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.”

Wild Times in Oxford

The Oxford Regional, on paper, had the promise of being one of the more tightly contested, highly unpredictable regionals in the field of 64. It’s lived up to that. The regional features a No. 2 seed in Tulane that won the American Athletic Conference, a No. 3 seed in Boston College who upset several ACC teams during the season and a No. 4 seed in Utah that won the Pac-12 despite a losing overall record.

The regional is full of storylines. What the regional doesn’t have, not anymore, is its host. On Saturday, No. 1 Mississippi fell, 6-5, to the Green Wave, losing its second straight game and bowing out of the tournament. The lead jockeyed back and forth all throughout the day, but Tulane catcher Jake Rogers—the team’s top prospect—hit a two-run home run in the ninth to shock the Rebels and end their season.

“It’s obviously hard to talk after that,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco in his postgame press conference. “I just told the kids that that’s why it’s the greatest game on earth. You have the thrill of victory, and then it’ll just rip your heart out. I just feel awful for my guys.

“Congratulations to Tulane. They’ve had a great year. They obviously played really well. We played hard. As I told the guys, in other regional losses you can look back and say we didn’t look well, or we played flat, but you look at these two games and our guys played their hearts out. The baseball gods didn’t shine on us.”

Tulane will face off with Utah, who was the first team to shock Ole Miss in this tournament, today. The winner will face the Eagles, who are flying high after winning their first two games of the tournament. They rallied late to defeat the Utes, 4-3, on Saturday and are now one win away from advancing to super regionals.

“I felt in this dugout today there was a complete belief that we were going to win this ballgame,” Boston College head coach Mike Gambino said Saturday. “Not to take anything away from Utah, they are a great ball club. That team is just really good and the lineup is scary. We don’t really care who we’re playing. The boys believe in each other.”

Odds and Ends

From a draft standpoint, Saturday’s Gainesville Regional provided an enticing pitching matchup between Florida lefthander A.J. Puk and Connecticut lefty Anthony Kay—two of the top pitchers in the draft class, with Puk a likely top-five pick. But neither pitcher was at his best. Puk allowed five runs (four earned) in just 4 1/3 innings, and Kay allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits in 5 2/3. The No. 3 seed Huskies gave the Gators a scare, going toe-to-toe until Florida freshman Jonathan India hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth to all but seal a 6-5 Florida win. Righthander Dane Dunning earned the win for the Gators, throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings and serving as the bridge to closer Shaun Anderson.

“We took the lead, they answered back; we took the lead, they answered back,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan told “They’re a very, very tenacious group. Jonathan came up with a big hit at the end. I thought our bullpen was outstanding. Dane was probably the story of the game pitching-wise.”

East Carolina shocked Virginia in Charlottesville back in February, winning a series two out of three games against the defending national champions in just the second weekend of the season. On Saturday, the Pirates shocked the Cavaliers yet again. Trailing by three runs in the bottom of the ninth, ECU rallied for five against reliever Tommy Doyle, winning on a three-run walk-off home run by junior catcher Travis Watkins and moving into the driver’s seat in the Charlottesville Regional.

“I mean, that’s what you dream about growing up,” Watkins said of the homer. “People come to East Carolina for moments like these.”

Though regionals are at varying stages of completion due to weather issues around the country, 15 teams were eliminated from the field on Saturday: Bethune-Cookman, Alabama State, Saint Mary’s, Fairfield, Bryant, Oral Roberts, Binghamton, Stetson, Mississippi, Princeton, Southeast Missouri State, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Western Michigan and Duke.

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