Fauber: Everything falling into place for Cavaliers
University of Virginia’s baseball team is no stranger to the NCAA tournament. Under current head coach Brian O’Connor, the Cavaliers have made the field for 11 straight seasons, have hosted in the regional round for five straight years and have earned one of the eight national seeds in the tournament in four of the last five seasons.
The Wahoos played like a team that had been there before in the regional round of this year’s NCAA tournament.
U.Va. opened the four-team, double-elimination regional round by trouncing Bucknell, 10-1, last Friday. The Cavs followed that by blanking Arkansas, 3-0, in a game in which starting pitcher Nathan Kirby allowed just one hit through eight innings and junior first baseman/outfielder Mike Papi hit a two-run home run.
To complete the sweep of the Charlottesville Regional field, U.Va. beat Arkansas again in the regional championship game, this time to the tune of a 9-2 rout on Sunday that sent the Wahoos to their fifth super regional appearance in the last six seasons.
On a side note, the Cavaliers also picked up a few victories off the field earlier this week, as Papi, outfielder Derek Fisher and infielder/pitcher Nick Howard were all selected in the first round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Thursday. Howard was chosen 19th overall by the Reds, and Fisher (Astros) and Papi (Indians) were taken with the 37th and 38th picks, respectively, as part of the Competitive Balance Round in the first round.
And that is now where U.Va. stands while it awaits the start of its super regional, best-of-three round against fellow ACC — and soon to be Big 10 — rival Maryland, which starts today at noon at Davenport Field in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers should carry a lot of momentum into today’s game, and it seems like things are really starting to fall into place for U.Va. to make a determined push for its first-ever College World Series title.
While U.Va. was busy rolling through its first-round bracket, many of the nation’s top teams stumbled as upsets dominated the NCAA’s regional play. Of the eight national seeds, only three — including Virginia, which is the No. 3 team in this year’s field — escaped the first round.
Top-seeded Oregon State, No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Indiana, No. 5 Florida State and No. 8 LSU all lost in their respective regional brackets, leaving No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 7 TCU as the only other remaining national seeds.
In addition to the five national seeds that lost last weekend, four other regional top seeds fell in the opening round, including traditional power South Carolina, which had won two national championships and played in another over the last four seasons. Only seven of the initial 16 regional No. 1 seeds remain.
South Carolina’s loss in particular was huge for U.Va., as the Cavaliers would’ve played the Gamecocks this weekend had they not been upset by Maryland. The Wahoos’ chances of returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2011 likely took a jump with South Carolina’s loss, but that doesn’t mean this weekend’s showdown with the Terrapins will be a breeze.
Maryland and Virginia met just once on the diamond this season in the Cavaliers’ first game of the ACC tournament, and the Terrapins pulled out a 7-6 victory. Maryland (39-21) is also coming off that magical run through the Columbia (South Carolina) Regional in which they scored a walk-off win over Old Dominion before beating South Carolina on consecutive nights, and the Terrapins are soaring after the biggest victory in the program’s history.
Anything can happen in a three-game series, and plenty has happened already in the tournament so far. But if U.Va. can survive this weekend and avoid the fate of many of its fellow national seeds, it should enter the College World Series as the favorite to win it.
The Wahoos have been there before, too — they were the top overall seed in 2011 — but this year the cards seem to falling perfectly into place for U.Va.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD