Exploding fireworks and Vanderbilt players dogpiling each other around the pitcher’s mound were the last images of the 2014 College World Series, and Virginia left TD Ameritrade Park dejected, but not disappointed, as the baseball program’s most successful season in school history came to a close in a 3-2 loss in game three. Vanderbilt’s win gave the Southeastern Conference its fourth baseball championship in six years, while the Atlantic Coast Conference has not shared that glory since 1954.
Despite impressive offensive outings in the first two games of the championship, Virginia only managed two runs and five hits—all singles—against a trio of Vanderbilt pitchers who together struck out 11. The Cavaliers mostly outplayed Vanderbilt in the first two matchups, but the decisive winner-take-all game had a definitive result.
“Unfortunately in sports, somebody’s going to come out on the wrong end, and we came out on the wrong end tonight,” said coach Brian O’Connor in a press conference after the game. “But I can tell you, I’m so proud of every member of this team, of every coach. We had a special season, and it’s unfortunate how it ended, but we played a great ball game and the competition was good. The University of Virginia baseball program will be back here in Omaha at some point, and maybe the next time we can win it all.”
With the game tied 2-2, Vanderbilt center-fielder John Norwood crushed a 97-mph fastball over the left-field fence off Virginia’s star reliever and the 19th overall pick in this year’s MLB draft, Nick Howard. The Norwood home run was the first Howard allowed all season and the only of the series.
Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cavaliers put themselves in striking position with the bases loaded and one out, but they could not capitalize and score a single runner as the inning ended with consecutive groundouts.
Finishing runner-up in the 2014 College World Series will likely be the last college baseball memory for UVA’s seniors as well as the juniors who were recently drafted, and sophomore left-fielder Joe McCarthy expressed how he wished they could have experienced winning it all in their last game. “It’s just a bad feeling, looking around [after the game] and seeing some guys that you may never play with again,” he said in the postgame presser, “when you wish you could have sent them off with a win and a national championship. But it just came down to us not getting those hits tonight.”
As close as the Hoos got to reaching the ultimate college baseball achievement, the team recorded a school-record 53 win season and progressed further in the CWS than any previous UVA team. The Cavaliers opened the season ranked number one and hardly faltered on their way to their first CWS Finals and a second-place finish nationally. They were greeted warmly by roughly 1,000 fans upon returning home to Davenport Field in Charlottesville for an end-of-season ceremony.
While the overwhelming emotion for the Cavaliers was dejection following the loss, McCarthy was able to keep perspective on the team’s historic season. “Even though we came up a little short today, I’m extremely proud of what me and my teammates and coaches have done this year,” he said. “But we’re still motivated to make it back next year.”