Norwood powers Vandy to CWS title

OMAHA, Neb. -- With the celebration well underway, the 1-year-old twin daughters of Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown, Kelsey and Riley, scampered around the infield at TD Ameritrade Park, collecting dirt as if they understood the significance of what had just happened.

Nearby, relief pitcher Brian Miller kneeled on the grass next to the warning track outside of the Commodores' first-base dugout to propose to his girlfriend.

Others hugged and laughed and sang to the words of the music blasting over the stadium speakers. Reliever Jared Miller orchestrated a party in the right-field bullpen, kicking beach balls into the bleachers.

Coach Tim Corbin gushed in an interview about his pride for this group, which beat Virginia 3-2 on Wednesday night to secure the first national championship in a men's sport in the history of Vanderbilt athletics.

But where was John Norwood?

The hero stood by himself on the fringe of the celebration, talking to no one.

Norwood, the junior center fielder, pounded his third home run of the season into the left-field bullpen to unlock a tie game with one out in the top of the eighth inning off 97 mph-throwing closer Nick Howard, the recent first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds.

Yes, Norwood is the answer to future trivia questions. He's the modern-day Warren Morris. He's the guy who returned momentum to the Commodores after they squandered a 2-0 lead.

And there he stood, alone, gazing into the Omaha night until teammates pulled him in for a photo with that familiar piece of NCAA hardware, the scoreboard positioned square in the background.

"He's not a guy who loves recognition," right fielder Rhett Wiseman said. "He'll deflect it and give it up to other guys. And if someone says he hit the game-winning home run, he'll say that he didn't, that he didn't win the game."

Norwood won it for Vanderbilt, all right. His home run was the first for the Commodores since May 16, the second-to-last day of the regular season.

And, oh, what timing. It provided the most unlikely outcome on Wednesday at a venue that yielded just two homers in 15 College World Series games before this winner-take-all final of the championship series.

"I was just hoping that it didn't have enough topspin that it would hit the fence," Corbin said.

He had watched two other shots in this tournament, hit by Wiseman and Dansby Swanson, do just that after the coach thought they would leave the park.

"But Johnny's strength and bat speed," Corbin said, "with the velocity of Howard -- that doesn't happen to that kid. A 97-mph fastball, and someone to turn it around like that, it takes a great amount of ability.

"I'm just happy for Johnny. I mean, he contained himself. The kid has grown so much as a person and a player, even in the last four weeks."

Norwood, a reserve in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, stepped into a starting role this year and hit. .288 before his 3-for-3 effort on Wednesday raised his average 10 points.

Batting cleanup for the first time this season, Norwood scored Vandy's second run after his infield single in the sixth inning. But no one was ready for what happened in the eighth on a 1-0 pitch with one out. No one, that is, but the guys in the Vanderbilt dugout.

"I called it," Wiseman said.

Wiseman said he turned to shortstop Vince Conde after Bryan Reynolds flew out to open the eighth inning and predicted that Norwood would homer.

"As soon as he stepped in the box," Wiseman said. "That was the first time [in Omaha] I did it. I just could just tell by the way Bryan put a swing on that ball. I wouldn't just throw that out there."

Virginia coach Brian O'Connor described Norwood's swing as "a defining moment."

O'Connor made the comment in reference to this CWS, noted for its lack of offensive spark. But the impact of Norwood's shot extends beyond this game and this year. It helps define Vanderbilt's growth in the Southeastern Conference as a major player -- and not just in baseball.

Finally, the Commodores own a championship other than the 20o7 women's bowling title.

Let that sink in.

Clearly, as Wednesday turned into Thursday, Norwood had not.

"I didn't bring it to them," he said of the national title. "It was the people way before us. I'm not the guy. We still had to score three runs. It's a team game."

Norwood said he was looking dead-red as he stepped to the plate against Howard, searching for a fastball, the pitch he handles best.

"You know he's going to throw it," Norwood said. "Don't miss it."

He didn't miss. Minutes later, he stood alone, alongside his celebrating teammates.

"You're not going to remember just my name," he said.

History won't let anyone forget.