A little-known fact about the College World Series is that, since its creation in 1947, it has never matched up against a team with the letter “N” in its name. Until this week.
2016 NCAA Baseball Championship Game 07/29/2016 | Vandy lost, 2-0. In Game 1 it was a no contest: NC State scored 2 runs in the first inning. In Game 2, after winning the first game, NC State scored another run in the first inning. Vandy lost 2-0.
OMAHA, Neb. — The Vanderbilt baseball team was sleeping at the DoubleTree Hotel when coach Tim Corbin woke up at 1:30 a.m. Saturday and realized he had received a text message. It was a message from Vanderbilt athletics director Candice Story Lee, informing her of one of the strangest moments in College World Series history.
The NCAA just cancelled Saturday’s game against NC State, which was scheduled to take place in 12 hours, due to COVID-19 protocols. Vanderbilt went to the CWS finals, NC State went home.
Corbin rolled over and woke up his wife Maggie. They couldn’t sleep.
I felt like when the guys woke up, I wanted to give them some information, Corbin said Sunday in his first interaction with the media after the NCAA decision. And that’s really all I cared about, as far as getting up and seeing a post like that ….. I just wanted to get to them as soon as possible. That’s what we did.
I’m sure it was a little confusing, but we used yesterday to discuss everything and I told them that if we could come to a consensus today, we would move on. It’s just like life. There’s nothing you can do. Life circumstances happen. You can handle it.
Corbin was still there a day and a half later. The coach who brought Vanderbilt to the CWS five times, who loves Omaha so much he stayed there with his wife last year after the pandemic canceled the season, who last week compared the CWS to Disneyland, didn’t seem elated about what happened Sunday.
This was not the way he wanted to reach the final. He wanted to settle things in the mud. While Mississippi State celebrated Saturday’s win over Texas and a spot in the best-of-three championship series that begins Monday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App), Vanderbilt’s players spent the day together waiting in a quiet, uncomfortable room.
This was not the first time a team has been sent home during an NCAA Championship because of COVID-19 protocols. Anthony Holman, executive director of championships and alliances for the NCAA, told ESPN on Sunday that this has happened seven times. But none of the other departures have been as dramatic and discussed on social media.
Elliott Avent, NC State’s director of baseball, says his job is to teach players about baseball, not indoctrinate them with his values and opinions.
I think it’s very important, Holman said. Given what we know about COVID, with the number of cases or the continued spread over a short period of time… In any other situation during this pandemic, people would have said: Okay, yes, of course you do.
According to Holman, since February, the NCAA has held 284 postseason events and 65 championships with more than 2,700 teams participating, with more than 130,000 tests. Only 0.04% of these tests were positive.
Holman said he wasn’t sure if NC State was the most advanced team in the tournament before the season came to an abrupt halt because of positive tests, or what the NCAA calls no tests. The CWS protocol requires that each unvaccinated player be tested every two days. Tuesday, the day after the unseeded Wolf Pack defeated fourth-seeded Vanderbilt 1-0, Holman said NC State’s turn to be tested and that one player had tested positive.
In the post-game press conference a day earlier, NC State coach Elliott Avent said his team was pleased with the calmness that came with the group’s victory. Avent said several players and an assistant coach struggled with what he called the bug. The next day, one of the players tested positive.
The NCAA Championship medical team began tracking down contracts and determined that there was close contact with a teammate, quarantined him and began performing daily PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on him. He was out for three days, and the player – as well as the NCAA – hoped he could eventually return to the field.
Then came Friday, a 1 p.m. rematch against Vanderbilt. The Commodores must beat NC State twice to advance to the finals. The quarantined player tested positive that morning. And NC State reported that two other players have been diagnosed with symptoms. They were tested for antigens and came back positive. PCR tests were performed. The results were the same. The match was in less than two hours.
After Vanderbilt reached the College World Series without losing a game, coach Tim Corbin told his players: As soon as we get on the ball today, we’ll move on. Bruce Thorson – USA TODAY Sports
Now you have multiple issues on the same team, Holman said. It should be forwarded to the medical championship team and analyzed. It’s not just about results, it’s also about keeping track of contacts, and it all happens in a very small window.
NC State was at the stadium while the medical team decided what to do. The game has been postponed. An hour later, 13 inoculated Wolf Pack players were on the field against Vanderbilt. Sam Highfill, Monday’s winning pitcher, played first base. Their four best players combined for 27 kills for the match. But NC State was almost off the hook again, but lost 3-1.
That night, the entire team performed PCR testing, which is more invasive and sent to the lab. While waiting for the results, the six members of the medical team consulted with the Douglas County (Nebraska) Health Department about various scenarios. The results came late Friday night during a lengthy rain delay of the Texas-Missippi State game.
Holman said there were more people who did not pass the background check.
Among the positive cases were vaccinated players. The NCAA’s decision was made quickly and both teams were contacted. 1:10. CT, the NCAA issued a statement. About 30 minutes later, a group of NC State players gathered at TD Ameritrade Field and posed for photos near home plate in front of the CWS logo. Holman said the NCAA did not know the Wolf Pack would be going to the stadium. When asked if the NCAA would have approved an overnight visit, Holman said: The answer is most likely no due to quarantine issues.
North Carolina State declined comment for this story Sunday.
The SEC Now team discusses all SEC College World Series finals and who will win them.
Holman told ESPN that most Commodores are fully inoculated. Vanderbilt requires its students to be fully immunized before the fall semester.
Corbin said he sympathized with the NC State players and fans. He said he couldn’t understand the pain they were going through.
This is an opportunity for us to move forward, Corbin said. I understand the other side. Yes. We have great understanding and empathy for that. But we can’t control it, no matter what anyone says or implies.
The defending champion knows that he is unlikely to be the crowd favourite this week. An extra day off to rest two future top-10 prospects – both pitchers – could be a plus. Corbin did not say whether one of those pitchers, Jack Leiter, will start Monday night. Leiter, who along with teammate Kumar Roker has the most strikeouts in the country, threw 123 pitches in Vanderbilt’s 1-0 loss against NC State a week ago.
If there are no other unexpected events, the focus will be back on baseball, and that’s what Corbin wants. In a normal year, the Commodores would have celebrated making it to the finals by running laps around the field or throwing dogs on the mound. They wouldn’t have known about last night’s report.
Corbin had waited more than a year for this moment. He arrived in a devastated baseball town last summer dreaming of another chance at a championship, another normal June.
We’re just playing baseball, Corbin said. That’s all we can do. We stay on our path. But the kids are fine. They are young people of 18, 19 or 20 years old spending their last days together, happy to be there.
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