OMAHA , Nebraska – Adam Haseley leaned over the dugout railing, occasionally covering his mouth with his jersey. Thomas Woodruff anxiously paced in right field. When the final out of Virginia’s 3-0 win over Vanderbilt was finally recorded, Woodruff raised a victorious hand before hugging his teammates in the outfield while Haseley jogged out to the mound to celebrate.
Knowing his team was past the point of backup plans, Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor matter-of-factly said earlier in the week that it would take someone new rising to the occasion for his Cavaliers to win their first national baseball championship.
He got two unexpected someones on Tuesday night – and another standout performance from someone who has delivered all season. Following a script only these Cavaliers could write, a freshman who hasn’t pitched in a month and a walk-on senior combined to deliver the Cavaliers’ latest head-scratching College World Series win, a seven-hit shutout to force Vanderbilt into a winner-take-all game for the national championship Wednesday night.
First, it was the freshman lefty Haseley, who usually plays center field, pitching five scoreless innings, giving up just four hits against a loaded Vanderbilt lineup. Then it was Woodruff, making his first start in the NCAA tournament, a fill-in for Haseley in the outfield, recording his first three hits of the NCAA tournament and driving home two runs. Finally, it was closer Josh Sborz, coming through with four scoreless innings on 77 pitches in very likely his last stint as a Cavalier.
A team with a penchant for late-inning two-out rallies stayed true to form on Tuesday. Back-to-back singles from Pavin Smith and Kevin Doherty put runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth. Joe McCarthy then reached on an error that left the bases loaded.
The Cavaliers had stranded five runners to that point, but freshman Ernie Clement gave the Cavaliers a lead with a single to left, scoring Smith. Then came Woodruff, usually reserved for late-game pinch-running duty, slapping a two-run single.
Sborz, drafted earlier this month by the Dodgers with the No. 74 overall pick, took care of the rest – but Vanderbilt did not make it easy. The Commodores put runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the ninth, but Sborz worked out of the jam, setting the stage for one more night of drama.
Sborz held the Commodores to three hits in four innings. Because of his lengthy outing, he’s unlikely to be available to pitch in Game 3 on Wednesday.
That Virginia’s top option to pitch in a national championship elimination game was a freshman who has spent more time in center field than he has on the mound indicates how few options were left for the Cavaliers. Haseley, who also batted leadoff on Tuesday, last pitched in the ACC tournament, lasting 4 2/3 innings and giving up two earned runs on three hits in a loss to North Carolina State.
Junior Brandon Waddell, who started on Saturday against Florida, was not an option with only two days’ rest. Sborz, who was a starter all of last season, threw four innings and 54 pitches on Saturday, so O’Connor said he would be limited out of the bullpen. But for the Cavaliers to take advantage of Sborz, O’Connor said a combination of pitchers, starting with Haseley, would have to keep the game in reach.
Turns out, Virginia only needed Haseley to get to Sborz. O’Connor said winning Game 2 would simply take everyone doing their job and not too much, even if that meant giving up a few runs. Sophomore right-hander Alec Bettinger occasionally warmed in the bullpen, but his services were never needed, as Haseley cruised and limited a Vanderbilt lineup that includes No. 1 overall major league draft pick Dansby Swanson to four hits.
Virginia’s offense was dormant until the sixth. While the top hitters in Virginia’s lineup, Daniel Pinero, Matt Thaiss and Kenny Towns, struggled with just one hit among them, the back of the order came through. All three runs were driven in by Clement and Woodruff, the eighth and ninth batters who were a combined 6 for 8.
O’Connor was inches away from the national championship trophy as he posed for a photo with Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin on Sunday. The Commodores beat the Cavaliers in three games last season, making for a painful return to Charlottesville, but here he was, standing next to the trophy again.
“Would we like to hoist that trophy some day? Sure we would,” O’Connor said Sunday. “And I’m confident one day that will happen, if we continue to give ourselves the opportunity.”
Virginia gets another opportunity Wednesday.