With Ole Miss' fourth Super Regional appearance in five years only a day away, it's time to turn our attention to a talented Virginia squad who enters Oxford with a wealth of momentum.
Come Friday, the Cavaliers (46-12-1) will be making their first Super Regional trip in school history. Virginia swept three games at the NCAA Irvine Regional over the weekend, including an impressive 5-1 win over San Diego State and pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg in the Regional opener.
UVa, winners of their third ACC Championship, then defeated No. 1-ranked UC Irvine twice on the Anteaters' home field to claim the title.
"Confidence in the game of baseball is everything because it is completely built around failure," Virginia head coach Brian O' Connor said of the team's momentum from taking the Irvine Regional. "So if you believe in yourself and your team, you have accomplished a big part of the challenge.
"We are playing our best baseball at the most important time of the year and I think our confidence is at an all time high. It is not misplaced confidence because of what we knew coming out of the ACC Tournament and what we knew coming out of Irvine. What we accomplished in Irvine is something really special that they won't forget immediately and they won't forget for the rest of their lives."
The Cavaliers have now notched eight victories in a row on the road, with 14 runs, 32 hits and a team batting average of .331 in Regional play.
"The advantage of playing at home is you get to sleep in your own beds, get dressed in your own clubhouse and play on the field you have played on all year," O' Connor added. "This weekend there will be 10,000 fans. I think it is one of the top two environments in college baseball – obviously a real advantage for Ole Miss. With that comes pressure."
A Bit of History:
Virginia and Ole Miss have met just twice previously, with the teams splitting two games.
Ironically, both of those contests were in the 1972 NCAA District III Playoffs in Gastonia, N.C. The Cavaliers won the first matchup 9-3, but Ole Miss rebounded to win the second game 9-0.
"Ole Miss has had one of the better consistent college baseball programs in this country for the last decade," O' Connor said. "They are very talented. To win their division of the SEC is not an easy thing to do. They have done it and they have a great college baseball program.
"I know they have a number of pitchers that have really good arms and you better have the kind of numbers they do on that stat sheet. We are going to face some great pitching, but we have faced that great pitching in our league every weekend."
In 59 games, Virginia already has easily topped its 2008 totals in runs (480), triples (27), home runs (55) and extra-base hits (203). In 62 games a year ago, the Cavaliers scored 384 runs and hit 18 triples, 25 home runs and 163 extra-base hits.
UVa freshmen Steven Proscia and John Hicks each have been key figures in the Cavaliers' power surge, as Proscia has nine round-trippers and Hicks has seven. Proscia's nine homers are the most by a Cavalier freshman since Sean Doolittle swatted 11 in 2005.
"We have been put in these situations our whole baseball career," said Hicks of the poise of the freshmen class. "I think all of us played travel ball. Especially in the fall with the Blue and Orange World Series, the coaches put all the freshmen in situations where they need to come up big for their team. We all believe that when we get in the box or on the mound that we are going to come up for the team. We all believe in each other."
Virginia has shown a flair for the dramatic this season, as the Cavaliers have rallied from deficits of three or more to win seven times. Even better, the team has fought back to win twice after trailing by five runs or more.
In the final three games of the ACC Baseball Championship, Virginia scored 17 of its 28 runs with two outs. The Cavaliers' seven-run seventh inning versus Duke started with two outs, with the next eight batters reaching safely.
Sporting an overall team ERA of 3.19, UVa enters the weekend tilt with the third-best team earned run average in college baseball.
Over 525 innings pitched, the Cavaliers have surrendered 213 runs, with 186 earned. The team ranks second in the country in hits per nine innings, allowing a mere 7.78.
By comparison, Ole Miss ranks 15th (4.12) and 45th (9.57) in those categories respectively.
"(Virginia) is a team that looks like they do everything well," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "Their statistics looks similar to ours – just better."
Virginia is led by freshman Danny Hultzen, who dons an ERA of 2.01 for the season. The southpaw holds a win/loss record of 9-1, with 90 strikeouts and only 18 earned runs in 80.2 innings pitched. Opponents hold a batting average of .241 against the lefty.
In his prep career, Hultzen was named a First Team All-American by Baseball America and selected in the 10th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was named the ACC Freshman of the Year in May, making Hultzen the first Cavalier in school history to do so.
Hultzen is one of two starting pitchers for Virginia with only one loss, as senior RHP Andrew Carraway is 7-1 overall, with a 4.30 ERA and .236 opp. batting average.
Virginia's bullpen has also proven impressive over the season, including a dominating performance at the ACC Baseball Championship. The group combined to throw 17.1 innings in the four games (1.67 ERA), while allowing only three earned runs, 11 hits and five walks, and striking out 20.
Tyler Wilson notched two wins, while Carraway picked up one. Kevin Arico saved two games and finished three.
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