Vanderbilt head baseball coach Roy Mewbourne (1979-2002) was in his second season when he brought home an SEC championship. The Commodores earned their previous championship in 1974 under the guidance of Larry Schmittou (1968-78). Schmittou resigned at the end of the 1978 season as the university’s all-time winningest coach (306-252-1) to operate the Nashville Sounds.
The Commodores wrapped up the regular season at 30-18-1 (SEC, 13-9) after taking two-out-of-three with Kentucky on McGugin Field. Vanderbilt finished second in the Eastern Division behind Florida. The top two division leaders qualified for the SEC Tournament, which sends the winner to the NCAA Tournament. The SEC Tournament winner is also declared SEC Champions.
Vanderbilt faced Western Division champion Auburn in their first game in the four team double-elimination tournament in Gainesville, Fla. Florida was matched with Western Division runner-up Ole Miss. Leading players for the Commodores were Scotti Madison, Jerry Williams, Bill Hench, Mike Pike, Charles DeFrance, Steve Cohen, Steve Chmil, and Mark Elliott. On the mound were David Nenad, John Jahnke, Barry Ralston, John Yanello, Gary Burns and Mike McCarthy
Vanderbilt lost to the Tigers in the opener as the Tennessean reported:
“A Vanderbilt baseball team that has lived on its hitting this season, perished for the lack of it here yesterday in the opening of the Southeastern Conference championship playoffs. The Commodores managed just four hits off two Auburn pitchers and lost, 3-2 to the SEC Western Division champions on a two-out, run scoring single by Tiger outfielder John Tutt in the bottom of the ninth inning.”
Pike collected two hits for the Commodores while Chmil and Cohen recorded a single for the four hits. Nenad took the loss for Vanderbilt. Vandy was one game from elimination and faced the Gators a 3-2 loser to Ole Miss in their second game. All of the next day’s games were rained out and resumed on Sunday.
The Tennessean reported:
“Vanderbilt’s baseball team continued its astonishing domination over Florida here yesterday, belting the Eastern Division champions 11-7 and staying alive in the Southeastern Conference playoffs. The Commodores victory, which eliminates Florida from the double-elimination series, was the fifth in seven games against the Gators this season. The two Vandy losses were in extra innings.”
The victory advanced the Commodores in the loser’s bracket against Mississippi who took a 7-4 loss to Auburn. Against Florida, Vanderbilt pounded out 13 hits with Nenad leading the way with three. For the game, De France, Madison and Chmil totaled two hits each while Ralston picked up the victory and Yanello pitched the final innings.
The victory enabled the Commodores to win a pair of remarkable games the next day to advance into the title game.
The Tennessean reported:
“There hasn’t been an explosion to equal Vanderbilt’s outburst here yesterday since above-ground atomic bomb tests were banned. The Vandy baseball team moved within one victory of the Southeastern Conference championship with afternoon wins over Ole Miss 21-0 and a night shellacking of Auburn 16-3 at Florida’s Perry Field.
“It was an offensive show almost beyond reason. Vandy lashed out 37 hits and had an astonishing 32 runs batted in for the day—smashing six SEC playoff records and tying three others. The two wins brought the Commodores out of the losers’ bracket and brings the SEC championship to a single game here today at noon Nashville time.
“It’s a new day. It’s a new tournament. All the marbles are out there for us,” shouted Vanderbilt head coach Roy Mewbourne at the end of a shocking day. “My gosh, I’ve never seen such an explosion. Our hitting was contagious.
“It was a disease. What else can you say about a team that just scored 37 runs in one day? But don’t forget two great pitching jobs, one by Don Jahnke in the Ole Miss win and the other by Gary Burns in relief his second game with Auburn.”
Vanderbilt set new SEC Tournament records for most runs in a single game (21 against Ole Miss), runs scored in the series (50), hits in a single game (24 versus Ole Miss), hits in a series (57), RBI’s in a single game (20 versus Ole Miss) and RBI’s in a series (45). Vanderbilt would add to a couple of those records.
Vandy tied the stolen base record for a single game, stealing six against Ole Miss—DeFrance securing three to tie an individual mark. DeFrance also tied the series record with four stolen bases. Against the Rebels, DeFrance led the way helping to eliminate Ole Miss from the tournament with four hits, five runs, two RBI’s and three stolen bases.
Against Auburn, Vandy outfielder Williams, clubbed a three-run sixth inning home run to extend the Commodores lead to 8-3. This was Auburn’s first loss in the tournament forcing a winner-take-all the next day for the SEC crown and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wednesday May 14, 1980 Tennessean front sports page led with this headline: “Vandy Wins SEC Baseball Title” with this report:
“It’s possible that David Nenad of Vanderbilt, not reporter Clark Kent, is actually Superman. The Commodore junior right-hander yesterday in 95-degree heat and with just two days rest, hurled a six-hit shutout at Auburn, beating the Tigers 13-0 and giving Vanderbilt the Southeastern Conference baseball championship.”
“The Commodores iron man not only sat down the Western Division champions without any runs, but slammed out three hits and was named the playoff’s most valuable player. In the tournament, the Scottsdale, Ariz., junior college transfer had 10 hits in 19 times at bat. He gave up two runs in 18 innings on the mound, both of those coming against Auburn in the tourney opener.
“Whatever the reason, Nenad and the Commodores, their bats rewriting the SEC playoff record book for offense, surged out of the losers’ bracket with four straight wins and earned a trip next week in Tallahassee, Fla. That’s the site of the NCAA South Region tournament where the Commodores will join Ohio Valley Conference champion Western Kentucky, host Florida State—the Metro winner—and other teams picked at-large.”
Vandy pounded out 15 hits against the Tigers with Nenad and Williams collecting three hits each and Madison, Hench and Cohen getting two. Cohen also recorded four RBI’s. Vanderbilt scored 81 runs in the tournament. Their team batting average for the series was .369.
Mewbourne was named SEC Coach of the Year with seven Commodores named to the All-SEC Tournament team. They were DeFrance, Pike, Hench, Madison, Williams, Nenad and Jahnke. Earlier in the week Madison was named the SEC’s Most Valuable Player and later a First Team All-American. Madison is tied with Pedro Alvarez (2006-08) with a school career record for home runs (49).
“I think this is meaningful for everybody at McGugin Center,” said Mewbourne. “We’re building a great overall athletic program and this is a step. Our people are hungry for wining and we’ve helped. We want championships and we got one. Now we’ve got to get home, get a couple of games and see if all this stuff continues and gets us to the NCAA World Series.”
In Tallahassee, Vanderbilt lost their first two games to Western Kentucky (15-4) and New Orleans (8-2) to finish the season 34-21-1. Mewbourne retired in 2002 after 24 seasons at Vanderbilt. He is the Commodores all-time winningest coach with a 655-608-9 record. Coach Tim Corbin entered the 2017 season in second at 610-290.
Madison led the Commodores that season in batting average (.399), hits (81), RBI's (56) and home runs (15). Nenad collected the most wins (7), most innings pitched (104.0) while Yanello had the most saves (4) and most strikeouts (59). Burns recorded the best ERA at 3.63.
Traughber’s Tidbit: On the 1980 Vanderbilt Baseball Media Guide cover is front row: Scotti Madison and “Bat Girl” Eve Vaupel. Back row (left to right): Nelson Jennings, Bill Hench, Mike Pike and Roy Mewbourne.
Tidbit Two: Please be on the lookout for new baseball book by Bill Traughber that should be ready for purchase near June 1st with the title “Nashville Baseball History: From Sulphur Dell to the Sounds.” The book covers the earliest baseball documentation in the city (1857) with stories on 19th century teams, the Nashville Vols (1901-62, 1963), Nashville’s black heritage and the Nashville Sounds (1978-present) through First Tennessee Park. There are many vintage photographs unpublished and 33 chapters.
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.