined score of 24-10. Beaten to the tune of a .116 batting average in three games. Beaten with the self-inflicted wounds of six errors.
Beaten by Mississippi State, a team that claimed its first-ever national championship after a 9-0 win Wednesday at TD Ameritrade Park in the College World Series.
Beaten by a 67-game schedule taking its toll on a relatively young roster.
“You don’t ever want to be say something that would take away from Mississippi State, because they were the better team. But that being said, I think that we lost a lot of emotional energy and physical and mental energy toward the end,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “You could feel it. Our bats didn’t have the same speed in them, same strength.
“But you have to have the timely hits. You have to have big hits. You have to have pitching when it counts. And you have to make plays. And we just didn’t do that. I mean, that’s no slight on the kids. We just didn’t play our best baseball towards the end.”
Those results and those numbers from this week didn’t tell the whole story of the 2021 Vanderbilt season, although they may leave a harsh sting as the Commodores (49-18) look ahead to the offseason. Vandy has little to hang its head about, however, after another impressive season.
Vanderbilt finished just one win shy of 50, a victory that would have given the program its third national title. It became a national runner-up instead for the second time in the past six years.
The Commodores also finished second in the SEC East – just 1/2-game behind Tennessee – and swept through Regional and Super Regional play. They also survived elimination twice last week to give themselves a shot at a tile.
“It was incredible. It really was,” Corbin said of the season’s entirety. “It was so peaceful. They just created such a nice harmony. When I think of them, I think of Jayson Gonzalez. I think of Cooper Davis. I think of Hugh Fisher. Those are three seniors that didn’t play all the time, but they created such great communication within the walls. I just feel they gave themselves such a great chance because they just created great consistency in every area.
“And you get to this point, I’m sure there’s a lot of teams out there saying, ‘Well, we were better than Vanderbilt.’ They may have been. But there’s some fortune and it’s doing things right. This was an incredible group. They made it so much fun. I’m going to be really sorry to break it up. It’s unfortunate.”
While all-time great Kumar Rocker and ace Jack Leiter are likely to turn toward professional baseball later this month, Vanderbilt has all sorts of talent returning in 2022 – talent that contributed to the team’s success this season in a major way.
Freshman Enrique Bradfield started all 67 games in centerfield and finished just five stolen bases away from setting a new program record. Sophomore CJ Rodriguez grew into what many consider one of the top catchers in all of college baseball. Junior Javier Vaz found himself as a starting left fielder in the College World Series having barely sniffed the lineup in the four months prior.
Fellow sophomores Parker Noland, Spencer Jones, Carter Young, Troy LaNeve became every-day players. Young pitchers Patrick Reilly, Thomas Schultz, Christian Little, Nick Maldonado, Luke Murphy and Chris McElvain all stepped into unfamiliar roles and flourished – at times – which bodes certainly well for the future and beyond.
“They’re certainly going to learn a lot about endurance, too, because it has a lot to do with being able to execute. But there’s so much that goes into it. There’s physical and mental training,” Corbin said. “And it’s a unique young man that can come into this situation as a first-year guy and have any type of success. What (Rocker) did his freshman year, you don’t do that. People don’t do that. He’s the .5 percent. That doesn’t happen.
“So those kids have a lot of learning to do. But we’ve got a bunch of kids on that team that do. And we’ll be better with time.”
Like every team, Vanderbilt also battled the COVID-19 pandemic the entire season. It had its fair share of injuries to players who may or may not have had an influence on the final outcome as well.
Yet the Dores battled for five months right down to the very last at-bat Wednesday. And for that Corbin will also be grateful.
“I just don’t think you can measure teams based on a gold trophy that’s a half an inch bigger than the other one. And even if you don’t get that trophy, this is so tough — winning a national championship is insane. You can’t do it. It’s just so difficult to do. I’m sitting here and I’m at peace with this group.
“I know it’s disappointing for all of them, it is. Disappointing for the staff. Disappointing for me. But I’m at peace with what happened. I am. I would have loved to have won. When every kid gives everything they’ve got and it’s centered around the group, no problem with what happens. Outcomes are outcomes. They happen. We didn’t play our best down the stretch here. I get it. But that doesn’t take away anything from what the group was all about.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.