Although they were few, losses were no less painful for Tim Corbin.
Twelve times this season Vanderbilt ended up with an undesirable outcome. More than 81 percent of the time, though, it was victorious.
Two abrupt losses to Louisville in an NCAA Super Regional didn’t provide Corbin the closure he wanted to cap his 11th season as head coach.
“I question how long I can do stuff like this though, to be honest with you,” Corbin said after a 2-1 season-ending loss on Sunday night. “Emotionally, it is tough. Just cause the kids though more than anything else. Pretty simple. I just like spending my time around kids. And when it ends it just puts a dagger in my heart.”
Many believed the Commodores were a shoe-in for their second College World Series in three years. Vanderbilt was a consensus top five team in the preseason rankings. By late May, it was No. 1 in all five national polls.
This team matched the 2007 and 2011 ones for the most wins in a season with 54. These Commodores set a Southeastern Conference record with 26 league wins on their way to their third regular-season championship in seven seasons. They lost to LSU in 11 innings in the SEC Tournament championship game in what many thought might be a preview of the national championship series.
Twice they won 14 straight games and they enjoyed a 13-game winning streak in February and March. Only twice in the regular season did Vanderbilt lose two straight games. But neither skid came on back-to-back days — until last weekend.
Louisville (51-12) became the first team to beat Vanderbilt twice. The Cardinals, which lost 10-2 in April to the Commodores, held the No. 2 national seed to just four runs and 12 hits in two games. Making a season-ending series separated by just three runs worse was Vanderbilt left 11 runners on base in each game.
“There are so many takeaways from [the season] because we played such great baseball,” Corbin said. “But when you play great baseball for an extended period of time, it is not like you wait for something like this to happen, but you’re always a tough game away from everything ending. And it did. It is unfortunate because we played so good for such a long period of time. Then we came here and we didn’t pitch as well. We certainly didn’t hit as well. But you have to give credit to the opponent in that case. There is a reason why that didn’t happen.”
While Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell watched with satisfaction as his players celebrated the program’s second trip to the College World Series, he also hurt for Vanderbilt.
Just three years ago, he was on the opposite end. He stood stunned as the Commodores gathered at home plate and mobbed Curt Casali, who scored the winning run clinched a regional championship for Vanderbilt — and ended the season for Louisville, a No. 7 national seed that year.
On Sunday, less than an hour after his team’s record-setting 51st win of the season, McDonnell began to choke back tears as he provided perspective into how it feels to be on the losing side.
“I’ve spoken to Tim about it before. It is what you call getting kicked in the gut,” McDonnell said. “It is very hard. I hate to see a friend go through that. I feel for their kids because I know how much they’re hurting. There is a lot of joy for my team but a lot of respect for those guys. I hate the pain that those kids are going through right now because unfortunately I’ve been there.
“You don’t wish that upon anybody, especially a guy you have a lot of respect for and a program you have a lot of respect for.”
Since Corbin took over in 2003, the Commodores have won 67 percent of their games. Only T.W. Davis has a higher winning percentage but he coached just one season. He led Vanderbilt to a 19-5 record in 1904.
With Corbin, the Commodores have won 465 games for an average 42 wins in 11 years. Conversely, they’ve lost just 229 times during that span or nearly 21 games a season.
But the losses weigh heavily on Corbin, who turns 52 in August. And two defeats that ended the careers of four seniors last weekend — and possibly four juniors who were drafted in the first 11 rounds last weekend — are enough to zap his energy.
“We were just playing uphill,” Corbin said. “It felt like a car that had the emergency brake on the whole time. That was a tough one.”