The Day Before

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Thursday was feel-good day at the ballpark. On Friday that changes. Everybody is the enemy.

Virginia tries to get back to the College World Series for the second straight year. Ole Miss starts a path to get there for the first time since 1972, which would be its fifth time ever.

St. John's and Virginia Commonwealth aren't supposed to have a shot to get out of the Regional and on to a Super Regional. But they are here to try and pull the upset.

The host school, Virginia, is the No. 5 national seed and has been a model of consistency, according to its head coach, Brian O'Conner.

"This entire year, I've never been around a team that's played more consistent baseball throughout the entire season," O'Conner said of his 47-11 Cavaliers. "We have a very veteran ballclub. We've accomplished some things this year that we have not accomplished before in our program. We've played a complete regular season. Now we move on to the postseason, the most important part of the season."

The Cavaliers also accomplished some things last year they'd never done. One was to advance to Omaha.

This year they'll try to win a Regional at home, something they've never done. Ole Miss, the second seed, along with the other teams could have something to say about that.

But Rebel head coach Mike Bianco said his 38-22 team, the second-seed here, has mostly been the opposite of O'Conner's squad.

"Unlike Virginia, we've been very inconsistent," Bianco said. "We've been up and down and we've at times been very good in a very good baseball conference. But at times we haven't been so good. We're hoping to play well and put a good weekend together. We open against a very good team in St. John's."

The third-seeded Red Storm, Ole Miss' opponent at 8 p.m. EDT Friday, is 40-18 and coming in on a roll. Coach Ed Blankmeyer said his team hopes to continue to build on its Big East Tournament championship and recent good play.

"But whereas Brian is talking about his team being experienced and Mike is talking about his club being inconsistent, our club is young," he said. "We're excited to be here, and I know we have a tough challenge ahead of us. But I think we're ready to play some good baseball."

VCU head coach Paul Keyes, taking his eighth Rams team to the NCAA tourney in 14 seasons, said he's pleased with the way his team has gotten better and better this spring.

"We've been to quite a few of these Regionals but never one in this state," said Keyes, whose Rams won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament last weekend. "So being in a Regional here and playing such a quality program as Virginia, we're excited about that. We're a young a club, but we got better as the year went along. That's always our goal, and that's to be the best team we can be at the end of the year. We're excited to play, and we'll play as hard as we can."

The Cavaliers and Rams, who play each regular season, played earlier this year in Charlottesville with UVA winning 9-5. They open this four-team event Friday at 4 p.m.

Kyle Hansen, at 6-foot-7 and the Big East Tournament's most valuable player, will start on the mound for his team against the Rebels. Drew Pomeranz will start for Ole Miss.

"When you have a young guy like that who had thrown on three day's rest (in the Big East tourney), I just wanted to make sure he was ready before we made that decision," said Blankmeyer, who didn't announce his starter until late Thursday afternoon. "I just wanted to make sure before we made that decision."

Hansen, a RHP freshman, is 8-1 and has a 3.09 ERA.

Bianco said there was no waivering on the decision to start Pomeranz (8-2, 2.21) against the Red Storm, even though it appears Virginia will hold its ace, sophomore LHP Danny Hultzen (9-1, 2.43), until game two.

"No. When you're playing really well and you're the No. 1 seed, and you've been very consistent (like Virginia), sometimes you can think of that," Bianco said. "But we play a very good St. John's team that just won the Big East Tournament and just beat a national seed (Louisville) twice. We need to pitch our ace and win and move on."

The Cavaliers will likely start junior RHP Cody Winiarski (5-0, 4.39) against the Rams. Keyes said his 34-24 team will have to play at least as good as it has to be in the game with the Cavaliers.

"They're very good, very deep, very experienced. They don't have a lot of holes," he said. "They've great great starting pitching and a lot of options as the game goes along. For us, we'll have to play above ourselves a little bit to even be in the game. Hopefully we can pitch well enough early to keep it close and maybe pull something out at the end. It will be a tough game for us."


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