Dansby Swanson was sure you couldn't script a better afternoon than the one he had Monday.
Swanson scored the go-ahead run in a 4-2 struggle against Illinois, eliminating the Illini and helping the defending national champion Vanderbilt Commodores return to the College World Series.
"Yeah, I can't complain, that's for sure," Swanson said. "Surreal moment."
While the Commodores celebrated, Illinois (50-10-1) tried to figure out what went wrong.
"It was just tough going down like that," said right fielder Casey Fletcher, who appeared to have been crying. "We thought we had an Omaha-bound team."
The Commodores (47-19) ground their way past Illinois' most talented pitcher, left-handed reliever Tyler Jay, who was making just his second start since high school. Jay himself was drafted a little later, at No. 6 by the Minnesota Twins.
And Vanderbilt got a gritty six-inning start from another player with a tough-to-script story, lefty Philip Pfeifer. Pfeifer missed all of the Commodores' championship season after failing a drug test in 2013.
He struggled early Monday, giving Illinois multiple baserunners in each of the first three innings. But the Illini scratched out just the two runs. And then Pfeifer found his control.
"If I've learned anything the past two years, it's going to look bad before it looks good," said Pfeifer, who added to the Vanderbilt starting rotation midway through this season.
The matchup between Swanson and Jay was much anticipated.
Swanson struck out swinging in his first at-bat against Jay, but he homered to left in his second appearance. That fourth-inning shot tied the score at 2-2.
With a little help from a stiff wind, Swanson next drove a Jay pitch to the right-center field wall to lead off the sixth inning, then stole third.
With two down and a chance to give Vanderbilt its first lead, Bryan Reynolds sent a looper into shallow center field. Illinois center fielder Will Krug ran hard and dove just in front of the dying ball but missed. Swanson headed home, giving the Commodores a 3-2 lead that was all they would need.
After the final out, the Commodores jumped into a massive dogpile just to the side of the mound as Price, clad in Vanderbilt gear, stood to the side, watching his old team celebrate.
The Commodores' next game will be against Cal State Fullerton on Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska, a place Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said the team had to fight to get back to since every team wants to knock off the defending champ.
"That target is very big, and there's a lot of shots that you take," he said.
TCU 5, Texas A&M 4 (16 innings)
Garrett Crain was running toward third base with the ball in front of him. The TCU senior second baseman kept going all the way to the College World Series.
Crain scored from second base on an error in the 16th inning and the Horned Frogs are going to Omaha for the second year in a row after a 5-4 win over Texas A&M in a game that ended early Tuesday morning.
"The 16th inning, you have to try and force something. If that's the seventh or eighth inning, and that's the game-tying run or winning run like it was, maybe you don't do that," Crain said. "Being what it was, we have to score a run."
Crain drew a leadoff walk off Ryan Hendrix (6-4), the third time in extra innings TCU's No. 9 hitter led off and got on base. He got to second on a wild pitch with two outs, and scored when Evan Skoug hit a hard chopper on which third baseman Ronnie Gideon made a backhanded try.
The ball was briefly in his glove, and Skoug was credited with a single. But Crain rounded third after the ball dropped to the ground, even with third-base coach Bill Mosiello telling him to stop, and scored as Gideon threw wildly to the plate.
"That was just hard to watch, kind of slow motion," A&M coach Rob Childress said. "Don't field it cleanly there at third, and we've got to make a rush throw, a tough throw, tough chance, tough pick and try to apply a tag. It's hard to swallow."
Crain crossed the plate right at 1 a.m., ending a game that took 5 hours, 55 minutes to play and finally giving the Horned Frogs (49-13) the eighth and final spot in the College World Series.
"In 25 years of coaching, that's the best baseball game that I've ever been part of," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "One of the greatest college baseball games ever. Had to be, considering what's on the line."
Mitchell Traver (9-2), the seventh TCU pitcher, struck out six over four innings in only his second relief appearance this season.
Michael Barash and Nick Banks homered for Texas A&M (50-14), the only one of the five SEC teams that made it to super regionals that won't be at the College World Series.
