In the end, the storybook ending belonged to someone else.
For all of the magical storylines that permeated most every turn of this most memorable of Vanderbilt baseball seasons and which captured the hearts of a community, from the early-season heroics in Houston to the postseason heroics in Hoover, Ala. to little Hawkins Field busting at the seams with record-shattering crowds that made it the center of this city's sporting universe, the final chapter belonged to a freshman from White Lake, Mich. who entered this weekend's NCAA regional with just 48 at-bats to his credit in his collegiate career, just one homerun and a .188 batting average.
With one tenth-inning swing of the bat against Vanderbilt ace David Price, the best pitcher in the nation, the likely No. 1 pick in this week's Major League Baseball draft and who came out of the bullpen on two days rest in hopes of dragging his pitching-depleted team into the Super Regionals, Alan Oaks ripped the magic carpet right out from underneath a Commodore team that to most any observer seemed to be playing all season with destiny on its side.
If there was any need for further evidence of just how cruel the game of baseball can be, a crushed Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin provided it Monday night in his post game press conference.
"I thought in the eighth inning that we were going to take it," Corbin said. "But then the Oaks kid steps up there. He is a freshman and he hasn't been in any of the games and he hits a 3-1 fastball off the best pitcher that I will ever coach. That happens. You can't put your finger on why things happen sometimes in this game but they do."
For Vanderbilt, Oaks' blow - coupled with a dramatic leaping catch at the wall by Michigan left fielder Derek VanBuskirk that robbed Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez of a homerun that would have re-tied the game in the bottom of the tenth - was a tragic crushing of season-long dreams of the program's first-ever trip to the College World Series.
"I tried to contain the talk of a lot of people that were around me," Corbin said. "I just didn't want that talk being brought up. It pains me to hear people talk about Omaha and people making reservations and this and that. You have got to really, really play well to get through this thing. It is not a given. This was our first opportunity at [playing host to a regional]. We'll be back. We'll do it again. But this is tough."
There will be time to think back and reflect on all this team accomplished - from winning a school record 54 games, to becoming the program's first-ever regular season SEC champion, and from being the first team in more than a decade to win the SEC regular season and tournament championships in the same year to earning the right to host an NCAA regional for the first time in the program's history - but Monday night was not that time.
"There isn't much to say, really," Corbin said when asked what he told his team in the immediate aftermath of Michigan's 4-3 championship game win. "They don't want to listen to me at that moment. I just told them that I am proud of them and that I love them. Right now they are just devastated. They are sitting in that dugout looking at each other. When you are in the middle of it, it is tough for these kids and it is tough for the coaches. I mean, you live your whole life around it. As athletes this is all we do. It is tough. It is like you have to slam on the brakes after going 100 miles per hour."
All year long, Vanderbilt had made a trademark of rallying from behind - the Commodores trailed in 31 of its 54 wins. But in a replica of Saturday night's loss to Michigan, Vanderbilt's comeback Monday was rebuffed after rallying to tie the game in the eighth.
"Still to this moment I thought we were going to win, I thought we were going to win again," Corbin said. "I just did not visualize sitting here in front of you talking about a loss tonight. I still think it is a bad dream. I didn't see this coming. I'm sorry guys. I really would have liked to have pulled this off."
Will Matthews spent three years as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Newspaper Group in Southern California. He earned his Master of Divinity degree in 2007 from Vanderbilt Divinity School. To email Will your feedback, Click Here