OMAHA, Neb. -- Expectations couldn't have been higher for the Virginia Cavaliers entering the 2014 college baseball season, yet, that didn't matter to this poised, confident, group of players and coaches.
The Cavaliers entered the season ranked No. 1 in the Perfect Game College Top 25 rankings, and had a target on their back the entire spring as a result. Still, that didn't matter to this team, which stayed in the No. 1 spot in the rankings for much of the season.
Much like Virginia did during the regular season, this team continued its impressive ways in the College World Series, improving to 3-0 in the tournament and advancing to the CWS Championship Series for the first time in school history with an impressive 4-1 victory over Ole Miss in a game resumed Saturday afternoon because of inclement weather in the Omaha area day earlier.
"I'm just so proud of these guys sitting up here at this table, and those guys back in the locker room," O'Connor said. "They're handling things the right way on the field and show an incredible amount of poise and we're very proud to be moving on [to the title series]."
Virginia gave the starting nod on Friday to talented sophomore righthanded pitcher Josh Sborz. Sborz threw a scoreless first inning on Friday before the game was postponed in the top of the second inning because of heavy rain in the area.
When the two teams came back to the park on Saturday, the Rebels changed pitchers from lefthander Jeremy Massie to the righthanded combo of Scott Weathersby and Chris Ellis.
Virginia, though, showed Sborz it was confident in his ability to come back out and put up some zeroes, letting him continue in the resumption of the game.
"I took this like a reliever's approach where you pitch a few pitches the first game and you're going to go out the next day and throw some more," Sborz said. "And I basically took it inning by inning and just tried to throw as many pitches as possible to save the bullpen."
Sborz's performance wasn't without some tense moments. For instance, the Rebels scored a run in the second inning and loaded the bases in the third inning. However, the righty got PG All-American Will Allen to line out hard to third base to end the threat. The Rebels left runners on base in the fourth and fifth innings.
Sborz, who sat 93-94 with his fastball and mixed in a filthy mid-80s slider, did what he needed to do to give the Cavaliers a lead into the middle and latter frames with Artie Lewicki and Nick Howard providing support.
"You know, he throws 94-95. He's got a pretty good fastball and sometimes it's hard to catch up to and get around on," Ole Miss third baseman Austin Anderson said. "He's also throwing like an 85 mph slider and he did a good job of making his pitches and keeping our hitters off balance."
Sborz finished the afternoon striking out four batters, and though he walked four as well, he allowed just a run and four hits in five innings, culminated quite a run in the NCAA postseason. In two NCAA postseason starts, Sborz now has allowed just one run, none earned, and eight hits in 12 innings.
"Josh has been fantastic and this is what it's about," O'Connor said. "He's a total team, and when you carry yourself that way, I believe you will get rewarded."
The Cavaliers also had other heroes in this game. How about nine-hole hitter and catcher Robbie Coman, who entered the game with a .271 batting average in 96 at bats, and laced a two-RBI single to give the Cavaliers a 2-1 advantage in the fourth inning? Then, there's reliever Artie Lewicki, who used his typical low-to-mid 90s fastball in relief to tame the Rebels, striking out two and allowing just one hit in three shutout innings.
Finally, outfielder Brandon Downes, who has battled through a tough wrist injury, had two hits in the win, and closer Nick Howard closed out the contest with mid-90s heat.
With the win over the Rebels, the Cavaliers advance to the CWS Championship Series for the first time in school history. And Virginia will be very tough to beat, as ace lefthanded pitcher Nathan Kirby will be ready to go in the series opener, with fellow lefty Brandon Waddell good to go in Game 2.
The title series will be extra special for coach Brian O'Connor, who was raised in Omaha, played at Creighton and in the College World Series, and still has a vast majority of his family in the area.
"When you're in the national title series, obviously my whole family is here, my wife's family is here and all my friends are here. I've been through a lot of different experiences in this world series, and when I didn't play in it, I was helping ESPN run cables," he said. "All those times I've been to the CWS before, you were hoping to get a chance to play for a national title.
"That's in front of us now."
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Robbie Coman, c, Virginia
Turning point: Ole Miss held a 1-0 advantage over Virginia heading to the fourth inning. However, that's when the Cavaliers got things going. Outfielder Joe McCarthy started the inning with a walk, while Brandon Downes and John La Prise each got on base, Downes via a single. Virginia catcher Robbie Coman then smashed a two-RBI double to right-center field, while Branden Cogswell brought in another run with a squeeze bunt. The Cavaliers suddenly had a 3-1 lead and never looked back the rest of the way, taking the contest 4-1.
Did you know? The Cavaliers bullpen was just terrific again today, while starting pitcher Josh Sborz gave them a gritty start. With the win, the Cavaliers now have an amazing 0.55 staff earned-run average in the College World Series.