This is the fourth in a series of looks at the eight teams in the College World Series.
It took a near miracle for the national No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers (54-10) to make it to Omaha, but a walk-off single kept their national championship hopes alive. For a team whose preseason ranking was in the mid-teens, the Cavaliers certainly overachieved when they were awarded the NCAA tournament's top seed. Virginia tied with Georgia Tech (41-22) for the ACC regular season title and mowed through the competition to win the ACC Tournament Championship. Given the relative strength of the conference over the years, you would expect the ACC to have won a national championship fairly recently. However, it's been 56 years since the last ACC team, Wake Forest, won it all. This year's version of the Virginia Cavaliers are the ACC's best chance since UNC lost in the finals in 2007.The Cavs hosted the Charlottesville Regional with (in seeding order) East Carolina (39-19), St. John's (35-20), and Navy (33-23-1). Virginia beat Navy in the first and final games and took care of St. John's in their middle game. As the number one overall seed, the Cavaliers hosted the Charlottesville Super Regional and the University of California-Irvine Anteaters (42-16) in a thrilling best-of-three series. Down by one run in the bottom of the ninth of the deciding third Super Regional game, the Cavaliers needed a two-out two RBI single to get them to their second College World Series, both under ACC Coach of the Year Brian O'Conner.
With three All-Americans on the mound, Virginia's pitching staff is it's obvious strength. The Cavaliers are led by 2nd overall draft pick Danny Hultzen. Hultzen is a three-time All-American who, on the year, is 12-3 with a 1.49 ERA with 151 strikeouts. Batters are hitting a paltry .189 against him. Will Roberts, a fifth round draft pick, might be nearly as good as him. Roberts is 11-1 with a 1.57 ERA and pitched only the eighth nine-inning perfect game in college baseball history earlier in the season. Their third All-American is closer Branden Kline. Kline is 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 17 saves on the season. He also struck out 49 in 37 2/3 innings pitched. Third day starter Tyler Wilson was named to the All-ACC second team with a 8-0 record and 2.29 ERA while striking out 177 in 94 1/3 innings pitched. He also held batters to a .199 average. The UVA pitching staff as a whole has an ERA of 2.26 and holds their opponents to a .212 batting average.
The Cavaliers position players are led by four All-ACC Selections. David Coleman leads Virginia with a .366 average with two home runs and 39 RBIs. Catcher John Hicks paces the Cavs with a .340 average with seven home runs and 57 RBI. Third baseman Steven Proscia leads UVA with eight homers and 58 RBIs while maintaining a .335 average and stealing 11 bases. All-ACC second teamer John Barr contributes a .283 average with 33 RBI and has not committed an error all season. The Cavaliers' team batting average is .306, but they are not a power hitting team, combining for only 24 home runs all season.
Superb pitching, defense, and timely hitting (sounds a lot like another ACC team in the CWS, no?) have made Virginia the top overall seed and the team to beat. For a team that didn't lose back-to-back games until North Carolina swept them the last week of the season, and given the strength of their pitching staff, the Cavaliers are going to be a tough out in the CWS. Their first opponent, the Cal Golden Bears (37-21), are an opponent that has surprised and dealt with adversity all year long. It's a David vs. Goliath matchup that should be fun to watch.
Virginia plays their first game Sunday at 2 p.m. against Cal.