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Two paths await Virginia in NCAA baseball playoffs
Cavs have seen highs, lows past two seasons
Question of the Day
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — When the Virginia Cavaliers step out of the home dugout and look out over Davenport Field they see the College World Series logo with "2009" printed on the center-field wall.
When they close their eyes they see something more recent, more painful.
"A year ago, that image of the Oklahoma dogpile on our field, of not making it [to the CWS], that still resonates in everybody's head," senior pitcher Tyler Wilson said.
As Virginia (49-9) prepares to host this weekend's NCAA regional with a field that also includes Navy, East Carolina and St. John's, the Cavs know they've reached a point where they can go either way.
This season, in many ways, is reminiscent of two years ago. That underdog Virginia club, energized by an ACC title, advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Just as in 2009, this Virginia team started out red hot, faltered after a break for final exams, then rebounded to win the ACC tournament. Those Wahoos, though, had to go on the road for the NCAA regional in Irvine, Calif., (where they defeated San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg) and the super regional in Oxford, Miss.
"I look back at 2009 when we went 4-0 in the ACC tournament and then it carried over to Irvine and beyond," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "We've got that kind of positive momentum going on now."
Yet in other ways this year looks a lot like 2010, when the heavily favored Cavs were upset at home by Oklahoma in the Super Regional.
This year, like last, Virginia enters the postseason among the favorites to win it all and has the advantage of playing on its home field. But O'Connor knows his No. 1-seeded team isn't guaranteed anything.
"Two years in a row we've been a national seed and that shows the consistency we have played with," O'Connor said. "That being said, the fact that we were a national seed last year didn't help us get to Omaha, and it won't help us this year."
Of course, O'Connor and the Cavs are happy to be playing at Davenport, where they went 30-4 this season and finished 18th in the nation in attendance, drawing a school record 95,356 fans.
"There's an advantage there, but it's not that big an advantage that all the sudden you can put yourself in Omaha," O'Connor said. "During 2009, we didn't play a home game at all in the NCAA tournament. It's a reward for what you've done during the regular season, but in no way does it guarantee you anything."
It's true, the Cavs will have to play well to be among the eight teams in Omaha, but after getting a taste of the College World Series in 2009, it's become the only acceptable result for a program that was on the verge of becoming a glorified club team before O'Connor arrived in 2003. Now, the Cavaliers break each huddle with a shout of "Omaha" and every player on the roster can tell you the city is exactly 1,186 miles from Charlottesville.
Yet the players are trying not to get a thousand miles ahead of themselves. The Cavaliers face Patriot League champion Navy on Friday at 1 p.m. and will have to get by an ECU squad that took a game in Charlottesville earlier this season and a St. John's team that pushed them to the brink in last year's tournament just to get out of the regional round.
But recent success has Virginia convinced it will get the job done.
"We played some good baseball going into this weekend," Cavaliers ace and Bethesda product Danny Hultzen said. "Going into this regional against Navy, we have some momentum on our side. That definitely boosts our confidence a lot."
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