After a 2014 National Championship and runner-up finish at the 2015 College World Series, Vanderbilt University baseball planned on another deep run in the NCAA baseball tournament.
None of that mattered after freshman pitcher Donny Everett drowned on a fishing outing with two teammates and two others on Thursday afternoon, 24 hours before Vanderbilt was slated to open tournament play against Xavier University.
Last year Everett was named Tennessee prep player of the year in 2015 after he amassed 118 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings pitched, along with a 0.92 ERA. At the plate Everett hit .412 with 34 RBI. Baseball America ranked him as the 21st highest prospect and would had been a likely first round pick in the MLB draft if not committed to Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt’s original Friday game was rained out, and they took the field against Xavier early Saturday. The Commodores found themselves in a battle losing 2-1 after sixth innings. Vanderbilt gave up 13 runs in the seventh and committed four errors in the 15-1 loss.
That evening Vanderbilt played an elimination game against the University of Washington and led 8-2 in the sixth inning. Maybe this would get the Commodores on track, they could get through this game, continue to compete in the elimination bracket and some semblance of ‘normalcy’ could return.
It didn’t happen, Washington rallied for a 9-8 victory as rain fittingly fell. After the final out Vanderbilt did not even have its own home clubhouse to escape to. As is common practice for tournament games, Vanderbilt was designated as the visiting team and sat in the visitors dugout. Head Coach Tim Corbin answered questions from the media while team members gazed blankly towards the field as television cameras rolled.
The team showed up physically but understandably short on focus. In normal times players spend time between innings lined up in football formations or propped as bowling pins. That carefree atmosphere was gone. Corbin looked anguished arguing calls and players had little in the tank emotionally on the field with little sleep and thoughts elsewhere.
The only possible comparison to what Vanderbilt went through was when Hank Gathers died before Loyola Marymount’s run to the Elite Eight in the 1990 NCAA basketball tournament. At least LMU has 11 days following Gathers death to recompose themselves and begin to return to the athletic tasks at hand.
Vanderbilt baseball will be back on the national stage in future years. Saturday was a time to reflect on Donny Everett.