Championship memories: Vandy’s championship year ends

It was 10:55 pm on June 25, 2014, when Vanderbilt Baseball’s Championship year began, and the dreams of so many were fulfilled. At 10:45 pm on June 24, 2015, it all came to an end, at the same place, and against the same school.

The team Vanderbilt vanquished in 2014 to finally win that coveted national championship was the same one who got sweet revenge this time. Vanderbilt finished each season with the same 51-21 record, yet both were very different. Complacency never entered the equation. It never could with this coach and the program he has built, but things were never quite what we all expected them to be.

Experts immediately proclaimed Vanderbilt preseason #1 and pegged them as one of the best teams ever assembled, a squad destined to dominate all season. For some reason, that never materialized, and dominance never arrived. Non-conference performance was hit and miss, and the midweek games? Well, those often failed to go as planned either.

Opening weekend saw a flag raised on Friday, and a loss to Santa Clara on Saturday. Only a comeback prevented a series loss. Weather forced Vanderbilt to Florida and a series with Indiana State, and another defeat. These were games they were not supposed to lose. The first weekend in March saw them drop two of three at Dodger Stadium, on a walk-off to Southern California and then a 4-2 Sunday tilt against TCU. Vanderbilt stood 13-4 entering conference play, not bad but not dominate either.

A five-run 9th gave them an 8-7 SEC opening win over Arkansas in route to a sweep. But then the Commodores started dropping a game here and a game there. A loss in Auburn, one at home to Tennessee, then a midweek loss to Lipscomb, a series loss to Ole Miss at home, one on the road to South Carolina and two midweek losses to Belmont all led up to the Florida series.

Carson Fulmer was incredible, shutting out the Gators on Friday clinching the SEC East. But Florida took the last two, rallying in the 9th on Sunday to win in extras. Still, Vanderbilt had a chance to win a share of the overall conference championship, but a 1-0 loss to Alabama on the final day ended those hopes. A vintage run through the SEC Tournament took them to the championship game and another tilt with Florida, and a disappointing defeat that denied Vandy a precious top-8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Vandy put all of that behind them and embarked on an amazing run, until the ending. Vanderbilt swept the Nashville Regional 36-5, the Champaign Super Regional against #6 Illinois 17-2, and their bracket in Omaha 12-4. The 5-1 finals opening win over Virginia put Vanderbilt one win away from back-to-back championships, one short of a 10-0 run through the tournament. They had put it all together and finally looked like that unstoppable juggernaut they were always supposed to be, and then fate interceded.

The story of the 2015 Vanderbilt Commodores is one of greatness and agony. This is a group none of us will ever forget, with a legacy that will stand for all-time. Dansby Swanson was 2014 CWS Most Outstanding Player, and 2015 #1 overall pick in the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler were chosen 8th and 24th overall respectively. One national championship, one runner-up finish, four first-round picks, and countless memories are to show for Vanderbilt Baseball 2014 and 2015. It is a ride to be cherished forever.