Fauber: ‘Hoos face tough road in CWS

The University of Virginia’s baseball team did what it had to do in the super regional round of the NCAA tournament last weekend.

Sure, the Cavaliers struggled to contain streaking Maryland in the first game of the best-of-three series last Saturday in a game where U.Va. starting pitcher Nathan Kirby uncharacteristically struggled. But the Wahoos responded the way championship-caliber teams do in the final two games of the series.

U.Va.’s offense exploded last Sunday and Monday, as the Cavaliers ripped a combined 30 hits in the final two games of the super regional while outscoring Maryland 18-5. The result was U.Va.’s third trip to the College World Series in the last six seasons, and the Cavaliers’ first trip to Omaha since 2011.

As I mentioned last week, the NCAA tournament field was thinned out somewhat by an upset-heavy regional round that saw five of the eight nationally seeded teams fall along with numerous other regional top seeds. The super regional claimed another national seed last weekend, as Louisiana-Lafayette was ousted by Ole Miss.

Mississippi’s win removed another national seed from Virginia’s side of the bracket, but the Cavaliers’ quest for their first College World Series championship still sports plenty of obstacles.

It starts with the Rebels, who will take on U.Va. — the No. 3 and highest remaining seed in the tournament — in the second game of their four-team, double-elimination bracket at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The matchup should be a good one, and the Rebels should give the Wahoos as good a test as any team left in the tournament. U.Va. is probably the most balanced team left of the eight that have made it to Omaha, and its pitching has been phenomenal this season. Cavaliers pitchers are allowing just 6.5 hits per game this season — the best mark in the nation — and are fifth with a team ERA of 2.31.

Kirby should get the ball in Virginia’s first game of the College World Series, and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from his forgettable start last Saturday, when he allowed five earned runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

If Kirby is to get back on track, he will have to do it against an Ole Miss team that is batting .303 as a team, the best mark among the remaining teams in the College World Series.

And it’s not just Ole Miss that the Cavaliers have to look out for in Omaha. The Wahoos also share a bracket with No. 7 TCU, the only other remaining national seed left in the tournament, and a Texas Tech team that simply isn’t giving up runs in the playoffs.

TCU, which has won 32 of its last 36 games, squares off with the Red Raiders in the first game on Sunday in what should be a phenomenal pitching matchup. The Horned Frogs have recorded a Big 12 record 14 shutouts this season — which is also good for second nationally — and their bullpen hasn’t allowed a run in 28 2/3 innings. Texas Tech hasn’t allowed a run in three straight games — including back-to-back 1-0 wins over the College of Charleston in the super regional round — and has recorded shutout victories in four of their last five CWS games.

Virginia will have its work cut out for it if it hopes to survive the double-elimination bracket over the next week and advance to the best-of-three championship series, but the Cavaliers have certainly looked like a team capable of winning it all. Maryland head coach John Szefc held very high praise for U.Va. following the Cavaliers’ super regional win last Monday, calling Virginia “by far the most talented team we played all year,” and Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor has repeatedly said that his team is built for a deep run in the College World Series.

The Cavaliers have likely felt that similar confidence before (they were the top seed in 2011 and went 2-2 in the CWS), but they seem determined to make this year’s stay in Omaha a lengthier one.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD