June 7, 2009

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Virginia Earns First Trip to Omaha with Win at Ole Miss

By Jimmy Jones

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Jimmy Jones is the world’s greatest baseball fan cleverly disguised as a proud father of five beautiful children. He loves to write about the sport, but it is his action photography that has earned him numerous awards. He has contributed to CollegeBaseballIinsider.com for the past few seasons.


OXFORD, Miss. – Virginia set a school record with its 48th win of the season with a 5-1 pasting of Ole Miss Sunday afternoon, but the record pales in comparison to another first for its program: The Cavaliers are Omaha-bound to compete for the College World Series title.
The Cavaliers, playing in their first Super Regional, overcame a much more experienced opponent in Ole Miss, which was making its fourth Super Regional appearance in the past five seasons playing in its home park.


“What a great feeling,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said. “I am so proud of our kids for battling all year long. We came into the season with some question marks mostly related to our youth, but these kids hung together and you can see the results.”

Virginia (48-13-1) battled its way through an excellent pitching staff and was able to block out the throngs of ferociously loyal and vocal fans that set attendance records in two of the three games. And perhaps more importantly, the Cavaliers won the pre-game coin toss giving them the hammer as the home team, placing the Rebels (44-20) in an unfamiliar dugout.
Jordan Henry started the Rebels off on the fast track when he hit a routine ball that is good for a single for most players but not for the turbo-fast Henry, who cruised into second base easily. After he was bunted over by Logan Power, Cavaliers starter Robert Poutier looked as if he might pitch his way out of it by striking out Matt Snyder for out No. 2. Matt Smith (right), the hero of Game 1, lined the first pitch he saw into right field to put the Rebels ahead 1-0.
Henry almost stole a run all by himself in the third when he walked, stole second and advanced to third on a shallow fly ball on a close play at third that third baseman Steven Proscia and O’Connor protested to no avail. But Tyler Wilson (9-3) relieved and stranded runners on the corners.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss senior Nathan Baker was putting up goose eggs until giving up the tying run in the fourth.
Phil Gosselin muscled a one-out hit through the middle of the infield and then stole second without a throw. Dan Grovatt walked, and he and Gosselin pulled a double steal to place runners at second and third. Designated hitter John Hicks’ (leftt) long fly ball to right tied the game at 1.
Virginia broke the game open in the fifth on a leadoff hit by Proscia, who stole second, and a RBI single by Franco Valdes to extend his hitting streak to seven games. John Barr followed with a grounder that Rebels shortstop Kevin Mort booted, allowing Valdes to scamper to third. Barr stole second on the next pitch as the Cavaliers continued to challenge the Rebel catchers. Gosselin hit a sacrifice fly to center to make the score 4-1 Virginia.
Virginia tacked on a run in the eighth on three hits, the big blow being a double by Proscia. But the Cavaliers left two runners stranded when the Rebels appeared to benefit from a close call at first that Jarrett Parker appeared to have beaten out.
The Rebels couldn’t muster another credible threat as Virginia relievers Matt Packer, pitching for the third consecutive day, and Kevin Arico (right) closed the game out by spreading out just three hits and over the final three innings. Including the 3.1 innings thrown by Wilson, the Rebels had only five hits and no runs over the final 6.1 innings. Smith hit a shot in the sixth that was destined for the right-field corner but instead was snagged by Danny Hultzen, who stepped on first for a double play to take the air out of the Rebels for good.
“First of all, we would like to congratulate Brian [O’Connor] and his players for a well-played series and for accomplishing their goal,” Rebels coach Mike Bianco said. “I thought it was very well-played on both sides, but they just made a few more plays than we did in the series. We hit a lot of balls hard with nothing to show for it, and Virginia took full advantage of every opportunity that we gave them. They are a very good team that just simply got the best of us this weekend.”
O’Connor, who has led the Cavaliers to the NCAA postseason in each of his six years, is a native of Omaha and played at Creighton University in Omaha.

“It is a very special feeling made even more special by being among friends and family,” O’Connor said. “It will be special, and I know that both myself and my family are looking forward to the trip. I know that a lot will be made of it over the next few days.
“I wouldn’t want the focus to be taken off of those guys in the locker room though. They are the ones that made all of this happen.”


Making things even more interesting for O’Connor is that the Cavaliers will first meet LSU, coached by Paul Mainieri, in Omaha. O’Connor was an assistant for Mainieri at Notre Dame from 1995-2003 before taking the job at Virginia.

(photos by Jimmy Jones)