Regionals Roundup: Difficult Day for Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin has never liked endings. No coach does. In the postseason of any sport, the endings are often abrupt, unexpected, cruel. But Saturday’s end was crueler than most. Vanderbilt’s regional weekend was never really about baseball—not after 19-year-old righthander Donny Everett drowned on Thursday night. The weekend, for Vanderbilt, was about healing, about finding some measure of solace between the lines at Hawkins Field. The Commodores honored Everett as best they could Saturday, hanging his No. 41 jersey in the dugout, leaving a space for him down the foul line during the national anthem, writing “DE41” on their hats and hanging the stadium flags at half mast. But they also had baseball to play—postseason baseball. The timing couldn’t have been more difficult. As circumstances would dictate, the Commodores had to play twice, on a rainy, gray Saturday. They lost the first game, 15-1, to No. 4 seed Xavier, as uncharacteristic errors fueled a 13-run seventh inning and put Vanderbilt’s season on the brink. In the second game, an elimination game, the Commodores established a five-run lead over No. 3 seed Washington in the sixth inning. But the Huskies were playing to extend their own season, too. They fought back. A two-run home run by Jack Meggs in the bottom of the eighth gave them a 9-8 lead, and they held it. And with that, the season ended for Vanderbilt—abruptly, unexpectedly and cruelly. “Finality is never easy,” Corbin said in the postgame conference, through which he held his composure, despite the obvious emotions at play. “It’s the worst,” he said, pausing for a moment. “It’s really the worst. It’s really the worst—just because you spend so much time with them, the staff—it really stinks.” There’s no way to calculate or to know for sure just how much Everett’s loss impacted Vanderbilt on the field Saturday. It wouldn’t be fair to try to quantify it, and in the grand scheme, the results of Saturday’s games are secondary. Corbin has long led an emotionally fueled program. He encourages his players to channel that emotion in a positive way. But Saturday was something else entirely. “I don't mean this in any disrespect to our opponents, but it was tough for us to be the best version of ourselves in a lot of different ways,” Corbin said. “We were as prepared as we possibly could be. It was just a wide range of actions and emotions that were tough to navigate. “. . . When we are inside the arena of competition, we have to do the best job we can at channeling our emotions. Now, it's tough—they were all dragging around a 100-pound weight while they were playing. It's not fair, but it's what we had to do.” There were tears, certainly, before Saturday’s games, and likely at times throughout. When Vanderbilt scored its first run of the day, on an RBI single by freshman Ethan Paul, the Commodores ran out of the dugout to celebrate, like it was a go-ahead grand slam. The pendulum of emotions swung back and forth all day. It was clear the Commodores had more on their minds than baseball; as Corbin said in his post-game press conference, they wouldn’t be human if that weren’t the case. "Baseball is a game of millimeters,” Vanderbilt junior outfielder Bryan Reynolds said. “You have to be there fully mentally and physically if you want to perform your best. I feel like we all gave the best effort we could today. We just came up a little short." Now, the Commodores turn their attention to healing, to coping with the sudden loss of a teammate. They won’t go their separate ways just yet. They’ll stay together for Everett’s memorial service, to continue to honor the freshman righthander they lost too soon. “Just gonna do what we’ve always done,” Reynolds said. “Be together and be a family and take care of one another.” Saturday’s games provided only a brief respite. “The game in a lot of ways seems insignificant, but at the same time it provides some healing for the kids in the immediate moment,” Corbin said. “Now that it's gone, then we'll delve into another level of emotions. They know that it's coming. They have a whole lot of weight on their shoulders right now. It's just very difficult to lose a teammate and for it to just happen during the time that you are supposed to compete. “I'm just proud that they were able to do that. It would have been great if we had won. It would have been great to move on, but at the same time in the back of their minds that is probably secondary right now. What is primary right now is how they feel about one another and what has happened and that this is tough to get over, and they probably won't get over it for quite some time."