Vanderbilt’s fairy-tale baseball season came to an end Monday in the least likely of ways.
The Commodores lost on their home field. And they lost with David Price on the mound.
A home run by pinch-hitter Alan Oaks in the top of the 10th inning lifted No. 2 seed Michigan to a 4-3 victory in 10 innings over top-seeded Vanderbilt before 3,352 fans at Hawkins Field in an NCAA regional final.
Oaks’ shot came against Price, the Commodore junior ace who pitched the ninth and 10th innings in relief. It was Price’s first loss of the season, dropping him to 11-1.
Vanderbilt’s dream season, which included a first-ever No. 1 national ranking and Southeastern Conference championship, came to a stunning end.
“It’s like you slam on the brakes after going 100 miles per hour,” despondent VU coach Tim Corbin said.
The Commodores advanced to Monday’s final by beating Michigan on Sunday. This time, Michigan made the winning plays that had become the trademark of Vanderbilt, which came from behind in 30 of its 54 victories this season.
“Tonight the magic may have been about a foot away, who knows?” Corbin said. “I just hurt for the kids. Right now, they’re just devastated.
“I’d like to congratulate Michigan. This is tough, but they won this fair and square. No excuses, none whatsoever.”
The Wolverines (42-17) will advance to the super regional round next weekend for the first time. Vanderbilt finished its season 54-13 and with a what-might-have-been lament.
Oaks, a freshman reserve outfielder, was hitting only .188 with one home run entering Monday’s game. He stepped to the plate with orders from Michigan coach Rich Maloney to swing for the fences.
“It was all or nothing,” Maloney said. “The chances of him actually doing it were not a high percentage. Alan hit the sweet spot, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
Oaks struggled to describe his feelings after slamming a regional-winning home run against a pitcher expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this week’s Major League Baseball Draft.
“It’s the best moment in my baseball career,” Oaks said. “I don’t even remember running the bases.”
Adam Abraham (5-1) earned the win in relief, and Michael Powers got the save by retiring three straight batters in the bottom of the 10th.
Vanderbilt trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of eighth inning but tied the game on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Flaherty and a run-scoring single by Matt Meingaser.
Michigan went ahead 2-0 in the third inning on a home run by Nate Recknagel. A home run by Vanderbilt’s Pedro Alvarez in the fourth inning cut the lead to 2-1.
VU was hosting a regional for the first time after posting the best season in school history. A Super Regional was awaiting next weekend at Hawkins Field had the Commodores won Monday.
“I didn’t envision sitting before you talking about a loss,” Corbin said. “I thought we were going to win. I still think it’s a bad dream. I didn’t see this coming.
“You have to play really well to get through this. It’s not a given. We’ll be back. We’ll do it again.”