NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin gathered this year's team together for the first time on Aug. 25, he told the players they would help open TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, site of the College World Series.
In December, Corbin had his team practice its dogpile celebration for when it clinched that World Series bid. On Saturday night in their sold-out home park, the Commodores realized the vision that Corbin set.
AP Photo/Mike StrasingerAaron Westlake hit three two-run home runs to lead Vanderbilt to a Nashville Super Regional win and its first trip to the CWS.
Behind Aaron Westlake's three home runs, they beat Oregon State 9-3 for a super regional series sweep and the first World Series berth in school history. In fact, Vanderbilt (52-10) may have exceeded even its coach's own biggest goals so far this season.
"This is not a great team," Corbin said. "It's a legacy team."
And it may just be the hottest team heading into Omaha next week. The Commodores haven't lost since the NCAA tournament began, and have scored at least nine runs in four of their five games and won by at least five runs in each contest. They came into the weekend ranked third nationally in team ERA and sixth in batting average. Oregon State (41-19) found out why, losing by a combined score of 20-4 in the two games here.
"Of all the places you could have played [in the super regionals], this is probably the one nobody wanted to go to," Beavers coach Pat Casey said. "They have first-rounders, second-rounders, third-rounders, and they're experienced."
Vanderbilt broke an SEC record with 12 major league draft picks this year, including first baseman Westlake. The Detroit Tigers had to like watching their third-round selection belt two-run home runs in the first, sixth and eighth innings Saturday night.
Oregon State stayed away from the left-handed slugger on Friday night, walking him three times. But with men on base during each of his at-bats Saturday, Westlake pounced on balls left out over the plate. His sixth-inning shot broke the game open.
"They came at us with a lot of lefties, so maybe they figured they'd have a chance to come at me left on left," said Westlake, who homered off southpaws Ben Wetzler and Matt Boyd. "When you've got guys on base in front of you, it puts pressure on the pitcher."
Westlake's power more than made up for a rare off night by Vanderbilt starter Grayson Garvin. The SEC Pitcher of the Year and a supplemental first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this month, Garvin had won his previous 12 decisions. But he struggled with his command and lasted only 4 1/3 innings in this one.
No matter. Reliever Will Clinard came in and got out of a bases-loaded jam unscathed in the fifth. He would close out the rest of the game, striking out eight and allowing only a solo home run in the eighth inning.
It was a special moment for Clinard, who grew up in nearby Cross Plains, Tenn., and went to many Vanderbilt baseball games as a kid."I know what the program was before Coach Corbin got here," he said. "It's all gone up. And the next step is Omaha."
Corbin has built a national power in his nine years at the school and has gotten the team close to this step before. The Commodores lost in three games to Florida State in last year's supers. Most painfully, the 2007 team featuring David Price and Pedro Alvarez that was ranked No. 1 lost in the regional final to Michigan. Corbin called the feeling Saturday night a relief, admitting that the 2007 loss still haunted him.
"You can now bury that one really, really deep," he said. "Because it's 2011, and what these kids have achieved to be in this position is phenomenal."
The Commodores have at long last realized Corbin's vision. They will go to Omaha looking for more.