Season Rewind: Roller Coaster Year For Virginia Epitomizes Everything Great About College Athletics
Perhaps we shouldn’t look at Virginia winning the College World Series Wednesday night as a win for the underdogs but, in a certain way, that’s exactly what it was.
With just over two weeks left in the regular season, the now-national-champion Cavaliers were on the verge of missing out on the ACC and NCAA tournaments entirely. On April 26 the ‘Hoos were 10-14 in conference play, needing a timely hot streak to earn the right to even participate in a first-round game.
But Wednesday night’s 4-2 win over 2014 national champion Vanderbilt was also the return of a fallen giant. Brian O’Connor’s club entered the season with high hopes of a repeat run to Omaha and, for the most part, everyone expected them to do just that.
That was before the Cavaliers fell on hard times, losing five out of seven and then six out of eight games in a one-month span that was supposed to, in all likelihood, finish off a miserable 2015 for UVA.
But the roller coaster would continue and, when the ‘Hoos rattled off five out of six conference wins against Duke and North Carolina to end the regular season, the team was back in postseason contention.
A unique blend of talent and experience, the third-seeded Cavs charged through the Lake Elsinore Regional before sweeping former league-foe Maryland in the Supers to earn another spot in Omaha.
The college baseball world was surprised at Virginia’s quick turnaround but, looking back, they shouldn’t have been.
Brian O’Connor’s attitude and confidence have remained steady through his team’s highs and lows this year, insisting that if each player “does his job” in his “next man up” philosophy, the Cavaliers would start winning again. Eventually, that’s exactly what they did.
Tuesday night’s win, a 3-0 triumph for UVA that breathed life back into their season one final time and leveled the College World Series Finals at one game apiece, perfectly exemplified not only the attitude of Brian O’Connor, but also the entire 2015 season for Virginia.
Freshman Adam Haseley, usually an outfielder for the Cavaliers, started the game on the mound, his first start since an ACC Tournament game against NC State. O’Connor and company probably would’ve been happy with three innings but Haseley found a way to eclipse that, just as his Virginia team eclipsed expectations that their season was over just a short time ago.
Haseley fired five-plus shutout innings, handing the ball off to shut down reliever Josh Sborz when he was done to ensure that there would be a Wednesday night game 3.
Thomas Woodruff started in his place, a .235 hitter who wasn’t supposed to be the offensive star. But Woodruff stepped up like Haseley, going 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs in the win. Of course he did.
When Wednesday rolled around, the ‘Hoos made sure they didn’t let another shot at a national championship slip away. The 4-2 win marks the ACC’s first national title since 1955 and breaks an even longer drought for UVA as the school’s first baseball championship in its nearly 130 year existence.
Despite the abundance of unexpected production from several different players, Josh Sborz’s performance wasn’t a surprise. He was named Most Outstanding Player at the CWS thanks to his 27 inning scoreless streak to close the year, 19 of which came in postseason play.
Virginia’s season, however improbable, is a microcosm of what encapsulates the minds and hearts of college sports fans across the nation. They were the heavy favorites who were defeated, the underdogs who triumphed, and the team that ended the seemingly unbreakable curse, all in the same season.
The 60-year ACC title drought is finally over, as is one of the greatest seasons in recent memory.
Congratulations to the University of Virginia ... 2015 National Champions of College Baseball.