OMAHA, Neb. – After winning the SEC Regular Season crown, capturing the SEC Tournament Championship in comeback fashion, and breaking just about every fathomable school record, the Commodores have put the cherry on top.
The 2019 Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the Michigan Wolverines in Game Three of the College World Series Finals by a score of 8-2.
The 2019 Vanderbilt Commodores are National Champions.
Formerly a college baseball powerhouse, the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball program has evolved into a dynasty: in the past six years, they’ve punched three tickets to the coveted College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. In those three appearances, the Commodores have appeared in the pinnacle of the sport, the College World Series Finals, each time, capturing two of three titles.
The fate of tonight’s game was in Mason Hickman’s hands. Facing elimination, he did not disappoint.
“If you want to talk about the game, it certainly starts on the mound with Mason,” Head Coach Tim Corbin said. “He’s created such harmony during the course of the year with how he’s pitched the weekday [games] and certainly down the stretch here. He’s pitched some very difficult games himself and certainly gave us a great start tonight.”
Hickman took the mound in the first inning looking as calm, cool and collected as can be.
His body language seemed loose. He acted as if he belonged on the bump with the season on the line. If anything, the only difference in today’s game was that for the first time all year, Hickman was throwing to Philip Clarke instead of the typical Commodore catcher, Ty Duvall.
To the outsider, Hickman’s kinesics did not reflect the immense stakes of this game — at least, not yet.
But shortly after the game’s first pitch echoed into the back of Clarke’s mitt for a strike, Hickman’s body language took a quick turn. Michigan’s leadoff hitter, Ako Thomas, ripped a hard-hit single into left field. Then, it was Jesse Franklin’s turn to do the same into right. The following Wolverine, Jordan Brewer, joined the hit parade by burying one into left.
Three at-bats, three base hits and a 1-0 Michigan lead later, Hickman looked rattled.
Vanderbilt’s long reliever, Jake Eder, ran out to the bullpen to warm up. All of a sudden, Hickman was just a handful of poor pitches away from being yanked, as the Wolverines were preparing to break this game open before Vanderbilt had even logged its first out.
Knee-deep in serious first inning trouble, Ethan Paul took to the mound to talk to Hickman.
And it worked.
“I just wanted to give him a little rest,” Paul said after the game. “It was the first inning and it wasn’t like there was anything to really worry about. We all trust Mason. He’s going to give us a good outing.”
“It was just a little break for me and a little reassurance,” Hickman said.
After the quick pep-talk, Hickman proceeded to strike out Michigan’s toughest out, Jimmy Kerr, and appeared to have returned to his normal, calm self.
He struck out the next two to get out of the first inning without more damage. He notched his fourth strikeout in the second en-route to an easy frame.
Hickman had done his job thus far, limiting the damage to just one run. The Commodores offense, however, was showing no signs of life.
That is, until Pat Demarco stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the second. Demarco led things off with a moonshot over the left field fence to award the Commodores with their first run of the game.
Evidently, Demarco’s home run also gave Hickman more confidence, who struck out his fifth and sixth Wolverines in a one, two, three third inning.
Desperate to break this game open in the bottom of the third, JJ Bleday and Philip Clarke both drew walks, while Paul lined a base hit to load the bases. The ensuing Pat Demarco walk was nice—forcing in a run and giving the Commodores a 2-1 lead—but they needed more insurance, more momentum and more of a cane for Hickman to lean on.
A one run lead simply wouldn’t cut it in the National Championship game.
Then along cane Stephen Scott; just as he’s done multiple times this postseason, Scott delivered a dagger. The left fielder has hardly looked like six-hole hitter since the Commodores reached the biggest stage, as he stepped in with poise and lined a base hit up the middle, breaking the game open. The hit was good for two more runs, bringing the Vanderbilt lead up to 4-1 as the third inning came to a close.
Much to Hickman’s delight, after working out of a brief, bases loaded scare in the fourth inning, his offense came through once again in the bottom of the frame. Bleday ripped an RBI single into center field, then Paul followed suit with a sacrifice fly to bring home one more.
The Commodores’ lead had grown to 6-1 and the dominance was reflected in Hickman’s performance on the bump. Every time his trusty bats gave him insurance, he kept getting stronger. Hickman dazzled in the fifth, striking out his eighth and ninth victims and retiring all three opponents. He struck out one more in the sixth inning, his tenth of the game, and sent three more Wolverines to the pine in succession.
Hickman’s night ended after six terrific frames. Jake Eder relieved him of his duties, pitching a flawless seventh inning.
Turns out, the Commodore offense wasn’t done just yet. In the bottom of the seventh, Ray drove in one more run off an RBI single to increase Eder’s cushion. Eder shuddered a bit in the eighth, forfeiting one more Wolverine run, but was still sitting pretty atop a 7-2 lead
For a Vanderbilt team that had uncharacteristically struggled to produce offense in recent games, things just seemed different tonight. The stakes were higher. This was more than a game; it was history in the making—history that Clarke wanted to be a part of.
In the bottom of the eighth, he was able to do just that. Clarke lined an RBI single to right field, scribing his name into the box score and gifting the Commodores with an 8-2 lead.
Victory was within reach. Three more outs and their mission would be accomplished. As the ninth inning rolled around, Jake Eder took the mound once more.
The half inning felt like an eternity for Commodore faithful. Foul ball after foul ball, Eder’s pitch count was skyrocketing. Ultimately, four batters later, the Vanderbilt Commodores were back on top as National Champions.
As they mounted the stage to hoist their trophy, the Commodores immediately realized a void: the spot where the late Donny Everett would’ve stood.
That spot was left empty.
In what would’ve been Everett’s senior year, Corbin’s Commodores knew just how much Donny meant to the program.
So they filled the void by inviting Donny’s parents, Teddy and Susan—who were in attendance—to join them as they accepted the National Championship trophy.
“[Teddy and Susan] mean so much to this program and all the players and the seniors,” Paul said. “I mean, to this day every time I look at Teddy I think of Donny, and just being able to share that moment with them was something that I think — I can speak for the seniors, but probably the whole team, is something that we’ve all really wanted to do. This team is so special for so many reasons, but we’re all genuinely — we all care about each other, and they’re just as much a part of the team as we all are.”
This was a historic win for Vanderbilt. It was an epic win for the SEC. But most importantly, it was a win that fulfilled the dream of Donny Everett, a talented young Commodore who tragically drowned days before his first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016.
As the night came to a close, the VandyBoys, accompanied by Teddy and Susan Everett, accepted the trophy they worked so hard to bring back home.
And they knew Donny was watching, smiling from ear-to-ear.