It was also a tale of two seasons for Virginia senior right-hander Artie Lewicki. He emerged as the Cavaliers' top pitcher at the end of his sophomore year in 2012, but he blew out his elbow in the New England Collegiate League that summer and had Tommy John surgery in August. He tried to come back in 2013 but wasn't fully ready, giving up four runs in just two innings.
Though an oblique injury limited Lewicki to two appearances in the first two months of the 2014 season, he finished with a flourish. He didn't allow an earned run in 23 1/3 NCAA tournament innings, shutting out Bucknell for seven innings in the regionals before moving to the bullpen and saving an elimination-game win against Maryland in the super-regionals. He won the Cavaliers' first two CWS games, twirled three shutout innings in the third and kept them in the finale with six innings of four-hit relief.
An eighth-round pick of the Tigers, Lewicki carved up hitters in Omaha with a 92-95 mph fastball and a mid-80s cutter/slider. He allowed just one earned run in 13 innings, striking out 10 while permitting just five hits and three walks. Had Virginia won the championship, he almost certainly would have won Most Outstanding Player honors.
Cavaliers coach Brian O'Connor lauded Lewicki throughout the CWS for his selflessness in accepting a move to the bullpen after the regionals. O'Connor described Lewicki as a poster man for the Cavaliers program with the way he endured all the tribulations he faced during his four years in Charlottesville.
"How he handled that process was first class and he was a winner," O'Connor said. "Then to have it come full circle this year for him to be back and just really step up through the entire season. He had an oblique injury that kept him out for five weeks and there was just no quit in this guy . . . How Artie has handled adversity in his life will make him a better person."
Swanson, Vanderbilt bask in College World Series title
OMAHA, Neb. -- Dansby Swanson's first college season ended prematurely. A broken bone cost him six weeks of his 2013 freshman season, and he played just three more games afterward before tearing the labrum in his shoulder.
Swanson's second college season ended like every player dreams it will. His Vanderbilt team won its first College World Series -- and just the second national title in school history, after a 2007 women's bowling title -- and he was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
The sophomore second baseman was much more excited about the former accomplishment than the latter.
"It's a blessing to be able to make tradition and history for this university," Swanson said. "I couldn't be happier than to do it as part of this group of guys. This university has been looking for this for a long time."
Swanson produced throughout the tournament. He drove in two runs in an opening 5-3 victory over Louisville, then had three hits including two doubles (to tie the Commodores season record with 27) in a 6-4 defeat of UC Irvine.
He had two more hits and scored the first run of the championship-deciding 3-2 win over Virginia on Wednesday, and also made a key defensive play in the sixth inning. His diving stop robbed junior second baseman Branden Cogswell of a hit and prevented the Cavaliers' lone scoring inning from getting further out of hand. Swanson batted .323 in Omaha and tied for the CWS lead with 10 hits, three doubles, five runs and four steals.
A 38th-round pick by the Rockies out of Marietta (Ga.) High in 2012, Swanson would have gone much higher in the Draft had he been signable away from his Vanderbilt commitment. A potential first-round pick in 2015, he combines hitting ability, solid pop, speed and defensive chops. He could slide over to shortstop next year if Vince Conde signs as anticipated as a ninth-round pick of the Yankees.
Commodores loaded for run at repeat
Just six schools have repeated as College World Series champions, starting with Texas in 1949-50. Southern California won an unprecedented five straight national titles in 1970-74, and since then Stanford (1987-88), Louisiana State (1996-97), Oregon State (2006-07) and South Carolina (2010-11) have won back-to-back crowns.
Vanderbilt has a strong chance of joining that list a year from now. While the Commodores lose right-handers Tyler Beede (drafted 14th overall by the Giants) and Adam Ravenelle (a Tigers fourth-rounder) and Conde, the majority of their team will return. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, the leading authority on college baseball, says Vanderbilt is a virtual lock to rank No. 1 at the start of 2015.
Beede was the sixth Commodores pitcher drafted in the first round in the last decade, and sophomore right-handers Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and perhaps Tyler Ferguson should add to that list next year. Freshman righty Hayden Stone, who won the super-regional clincher as well as the CWS semifinal and finale, can take over from Ravenelle as Vanderbilt's closer. Besides Conde, every other lineup regular should return.
Commodores coach Tim Corbin acknowledged that his club is very young for a national champion, and that experience was a concern at the outset of fall practice.
"Probably the biggest question was whether we could pull off something like this with a younger group that hasn't had as many repetitions," Corbin said. "I just think it's mental toughness. I questioned them on it going back to August and September, and I thought that was the one element we had to develop to be successful. We grew so much and developed that component, which was very crucial for us."