The Virginia Cavaliers will count on experience to help them this weekend as they return to the College World Series for the second time in three years
The Cavaliers begin their quest for the first national championship in the program’s history when they face Cal on Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN). They were eliminated from the tournament in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Arkansas in 2009.
“When you do something for the first time, there’s a little bit of the unexpected,” Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. “We went there in 2009, and I thought our guys were calm, I thought they were poised, we just didn’t get the job done there.
“I think this year is a little bit different. Half of our club knows what to expect. We had a young team in ‘09. We have a veteran team this year. They’ll be more prepared for what it takes to ultimately be focused between the white lines when you have to go win a ballgame.”
Virginia and Cal, along with Texas A&M and South Carolina, will play in a double-elimination format. The winner of their bracket will take on the winner of the bracket featuring North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida and Texas in a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.
The Cavaliers likely will send ace Danny Hultzen to the mound Sunday, although O'Connor said that decision would depend upon his evaluation of all three teams UVa. will face. The Seattle Mariners chose Hultzen with the No. 2 pick overall in last week’s Major League Baseball draft.
“We’re going out there to put ourselves in the best position to win the thing,” O'Connor said. “Part of winning the thing is winning the first game, but you have to win Game 2 also. It’s not 100 percent yet, but there’s a pretty good chance that Danny will be getting the ball.”
Virginia qualified for the CWS with a comeback win against UC Irvine on Monday. Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cavaliers loaded the bases for Chris Taylor. The sophomore laced a single into center field, driving in two runs and propelling his team to Omaha.
The Cavaliers have shifted their focus away from celebration, knowing they have a daunting task ahead.
“We got a chance to take a deep breath and realize what we accomplished [Monday] and how we did it and how special it was and what the opportunity is that we have in front of us,” O'Connor said. “We’ve turned the page and turned our attention to what we have in front of us on Sunday.”
Yet the momentum from their late rally has given the Cavaliers the confidence to chase a national title, in the hopes of setting off an even bigger celebration.
“It gives the players proof that you’re never out of anything and that your club’s going to continue to fight until the last out is made,” O'Connor said. “What a great feeling to have going into Omaha, that you believe that you can accomplish anything.”