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Guest MIKE LOPREST

Three years after devastating death of teammate, Vanderbilt comes 'full circle' with College World Series title 2

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Guest MIKE LOPREST

Corbin can put this trophy next to the 2014 championship. He came to a Vanderbilt program renowned for little 16 years ago, and has turned it into a monster. One of the men who helped him build that machine was Erik Bakich, the Michigan coach he beat this week. “There’s a conflict of thoughts that way,” Corbin said.

There had been no raucous Vanderbilt dogpile in the regional, nor super regional. Those were merely stepping stones to where the Commodores sought to go. There would be no such ceremony of accomplishment until the deed was done, which is was Wednesday when they slashed away at Michigan’s vaunted pitching staff.

After Monday’s Game 1 win, the Wolverines seemed so close to their first championship in 57 years, and the Big Ten’s first since 1966. Close to reversing the June expectations of teams from places such as Ann Arbor, Mich. “The only way you can have an Omaha program is if you first have an Omaha team,” Bakich said. “This is very much a tipping point for us.”

But to finish the job, there were too many missed opportunities in the end — 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position the past two games. Too many strikeouts — 40 the past three nights against the Commodores’ electrified arms.

But most of all, there was too much Vanderbilt. Led by the dominance of the pitchers — especially the magical Kumar Rocker — the Commodores played like a team that had a sure and certain sense of the next step . . . .every step.

Rocker, with two wins, was named the Most Outstanding Player and has a blinding future. But he deferred to the Vanderbilt vets. “They took me along for the ride,” he said. “They did it. I just helped out a little bit.”

Wednesday night was the final testament to the Commodores’ purpose, that gave birth to a steady, inexorable march.

“Sometimes consistency is devalued because it’s so hard to come by, it’s so hard to do those consistent things all the time, and have a group of 50 people and have no drama whatsoever,” Corbin said. “They just had a unique chapter. They wrote their own chapter. It was theirs. They felt like they were capable of doing something special. We didn’t talk about outcomes during the year, we didn’t talk about winning the national championship, we didn’t talk about winning an SEC championship. But we talked about doing a lot of little things right.”

And Wednesday night, they talked about Teddy and Susan, and Donny.

“When you lose your own child, I don’t know how you  go through that,” Corbin said. “Life’s never the same. It’s a deep scar. Years and years still can’t replace him. I’m just glad they could be a part of it. They’ve just been part of these kids for so long. If there is any positive from losing Donny is the fact that we’ve created such a close, close friendship with the Everetts. Teddy and Susan are special people. We look at them as staff members.”

When the trophy presentation concluded Wednesday night, the players posed for pictures. Teddy and Susan left the stage to watch the party from afar. So wonderful to share, and yet so painful to watch.

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