OMAHA, Neb. -- A meeting of the minds between the Vanderbilt coaching staff led to a change in the Commodore batting order and ultimately, a national championship.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin penciled John Norwood in the 4-hole for Wednesday’s night’s deciding Game 3 of the CWS Finals, and the junior center fielder delivered with a game-winning home run as the Commodores beat Virginia 3-2 for its first national title in a men’s sport and just the second in school history.
“That’s [assistant coach] Travis Jewett, [volunteer coach] Drew Hedmen and myself getting together at lunch,” Corbin said. “Travis had a couple of lineups, and he said, ‘How do you think these feel?’ He said, ‘I’ve got a knee-buckle lineup, and I’ve got a more conventional lineup.’ The knee-buckle one was different. Obviously, you never know what’s going to happen because we had some guys positioned differently.”But Corbin wanted to take advantage of one of Vanderbilt’s hottest hitters as the Commodores -- outside of a nine-run third inning in Game 1 – had struggled offensively in the first two games of the Finals.
“For me, you’re only in the 4-hole the first time you come up, and that’s just the beginning of the game,” Norwood said. “You hit regardless where you are in the lineup, so it doesn’t bother me. But they had trust enough to put me there, and fortunately I was blessed enough to do something cool, and it was nice.”
Norwood came into Game 3 with seven hits in the College World Series, including two each in three of the past four games. He responded with three hits Wednesday and scored two of Vanderbilt’s three runs. His 10 hits tied for the CWS high with teammate Dansby Swanson, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“We really wanted to get Johnny up there closer to the top to where he would see a series of at-bats,” Corbin said. “You could see the way he was taking pitches [Wednesday] that he was seeing the ball really well. His heartbeat was right, his emotions were right, and it does make you look good when kids produce.”
Norwood’s line shot into the Virginia bullpen beyond the left-field wall was just his third of the season – and first since April 19 -- as he registered an RBI for the fourth consecutive game. The one swing off a 97 mph fastball from Virginia closer Nick Howard also marked the eighth time in 10 games he has scored a run and drove in a run.
“I was just hoping that it didn’t have enough top spin that it would hit the fence,” said Corbin, who watched two other Vanderbilt players just miss home runs in the CWS. “But Johnny’s strength and bat speed, with the velocity of Howard, that doesn’t happen to that kid. A 97 mile an hour fastball and someone to turn it around like that takes a great amount of ability.
“I’m just happy for Johnny. I mean, he contained himself. The kid has grown so much as a person and as a player, even in the last four weeks. You can talk to the players about his approach at the plate, his calmness, and just his overall offensive productivity. So just a big moment.”
Swansby was also concerned the ball might not have enough lift to leave the park, until he saw Norwood.
“He put a heck of a swing on an elevated fastball, and he hit it and knew it was gone. So I had a little trust in him that it would get out,” Swanson said.
Norwood finished the CWS Finals with five hits, three RBI and three runs scored. He either led or tied the CWS lead in hits (10), runs (5), RBI (6), total bases (14), home runs (1) and stolen bases (4).
Norwood was happy to share credit postgame, as Vanderbilt came up clutch in key situations to keep Virginia at bay. Swanson made a key defensive play in the Cavaliers’ only scoring inning, limiting a potential big inning to just two runs. He also singled and scored in the first inning.
And three Vanderbilt pitchers -- Carson Fulmer, Hayden Stone and Adam Ravenelle -- held Virginia in check, limiting the Cavaliers to five hits and stranding nine baserunners.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but it’s not just myself,” Norwood said. “You don’t get there without the rest of your team, and that is the biggest thing. Home run is awesome, but like I said, we don’t get there if Carson doesn’t throw or Dansby doesn’t play great D and hit. It’s just everybody. Everyone’s picking each other up no matter what.”
But oftentimes in games such as these, it comes down a singular performance, a singular play that stands out. Virginia coach Brian O’Connor foretold of just that type of scenario. And it played out again in Game 3 of the CWS Finals.
“I said the other night, a lot of time in the history of this series somebody has a defining moment, and Norwood stepped up, took a great swing and drove the ball out of the ballpark,” O’Connor said.