In the beginning, it looked like Vanderbilt was playing the role of mercenary.
And for one excruciating inning, they were ruthless in their mission to dispatch the smaller, less imposing Cardinal. The Commodores took a 5-0 lead in the first inning with power and speed and confidence so palpable you could almost feel it spitting sunflower seeds at your feet.
After losing a Super Regional on their home field a year ago, Vandy had turned the corner, pounding Logan James out of the game before he had recorded even three outs.
Until they hadn't.
Down 5-0, Stanford tacked on four runs in the third inning, including two on a whiffed pickoff attempt at first that prompted Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin to stomp his way to the mound with his mouth twisted in anger. The Cardiac Cardinal has earned their nickname again. Just setting up for the walkoff, perhaps?
But the tenor changed again in the bottom of the 5th when Zach Hoffpauir rifled a leadoff double, only to be stranded with a pointless bunt attempt, a strikeout and a pop out. That missed chance to go ahead came back to bite the Cardinal when Marcus Brakeman - a superb emergency fireman on Sunday - was forced from the game in the 7th and the Commodores quickly piled on.
The Vandy run was highlighted - or lowlighted, depending on your perspective- by Stanford's missed pickoff that turned into a missed throw to third that turned into a missed throw at home. The two runs that scored weren't what ended the game, but the Three-Stooges-level indignity of it all took the last ounce of wind from Cardinal's sails.
And for the first time in 17 years, the Pac-12 doesn't have a representative in Omaha. But perhaps the Cardinal baseball team of 2014 almost making it there is more compelling anyway.
They had little business going this far. But they sure as hell made it memorable.