It was a college baseball game fans often hope for, but rarely get to see.
It was top-ranked Vanderbilt against No. 2 LSU. The top two ranked teams in the country faced off for the first time this season and what better place to play than in the SEC Tournament Championship Game?
It doesn't get any better than a wild and weird 11-inning, 5-4 game won by the Tigers.
“What a tremendous ball game. Wow,'' said an excited LSU coach Paul Maineri. Win or lose, it was just a great, great ball game between two teams fighting their hearts out to win.''
Both teams had opportunities to win it in regulation. In the bottom of the fifth inning, LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson ran down a shot over his head that likely saved the game for the Tigers.
Vanderbilt had loaded the bases when Commodores shortstop Vince Conde hit a 2-2 pitch that carried just short of the warning track in the spacious Hoover Met Stadium, whose centerfield fence measures 405-feet from home plate.
Stevenson was playing in some on Conte and had to put on the afterburners to chase down the hard hit fly. The left-handed Stevenson reached up at the last second to trap the ball in his glove hand. His momentum took him to the fence. It not only was one of the best catches you will see at any level, it prevented Vanderbilt from taking a probable 5-4 lead as they went into the bottom of the fifth trailing, 4-2.
“He saved the game with that play in centerfield,'' Maineri said.
Vanderbilt tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, setting up a monstrous battle of bullpens. Commodore reliever Brian Moore was all Coach Tim Corbin could ask for during his 74-pitch performance.
But LSU closer Chris Cotton was unhittable after coming in with one out in the bottom of the ninth with a Vanderbilt runner on first. He went on to retire eight straight Commodores to seal the save. That included sitting Vandy's 4-5-6 hitters down in order with three infield grounders in the bottom of the 11th.
“When we tied the game, I thought we were going to win it,'' Corbin said. “We had a couple of opportunities but we just couldn't crack the safe.''
The loss may cost Vanderbilt the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Regional brackets when they are announced Monday. Not that there is any difference in the one and two seeds, as both LSU and Vanderbilt are both expected to play host roles in the post-season.
It was a memorable epic played by the best two teams in college baseball this season.
While LSU has had an established national championship caliber program for years, Vanderbilt is still trying to reach that level, having played in only one College World Series under Corbin.
Since Corbin was hired to resurrect Vandy's program, the Commodores have reached the finals of the SEC Tournament in seven of his 11 years. LSU won its 10th tournament title Sunday, most ever by an SEC team.
Sunday's showdown marked the third straight year that Vanderbilt has reached the SEC's championship game, only to come up short. The two previous games were shutouts.
This team has what it takes to go deep in the CWS in Omaha, but must first find a way to get there. They have tripped on the way there before despite having current major league pitchers such as David Price, Mike Minor and promising minor leaguer Sonny Gray.
This may not be a team as talented as those teams, but you can argue it is as balanced a team as Corbin has fielded. It is one with no apparent holes. They can hit for average and power, or play small ball. They are steady in the field and the pitching staff has solid starters to go with a dependable bullpen.
It will be interesting to see how the Commodores respond to the loss to LSU. I predict Corbin will know how to handle the situation, as he has been there before.
Despite what the rest of the post-season holds in store for Vanderbilt's team, we may never see another game such as the one we were treated to Sunday. We can only hope.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.