It was somewhere in the late innings Sunday afternoon that word filtered back to the Hawkins Field crowd regarding what the men's tennis team had done in Athens... Coach Ken Flach's Commodores had knocked off Baylor to advance to the NCAA Final Four.
Around the campuses of the SEC, the weekend was going swimmingly for Vanderbilt's athletic teams. Down at the Auburn University Club, the men's golf team had qualified for the NCAA Championship for the first time ever. Over in Knoxville on Saturday, East Tennessee native Josie Hahn had finished a very respectable second in the heptathlon. In Gainesville, the women's tennis team lost in the Elite Eight Friday to Florida, but had dealt a death blow to the Tennessee Lady Vols in getting there.
But back in Nashville, things were looking downright gloomy for Coach Tim Corbin's Vanderbilt baseball team. After taking the first two games of a crucial series from their cross-state rivals, Tennessee, the Commodores entered the ninth inning of Game Three down 5-4. Lofty dreams of an SEC Tournament were in some serious jeopardy.
A light rain began to fall upon the sellout crowd, which chanted nervously. Over the years, they had come to expect endings somewhat like the Mudville Nine. This bunch of Commodores, which had defied expectations all year, were about to have their dreams dashed on the last day of the season, unless they could find some way to manufacture a run.
Reliever Matt Buschman, after giving up the go-ahead run in the eighth, held the Vols to three-up, three-down in the ninth. UT reliever Luke Hochevar got Tony Mansolino to fly out to right for the first out in the bottom of the ninth. After Warner Jones singled, Vandy finally caught a break.
Jonathan Douillard hit a grounder to second, which the Vols' Walter Sevilla scooped up and tossed to shortstop Brian Cleveland. The crowd sighed heavily, as the Vols were about to end the game on a 4-6-3 double play. But wait... Cleveland stepped on the bag as Jones slid underneath him. The throw bounced halfway to first base and skipped to the wall, leaving Douillard safe and Vandy's hopes still hanging by a thread.
Up to the plate strode 6-0, 200-pound Worth Scott. Skipper Tim Corbin thought momentarily about replacing the career .184 hitter with a pinch hitter. Why didn't he? Corbin had a hunch.
"You just get to the point where you think something's going to happen sooner or later," Corbin said afterwards. "I told (assistant coach) Derek Johnson before I made the decision, that he's the one kid who can lift the ball out of the ballpark."
On the second pitch from Hochevar, dimunitive Worth Scott of Hendersonville did just that. He lifted a line drive over the right field fence, mere feet inside the foul pole, and set off a jubilant celebration probably not seen on this venerable field since the days of Larry Schmittou.
With one swing, Scott...
- Gave the Commodores a 6-5 win on Senior Day and a series sweep of Tennessee, the first such sweep since 1989.
- Not only put the Commodores into the SEC Tournament this week at the Hoover Met, ending a seven-year postseason itch for Vanderbilt... but denied the hated Vols from achieving the same goal.
- Gave Vanderbilt a better-than-.500 season record, the first time that's happened since 1997.
As the team mobbed Scott at home plate, a joyous and stunned Vanderbilt crowd looked on in something approaching disbelief. Surely this can't be happening, the fans mused to themselves. It was too perfect. It had been so long coming, it almost didn't seem right for downtrodden Vanderbilt fans to be experiencing this much joy in one weekend. At the olde ballpark, a game filled with plot twists had culminated in the ultimate surprise ending.
For once, Tennessee had to watch Vanderbilt fans erupt in wild celebration after seeing a win dissolve into bitter defeat. Hochevar, who delivered up the gopher ball to Scott, looked as though he'd lost his best friend.
Pinch yourselves, Vandy fans, it's true. The Commodores are headed to Hoover. That's been the goal all year for Corbin's Kids... anything else they accomplish this year is gravy. Just get there... and so they did.
Though the Diamond Dores had merely finished second in their division, for this team, on this day, it felt as though Vandy had just won the World Series. It wasn't quite a worst-to-first turnaround, but worst-to-second is still pretty darn unbelievable.
With one swing, the Shot Heard Round the SEC, Scott sealed the deal. (Pity poor Worth Scott... the junior may never have to buy himself dinner in Nashville for the rest of his life.)
Given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win a series for Vandy, to put a dagger into the hearts of Tennessee fans, and to simultaneously reverse the fortunes of the Commodores' long-downtrodden baseball program... Worth Scott knocked it out of the park.
The Commodores open SEC Tournament play Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. vs. Auburn at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala. Tickets are $90 for reserve box seats for the entire tournament, $65 for a general admission book and $48 for a Dr. Pepper general admission 6-pack. A limited number of single game tickets will be available during the week of the tournament. Call (800) 240-2300 or (205) 933-1280 to purchase tickets, or go online at www.secsports.com.