Big 12 regular-season champion TCU plays Sunday against LSU, one of the four SEC teams that did make it to Omaha.
The Aggies tied the score with two runs in the ninth, after standout but struggling closer Riley Ferrell hit the first batter and walked the next. Tyler Alexander walked the only batter he faced before the Aggies got even at 4-4 on consecutive RBI groundouts by Mitchell Nau and Logan Taylor after Preston Guillory came into the game.
TCU junior left-hander Alex Young, picked 43rd overall by Arizona in baseball's amateur draft, struck out 10 in 6⅔ innings, scattering six hits while allowing only one run.
Alexander was taken later in the second round, 65th by Detroit, while Ferrell went undrafted through the first 75 picks completed Monday night.
TCU had the bases loaded with one out in the 14th when Skoug hit a liner that ricocheted hard off Hendrix. First baseman G.R. Hinsley, who had just entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the inning, picked up and threw home for the force. Hendrix then got a couple of tosses to make sure he was OK before getting an inning-ending grounder.
That was the sixth time in seven innings that TCU had its leadoff hitter on base -- and in scoring position -- without scoring.
TCU left 16 runners on base, and Texas A&M stranded 17.
The Horned Frogs are going to the College World Series for the third time in six seasons, and each time they've needed a deciding third game in the super regional to advance. They won at Texas in 2010 and beat Pepperdine at home last season.
The matchup of former Southwest Conference foes, who passed each other on the way in and out of the Big 12, drew big crowds to Lupton Stadium. Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC three years ago, at the same time TCU moved into the Big 12.
Even without the Aggies, the SEC will have four teams in the College World Series for the third time (1997 and 2004), with defending national champion Vanderbilt, Florida, LSU and Arkansas there. The ACC in 2006 was the only other league to make up half the CWS field.
Cal State Fullerton 4, Louisville 3 (11 innings)
Cal State Fullerton is going back to the College World Series thanks to David Olmedo-Barrera.
The junior's tiebreaking home run that was upheld on review led off the 11th inning and lifted the Titans to a 4-3 win over host Louisville in Monday night's deciding game of the Louisville Super Regional. It gave the Titans their first trip to Omaha since 2009.
Fullerton (39-23), a four-time national champion, will play reigning champ Vanderbilt on Sunday night in the final first-round game of the CWS.
"I feel like the Titans are going home," said Olmedo-Barrera, who also hit a first-inning home run to stake his team to an early lead. "I feel like we belong there. We knew it all along despite what people would say about us and despite what happened in the beginning of the season; we're going there now."
Fullerton, which started the season with losses in five of its first seven games, showed the same wherewithal against the Cardinals (47-18), rallying from a 3-1 deficit to force extra innings.
The Titans took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Olmedo-Barrera's two-out solo homer down the right-field line.
Louisville tied it in the bottom of the fourth on Will Smith's two-out solo home run to left field. The Cardinals took the lead on Brendan McKay's sacrifice fly in the sixth, then increased it in the eighth when Zach Lucas led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third, then scored on a pair of wild pitches by Fullerton reliever Tyler Peitzmeier.
The Titans tied it in the eighth on Jerrod Bravo's two-out, two-strike, two-RBI single off Louisville closer Zack Burdi.
It stayed 3-3 until the top of the 11th when the left-handed hitting Olmedo-Barrera went opposite-field with a fly ball that cleared the fence.
"I didn't even feel it hit my bat really, I just got set up early, tried to stay short to it and catch up to his 95, 96-plus [fastball]," Olmedo-Barrera said. "As soon as I saw it take off, I kind of just put my head down and ran."
Third-base umpire Heath Jones initially ruled home run, causing Louisville coach Dan McDonnell to ask for a replay review.
"The calling umpire, the third-base umpire, had the ball fair, inside the pole," crew chief Doug Williams said. "We, as a crew, got together, and the entire crew had the ball fair. Per NCAA rules, we went to replay. There's two guys in Atlanta that look at the video. They're both looking at it. I don't know how they do it, but he looked at it and he confirmed the ball on the field was a home run."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.