Xavier Turner called it a dream come true when Vanderbilt University clinched a spot in the College World Series.
But the starting third baseman for the Commodores (48-19) and 2012 Sandusky graduate has been rendered speechless after spending the past five days in Omaha, Neb.
“Words can't explain being here right now, playing in front of this many fans with all the national attention,” Turner said Wednesday night while watching Texas play UC Irvine.
The No. 20-ranked Longhorns (45-20) won the game, 1-0, and face Vanderbilt at 3 p.m. Friday at TD Ameritrade Park. If the Commodores win, they advance to the championship series, slated to begin Monday night.
No. 14 Vanderbilt and No. 3 Virginia (51-14) are the only two of the five remaining teams left with no losses. The Cavaliers await the winner of today's Mississippi-TCU game at 8 p.m. Friday, also looking to earn a spot in the championship series.
Should the Commodores or Cavaliers lose Friday, there will be winner-take-all games Saturday to set the championship series.
“We've put ourselves in a very good situation by winning those first two games,” Turner said. “We're only focused on one thing, and that's doing whatever it takes to win a national championship. We struggled to end the season (losing five of six), but it's a new season, a different mindset.”
Afer opening the eight-team, double-elimination tournament with a 5-3 win over Louisville on Saturday, the Commodores beat UC Irvine on Monday night, 6-4. By opening with two wins, the biggest benefit might have been the four days of rest prior to Friday's game.
“It really helps a lot, not only getting our pitching back, but just being able to stay fresh,” Turner said. “The tournament is a grind, but in a way it feels like the regular season by getting most of the week off. And obviously we get all of our pitching back to full strength, which is a huge plus.”
The Commodores did not practice on Tuesday, but got a session in on Wednesday, followed by a second visit to the nearby Offutt Air Force Base. The base is the official host group for Vanderbilt, and the team took a tour of the facility on Sunday and had a banquet dinner there on Wednesday.
“We got to learn a lot of cool history, and got to see all sorts of cool guns and weapons,” Turner said of the Air Force base. “And we got to check out Air Force One, so that was pretty cool too.”
Vanderbilt will practice today in advance of Friday's game, then the players get the rest of the day to themselves.
Turner is batting .333 so far in the two games at the CWS. In the win over Louisville, Turner was 1 for 3 with a walk. Against UC Irvine on Monday, the former Blue Streak was 1 for 3 with an RBI and walked once.
For the season, he's batting .284 with 15 doubles and 38 RBIs while adding a solid .949 fielding percentage in 63 starts at third base.
“I feel great, individually, but I think we all have a lot of confidence right now,” Turner said. “We know we've put ourselves in a good situation, and we feel like we can win this thing. We just have to stay in the moment.”
Turner also added that he's gotten plenty of support and good luck comments via social media and text messages from many of his friends and family back in Sandusky this week. In his four-year high school career, Turner had 181 hits (seventh all-time in Ohio history) and was selected first team All-Ohio in each of his two years as a member of the Blue Streak baseball team.
“It means a lot, I appreciate anyone who has taken the time to watch or support me this week,” he said. “I'm doing something good for myself, but hopefully it's also something everyone back in Sandusky can take some pride in. I'm doing my best to be a good role model to the younger kids of Sandusky, so to see all the support really means a lot.”